It’s Okay to Feel

We’re taught that certain emotions are “bad” or wrong. We aren’t supposed to feel them. We’re supposed to suppress them and act like they don’t exist.

The top among these is anger. Especially if you’re a girl, or raised/socialized as one, you’re told to be quiet and “ladylike” and sweet. If you show anger, you’re bad.

This can be common in the spiritual practice world as well. If you’re truly spiritual, so the story goes, you don’t feel anger. You just accept and forgive everyone and everything and feel nothing negative at all ever, because if you do, you aren’t really spiritual.

Bullshit.

Anger, jealousy, fear…all the emotions that some people designate as “bad” are HUMAN emotions. If you’re a human being, odds are good that you feel emotions. Feeling anger is no more “bad” than feeling joy. Emotions are not good or bad; they just are. And trying to force yourself not to feel them often results in just stuffing the emotion down into a little box in your mind—a box that might burst somewhere down the line.

The key isn’t to stop *feeling* emotions. It’s to learn healthy and productive ways to *express* them.

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I was raised in a home where it was not safe for me to be angry. If I expressed anger, I was punished for it, sometimes in psychologically damaging ways. I was told I was a bad person for feeling angry. That “good little girls” don’t feel that way.

In my first marriage, expressing anger was even more dangerous to me, so I learned not to express it to my husband. Unfortunately, that meant sometimes it spilled out onto my children. But more often, I just stuffed it down into that little mental box and convinced myself I’d dealt with it and didn’t feel it anymore.

When I was finally in a place where it was safe for me to express anger, I had no clue how to do so. I had no tools for managing my emotions—any emotions, regardless of what they were—because I’d spent so much of my life trying not to allow myself to feel them. So when something small sparked anger in me, the anger became huge and harmful, with lots of ranting and swearing and punching of mattresses and pillows, because I didn’t know how else to handle an emotion I was terrified to feel.

Note that I am not making excuses. I handled my anger very poorly a number of times, and at times that caused emotional harm to others. I am working to repair relationships that were damaged because of this.

Despite the reasons, ultimately we are each responsible for our own emotions and how we display them, and although I didn’t have the knowledge, skills, or tools to display my anger in less harmful ways, I still take responsibility for how I did display it and the consequences thereof. Part of my healing journey has been repairing those relationships, making amends where possible, and owning my stuff. Part has been accepting myself as a good *person* despite the things I said that I can’t take back, because while I *own* my emotions and my actions, I am not the things I feel and do. Emotions are neither good nor bad; actions can be, but taking a negative action does not automatically make someone a bad person.

It took a lot of work and therapy, but I did learn. I still sometimes get angrier than a situation warrants, but I am now able to recognize when I’m angry beyond what makes sense. I’m able to walk away from a situation that’s causing anger, and sometimes even to say to whomever else is involved, “I’m feeling very angry right now and need to step away.” I go someplace where I can be alone to work through what I’m feeling, and when I feel calm enough, I return to the other person and say, “I’m feeling angry about that thing you did, because it hurt me in this way. I’d like to stop feeling angry with you, so I’d like to talk about this and see what we can do.” It works a lot better.

Feeling emotions is NORMAL. Even emotions we’ve been taught are wrong or bad. Trying to suppress or ignore those emotions can be harmful to us and can lead to them coming up in less manageable ways down the road.

We also dishonor ourselves when we deny our emotions. Many of us who have experienced abuse and trauma have a child self living within our minds, a part of ourselves that became frozen at a time of trauma. In DBT (dialectical behavioral therapy, a technique often used in treating borderline personality disorder and PTSD among other things), that part of us is referred to as the “emotional mind.” In some forms of Witchcraft, it’s Younger Self. Whatever you call it, it’s a part of us, and it’s part of our healing journey to accept, nurture, and work with it. If we’re telling ourselves, “I can’t feel angry, it’s bad, I’m a bad person for feeling this way,” we’re continuing the abuse that damaged us in the first place. We’re taking the words and concepts forced on us by others and internalizing them, and that continues the damage.

