Two weeks ago, I wrote about joy, and how much of a new, strange feeling it was after living with depression and anxiety (etc.) for so long. I talked about how I felt the most alive I’ve ever felt in who-knows-how-long. But are all my days filled with joy now? No. Am I always filled with contentment and happiness? Certainly not. But that was never my goal in getting treatment. The goal was not to replace all the bad feelings with good feelings and be stuck in that shiny-happy place forever, but to feel the appropriate feelings at the appropriate times.
When you live with a mental illness, your feelings are all out of sorts. Sometimes your mind fixates on a certain feeling (like hopelessness) and it envelops you and that’s all that you can see. Other times, it seems like you’re feeling about a thousand feelings at once and you’re completely overwhelmed by them. What I set out to learn when I started therapy was how to sort out my emotions so that I wasn’t stuck in a place where I was always overwhelmed by one emotion or, alternatively, feeling a thousand feelings at once. There’s a name for this and it’s called “emotional regulation”.
Emotional regulation is my new jam. It’s my new flow in life. But it doesn’t happen quickly; it takes a lot of hard work and practice. To get there, it involves three main things:
- Taking care of my own basic needs (first and foremost)
- Having the tools to practice self-care and self-soothing, when needed
- Surrounding myself with a community of people that will support me in these efforts
The fact is, before I reached a state where I was able to regulate my own emotions, I was doing the exact opposite of each of these three things. I wasn’t taking care of my basic needs (I wasn’t exercising or on a regular sleep schedule or meditating — yes, meditating). I was isolating myself from people, and I didn’t know how to self-soothe when my emotions were out of control. It took a lot of hard work to get where I am today — to correct all of my self-sabotaging behaviors — and it’s a constant work in progress.
The desire to sleep all day (or as much as possible) still feels easier. The desire to stay home and have a Netflix binge, instead of going out and meeting up with friends still feels easier. Panicking still feels easier. It takes a lot of self-motivation and bravery to combat my old behaviors. But every time I make the choice to meditate or reach out to someone or self-soothe, I get a little stronger, and it gets a little easier.
So, what comes after joy? Not being stuck in one feeling (good or bad), but all of the feelings, being felt individually, at the appropriate times. And, if you’re currently feeling stuck or overwhelmed, just know that, with a little hard work and an ounce of bravery, you’ll get to that place soon, too.
Over the next three weeks, I’m going to be going into further detail about my experiences with each of the three main areas to help maintain emotional regulation (including adventures in meditation!). I hope you’ll come back here and keep reading. In the meantime, here’s the song of the week: