Fear of Relapse

I spent a lifetime stuffing emotions away without any care or thought. I only functioned day-to-day with this practice. Work, relationships, university were all elements that required concentration and focus, not emotions. After the trauma of breaking down I went back to the comfort of avoiding emotions. The break was more than just feeling vulnerable and exposed. I felt raw and fragile. I spent a lot of times with my psychiatrist and groups talking about my fear of being curled up in a ball on the floor if I allowed my emotions out. After all, my first real experience with them was a breakdown in which suicide felt like the answer.

In the movies people pull the ripcord and the parachute jerks them suddenly from terminal velocity to floating in an instant. My all or nothing thinking believed that giving myself any room to emote would result in a similar whiplash. In an effort to challenge that type of thinking I tried to remember that my emotions were wholly connected. I could not just choose to turn off sadness, anger, and shame without losing joy, affection, and pride. Yet, my 40 year old default setting was, and is, hard to let go of.

Somewhere in my journey, I started to compartmentalize my ability to compartmentalize. I decided I needed to be numb to complete work or my volunteering. I cannot have emotions right now because I need to be productive. I'll deal with the shame later. Perhaps this is how others around me function?

No time to think about the crisis of my identity, anxiety, or depression. I have to work.

All emotions are on a hiatus while I clean the house, cook dinner, and do the laundry. I will take time to worry and explore my feelings later.

Other strategies included using meditation to sit with my feelings at the beginning of the day and then flipping the switch to shut them down so that I could live life. You know, nothing happens throughout the day that would require any emotional response or processing. I'm sure scheduling emotions will work just fine? Similar to my Morning Pages, meditation became charged with reluctance. If I am going to schedule time with my emotions, I can certainly avoid the schedule.

In true all or nothing thinking, I had decided I was a blob of emotions curled up on the floor or an emotionless robot charged with being productive and consuming goods. I could not see the gray between the black and white. It continues to be a struggle daily.

Therapy and processing emotions also fell under the lens of all or nothing. If I am not expressing my sadness, shame, anger, etc. I must be bottling it up! I felt as if I had to tell everyone walking by me on the street how I was feeling. Otherwise, I am clearly falling into my old ways of supressing things. Certainly when I look back at the last month where there are no journals, I fear I have relapsed into the old Chris.

No journals in July must mean I screwed up again. I failed. Yet, when I look back at my month there is not evidence to support that. On the surface, there are no journals. Yet, the strongest feeling I have is guilt for not writing the journals. There are not other regrets to ruminate on or traumatic events that I can recall in an instant. That doesn't mean I was a unicorn pooping rainbows of joy last month. I did struggle at times, but here I am, on the other side of the month.

Going back to my parachute metaphor, pulling the ripcord does not result in a sudden jerking upward. The chutes are complicated things that must be packed in a way to ensure the chute doesn't get caught on the lines that bind you to the chute. A pilot chute comes out first to guide the rest of the actual chute out of the bag. The chute expands in a way that slows the user to minimize the jerking motion from falling to floating. Perhaps I am not stuck between sobbing blob or cold robot. Maybe a lack of journaling or meditation isn't a sign of failure. I am no longer free-falling because I have some skills to guide me down. My chute doesn't work perfectly every time. Sometimes, I may pull the cord too late.

It feels a bit foreign to give myself some credit because I am not used to it. I am not fully feeling like this is a victory, but I will acknowledge there is change. Rather than jumping to the conclusion that I am failing again, I can see that I do have a parachute on my back. I just have to practice using it.