Instead, I’ve found it’s far more productive to feel the emotion. To say, “I feel really angry, and that’s okay; how can I deal with this?” Even to express fear of feeling the anger, if that’s present for you. Some coping strategies for anxiety and PTSD can be used for anger as well.

Allowing yourself to feel those emotions and express them in *healthy* ways can help lessen them, and honors you as the awesome human you are.

You aren’t bad if you feel anger. You aren’t “not truly spiritual.” You are human, and you have the right to feel however you feel. You don’t have the right to express those feelings in harmful ways, but you one hundred percent have the right to feel them, and to express them in nonharmful ways. (And if you do express anger or another emotion in a way that’s harmful, that still doesn’t make you a bad person. It still just makes you human. Make apologies, make amends, and get help with learning more effective management strategies if it’s an ongoing problem… but accept yourself as a good *person* who just needs help to learn better *actions*.)

As a final note, if you’re a parent, please teach your children that emotions are always okay to feel, and teach them healthy, productive ways to express them. Show them that they, too, are good people, and that you love them no matter what emotions they feel. Show them how to love and accept themselves even when the anger seems big and scary, or the jealousy overwhelms them, or the fear seems to cover everything else. Let’s break the cycle of people who believe and preach that it’s bad and wrong to feel human emotions—and the people who, because of those beliefs and preaching, believe that *they* are bad and wrong.

Honoring a Need

Today is the third day I sat down to try to write this blog post. And it’s the third day that I looked at my planned topic and my brain said, “Nope, not doing it. Too tired.”

It wasn’t a hugely involved topic. It was more that I wasn’t as clear as I would have liked on what I wanted to say about it, and trying to put words together was resulting in a lot of mental twisting and turning. I’ve also been fighting off a cold (thanks to working in two elementary schools a couple days a week) and, as often happens at a season change, haven’t been sleeping well, so my creativity is not at its peak.

So instead of sitting here forcing the post I’d intended to write, which would have resulted in some half-assing and inaccurate phrasing, and probably in the energetic vibration of “I don’t wanna do this” coming through, at least to those who are sensitive to energy, I chose to write a post about how I’m not writing the post I’d planned. Because I think sometimes we all need the reminder that it’s okay to give our brains a break. It’s okay to say, “I can’t think about this right now,” or “I can’t complete this project this week,” or whatever.

Obviously if it affects your job or interferes with someone else’s needs, you might need to think about it more and maybe do some negotiation or compromise. But the world isn’t going to end because I wrote this blog post instead of the one I’d planned. It won’t end if my post is under 400 words instead of close to 1000.

It won’t end if I take the time to honor what I need.

Sometimes, I think that especially those of us who were brought up to believe we were responsible for everyone else forget that our needs matter too, and that the world doesn’t actually end if we say no to some things. So this is just a reminder for all of us.

And now I’m going to go honor my need for coffee. Because coffee.

I Have a Confession…

I’m human.

You might be thinking, “Well, duh, everyone is human. How is that a confession?”

It’s a confession because sometimes people fall into the trap of believing they have to have all their shit together, or at least had damn well better act like they do. They hide how they’re really feeling. They present a fully-healed, perfect-ish face to the outside. This seems especially true in the coaching and healing industries, where it’s not uncommon to hear “You can’t help others until you’re healed.” So those who want to help others and haven’t finished their own healing *pretend* they have so people will believe they can help.

It doesn’t work that way. Not always. Maybe not even usually. Healing isn’t a thing you reach and that’s the end of it. You make progress. You might be able to shake some of the things that have held you back, and some of the habits and defense mechanisms you’ve developed, but life is an ongoing process, and so is healing.

I grew up with a constant barrage of “What will other people think,” coupled with constant judgment, bullying, and emotional abuse. I tried my hardest to hide all the things that were “wrong” with me so people would like me and wouldn’t treat me like crap. I hid who I truly was because the alternative was to let people actually know me–which would mean they wouldn’t like me, which would mean they might hurt me.

