I’d like to be writing you from my hotel room the first night of my Disney vacation. Instead, I’m sitting at home, attached to my defibrillator vest, still minimally exercising, waiting for an electrophysiology study on August 9th, and an MRI sometime before that.
If I try to brightside my life right now, I’d be lying to you. The best case medical scenario for me is idiopathic heart arrhythmia, which means I had a one-off heart flutter (actually a three-off), but I spent a ton of money on it. The worst case scenario is I need a defibrillator, and I spend even more money, and there’s even more fuss, and it gets in the way of doing my professorial work in the fall. I’d like to make fun of all this, and I will somewhat. However, today’s post is about owning your own emotions. Crone up. It’s okay to be honest.
We are inherently not an honest people in the U.S. regarding our emotions. In the United States, someone walks by someone else in the hallway. The approaching person says, “How are you?” The addressee sucks it up, plasters a smile on their face, and says, “I’m good. Thanks.” In my own case, maybe I am good. Maybe I am just so-so. Or maybe I am having a really crappy day, but I don’t want the world to see real emotions behind that happy face. My response is a mask, which guards my precious, precious feelings.
Many of my students and colleagues from around the world are boggled by this U.S. greeting style. As a Russian colleague tells me, “If you ask someone how they are feeling in Russia, they will tell you how they are really feeling. In excruciating detail.”
As an older person, another stereotype I fight against is the old person lament about health. Do you know why old people talk about health problems a lot? Could it be that things actually, you know, hurt, or are breaking? You betcha. My husband, who can still lift weights, lucky devil, is taking the night off from his craft projects because his body aches. I am catching a cold, instead of the one thing I can’t seem to catch this summer, a break. Again, we paint that damned smile on our face and pretend we’re doing okay to avoid a stereotype. What the hell? Why are we so afraid of revealing our true self? I say it’s time to own our emotions.
You don’t have to pretend you’re doing okay if you’re not. Let me pull an example out of the air at random, that isn’t related to my real life in anyway. If you wanted to, say go on a Disney vacation this summer, and you had to cancel it once for your mother-in-law’s funeral, and then again for your own medical health, it’s perfectly natural to be glum about it. By glum, I mean it’s okay to be bitter or even angry at certain moments. Sure, you really aren’t in good shape to go on this hypothetical vacation, but fun is an important thing, and there’s been very little to be had in your…hypothetical life… lately.
What? You don’t think this is exactly an example pulled at random? Fine...
I realize some people will tell me what’s going on in my life is pretty small potatoes. I should feel lucky because I’m still alive, or I’m not fighting cancer, or my house is still standing, or…in the august words of Captain America, I can do this all day. People, this is not a contest! Right now I am owning all the sadness and frustration this summer has had to give.
Welcome to claiming your actual human experience. It’s as anti-American as fuck, but it is very pro-human.
Owning feelings, however, is walking a tightrope. I could just as easy fall off the rope on the other side of emotions. For me, depression and sadness can be seductive, a place to stay. Weird though. As I have been grieving two deaths and have been concerned about my own health, at the same time, someone will make me laugh, or something will give me joy. My instinct is to quash those positive emotions right the hell down. It feels like it is inappropriate, and it invalidates my suffering, makes my grieving less real, is less respectful to what I’ve lost.
Really? No, not really.
Healing comes in moments at first, maybe thirty seconds or so at a time. It comes, and we should let it come. Sometimes you’re up, sometimes you’re down, and both of these things are entirely okay. Give yourself permission to be an emotional yo-yo, a proud, honest, emotional yo-yo. You don’t need to pretend for anyone, least of all yourself.
If anyone wants to send me some mouse ears, it wouldn’t go unappreciated.