I’ve done a lot of work on myself over the decades. I’ve learned that other people’s opinions of me don’t define me and in the long run don’t matter…but sometimes, I forget that. Sometimes, especially as a healer and coach, I start thinking I have to at least present a fully-healed facade to the world or no one will want to work with me. I bury my struggles so no one will see them and think less of me. Instead of leaning on the people who care about me, I decide I shouldn’t bother them, and just hold everything in until I can’t hold it anymore.

I have depression, anxiety, and complex post-traumatic stress disorder. These are illnesses, and they aren’t going anywhere. There’s no cure. There’s treatment, which is varying levels of effective, and there are management strategies, some of which I’ve learned and some I’ve developed myself, because I know what works for me.

But despite best efforts, sometimes those illnesses flare up, and those are the times I’m most likely to bury things and try to convince myself I can handle everything without help. The demons of screwed-up brain chemistry and brain alterations caused by trauma start whispering to me that I can’t count on anyone else, shouldn’t count on anyone else, and if anyone finds out I’m struggling, they’ll think I’m a whineass. I don’t deserve to be helped, according to those demons. I deserve to feel like crap, and that’s what anyone else would tell me.

Obviously, that isn’t true, but those demons can be pretty damn persuasive.

I have come a very long way in my life. I have done a lot of healing and a lot of work. It isn’t always steady forward progress; most healing isn’t. There will be setbacks and backtracks, and that’s okay. The point is to keep moving as forward as possible, and accept that when the setbacks happen, they don’t equal failure. They equal being human.

Over the past few months, the demons have been especially loud as I’ve tried to get River Flow Healing fully off the ground. This has been due to a combination of the stress of trying to start and run a business, some personal life stressors, and the medication I’m on becoming ineffective, which is a problem because there is a very limited number of medications I can take without adverse reactions. (If you’re someone who doesn’t believe in medication for mental illness, more power to you, but please post on your own venue about your opinion instead of starting an argument here. For me, and for many other people I know, medication is not only beneficial but vital. Nothing works for everyone, everything works for someone. And I have tried treating my illnesses both without and with medications.)

For the past few months, I’ve forgotten to let myself be human. I’ve become convinced that I can’t let anyone see that I’m not fully, perfectly healed, or I’ll never have clients. I’ve shut down and operated on autopilot, compartmentalizing the negative thoughts and emotions instead of managing them.

But I am human. I’m not some magical being who doesn’t experience pain or fear or flashbacks. I’m not here to show others how to become perfect. I started my healing journey at a much lower point and I’ve progressed to where I am now, and I’m continuing to progress, and I’m here to tell and show others how I’ve done it and how they can too. To be a healer, you don’t have to be fully healed. You just have to be more healed than you were, and continuing to work on it.

So yeah. That’s my confession. I’m human. But I’m a human who’s been where you might be, and if you think I can help you, I would love to try.

Perception

One of the things mental illness can do is cause you to perceive things incorrectly. You might think someone has said something they haven’t actually said, or assign a meaning to someone’s actions that simply isn’t there.

That’s something I deal with a lot. Because of people I’ve dealt with in my past, and the resulting PTSD, as well as depression and anxiety, sometimes my brain filters someone else’s actions or words through a distorted lens. I hear something in their words that they didn’t say and didn’t mean, or I believe their actions are for a reason that has nothing to do with why they’ve actually acted that way.

This makes communication extremely important for me. I am usually aware when my thoughts are getting away from me and when my perception is off. In those moments, I can choose to continue with the incorrect perception, and let my thoughts spiral into darkness, or I can choose to go to the other person and say, “I think I’m perceiving this wrong. Can we clarify what you meant?”

That isn’t always an easy choice to make. Sometimes my belief about what the other person has said or done is so strong that my emotions take over. I might be too angry to try talking to them, or might not be able to get the words together. Sometimes I’m afraid to ask for clarification because I worry that the other person will be angry with me for having an incorrect perception. But under the emotions, I know that the only way to resolve the situation is to speak up.

Misperceptions are going to happen. To be honest, I think it’s part of being human, regardless of whether mental illness is a factor. Learning to recognize when you might be perceiving something incorrectly, and learning to communicate and clarify the situation, might not be easy, but it’s important.

Giving Yourself Time

For over a month now, I’ve been having a tough time getting past my mental roadblocks. Even knowing as many ways as I do to conquer those roadblocks, and even getting advice and suggestions from friends and coaches, I’ve had trouble shaking the blocks.

For a while, I tried forcing my way through. I sat here at my computer writing stories, blog posts, and articles, but my heart wasn’t in them and so neither was my effort. Mostly, they were poorly written, and sometimes I was convinced I wasn’t saying anything anyone would want to read anyway.

When you have depression, as I do, it really gets in the way of anything resembling living. I felt like I was in a deep pit with no way out, and at times I wasn’t sure I wanted to find the way out. That darkness and lack of much of anything eclipsed the part of me that cares and wants to be better.

To some reading this, that probably sounds like a cop-out. A lot of people believe that all you have to do to get past depression is decide you’re going to get past it. To some extent, that might be true. For example, on the days when all I want to do is hide in bed, I still manage to get up, shower, and put on actual clothes that I could wear out of the house. I don’t always make it out of the house, but I could if I chose.

But depression is an illness, and as with all illnesses, overcoming it isn’t only a matter of wanting to. It isn’t just a matter of getting off your butt and going for a walk in the woods or on the beach, at least not for all of us. It’s a lot of effort, and sometimes just making that effort is so exhausting you can’t do anything else.

Because I was struggling so much, and because it was affecting my work, I chose to step back for a while. I stopped worrying about doing blog posts and social media. I didn’t write any articles or do any Facebook Live videos. I needed to go into hibernation mode until my mind and body were ready to come out of it.

As I write this, I’m looking out the window at sunshine and a bright blue sky. And way more snow on the ground than there ought to be when tomorrow’s the first day of spring. This is the second blog post I’ve written today. For the first time in over a month, I’m feeling hopeful and positive, and I want to do things. I’m coming out of the self-imposed hibernation and starting to live and work again.

I’m not going to get down on myself for needing that time to regroup. I think most people, regardless of mental health, have times when they just need to step back and take care of themselves. The past month or so has been one of those times for me. And that’s okay.

Why Meditation Isn’t For Everyone

Meditation is probably one of the most recommended ways to relax and clear one’s mind. There are a number of different techniques and methods, and a number of different reasons for using them.

But meditation doesn’t work for everyone. For me, sometimes it backfires completely. Instead of feeling calm and relaxed, it leaves me feeling angry and anxious. I know other people, most of whom have PTSD or a mental illness, who experience the same reaction.

That doesn’t mean meditation is a bad thing. It definitely is beneficial for some people. Even for me, there are times when it does serve to calm me down and help me focus better. And different forms of meditation might work better for some people than others. For example, some people refer to yoga as “moving meditation,” and yoga is something that might work for those who have difficulty with other forms of meditation.

It’s easy to tell people to meditate on certain questions or problems, or to make daily meditation part of their self-care routine. But sometimes the easy advice isn’t the best. Meditation can be more harmful than beneficial to some people depending on their needs and conditions. If it works for you, that’s great, but please remember not everyone will gain benefit from it.

Medication

I take several medications every day. And I’ve had several people tell me I shouldn’t take them.

I understand that some people are severely overmedicated nowadays, and sometimes medications have side effects that are worse than whatever they’re supposed to treat. For some people, not taking medication would be right move.

But not all alternative treatments work for everyone, and some don’t work at all, just as not all medications work for everyone. In my opinion, unless you’re a medical professional (including holistic medicine, depending on training) of some kind, it isn’t your place to tell someone else they should or shouldn’t be taking a certain medication or following a certain treatment plan. By all means, at least if asked, tell others what works for you, but don’t tell them that *they* have to do something just because it does work for you.

It’s even more unfair to shame someone for taking medication that, for all you know, might be saving their life. I have severe depression, and I take antidepressants. I have tried other means of managing and treating the depression. They did not work, and in one case nearly landed me in the hospital. The medication I take works, and I can honestly say that it helps keep me alive.

Whatever works for you in treating medical conditions is fine, but please don’t take it on yourself to tell someone else they’re wrong about what works for them. That goes for people who are on medications as well; medication might work for you, but that doesn’t mean other people don’t successfully manage or treat their conditions with other methods, and that’s okay too.

Depression and Loneliness

It’s a sad fact that one of the things depression does, at least for some of us who have it, is to convince us that we’re completely alone. That we have no friends, and our families only care about us because they have to, since they’re our families. That happens to me pretty much every time the “depression demons” decide to rear their ugly heads.

The problem is that I don’t really have a social life at the best of times. For a few reasons, I don’t feel that I can invite anyone to my apartment, especially when my husband’s at home. Depression tries to tell me that no one ever invites me to their homes, but that isn’t actually true. The truth is that on occasion, someone does, but then schedules don’t work out or weather or other factors interfere. So even when I’m not depressed, I do sometimes feel lonely. I just deal with it a lot better when depression is leaving me alone.

It’s an even sadder fact that sometimes when depression kicks in, my first instinct is to isolate myself. In other words, have even less contact with other human beings than I do generally. The line of thought goes something like, “Supposedly I have friends, but no one invites me anywhere, so what’s the point of having friends? I should just cut everyone out of my life, and then I’ll be lonely and miserable but at least it’ll be my choice.”

It’s important to note that line of thought comes from the *depression*. It is incorrect thinking and incorrect perception, which I am aware of even at the time I’m thinking it, but that’s what depression does. It warps your view of reality to the worst possible scenarios, and even when you know you’re not perceiving things correctly, depression digs in its claws and tries to keep you from seeing it any other way.

The reality is that I do have a small group of friends. If I were to invite any of them over, they would likely come. If I gave any of them an indication that I’d like to see them for coffee, or that I’d be happy with an invitation to their homes, we would likely get together. If I isolate myself, of course those things aren’t going to happen.

If I isolate myself, depression wins, because I would be lonely and miserable more of the time. And every day when I get out of bed, I renew the decision not to let depression win.

Emotions

Emotions can be tricky things. Sometimes they seem to just sneak up on us, suddenly and without warning, and we go from zero to sixty in a second flat. That happens to me sometimes, especially with emotions like fear and anger. I don’t know they’re on the way, but suddenly they’re there, complete with racing thoughts and a running mouth I can’t seem to stop.

But the thing is, I *can* stop the thoughts and the words. I can stop any actions I might be on the verge of.

What I can’t stop are the emotions themselves. Believe me, I’ve tried. And the harder I try to make that anger or fear go away, the more stubborn they become. It’s like the concept of not thinking about the pink elephant. Now that I’ve brought that up, just try to stop thinking about pink elephants. At all. No thoughts of them. None.

See how difficult that can be?

One of the more useful things I’ve learned about emotions is to stop identifying myself *as* the emotion, and instead identify the emotion as something I have. For example, instead of “I’m angry,” saying “I feel angry” helps to separate me from that emotion, which can help the emotion fade sooner. It also prevents me from condemning myself for feeling it at all, which brings me to the second point.

Many of us are taught that feeling certain emotions is just plain not acceptable. You can’t feel anger. You shouldn’t feel afraid. And so on. So we learn to fight those emotions, or suppress them, or pretend they don’t exist at all.

Instead, I believe we need to learn to accept them, and more importantly, accept ourselves for feeling them. I’m not a bad person because I sometimes feel angry, or jealous, or afraid. I’m a human being, and most human beings experience a huge range of emotions in their lives. And that’s perfectly okay.

Anything you feel is okay. It’s what you do in response to feeling that way that matters. So be kind to yourself when you feel a negative emotion. Accept it. Even thank the emotion for what it’s bringing you, or for trying to protect you. And then move on.