This blog is part of my recovery, and I would like it to remain a safe place for me to share parts of myself and my life that people close to me may or may not know. As a result, while I'm not going crazy with privacy settings, I do ask that if you find this on your own and suspect you may know me, please respect my privacy by checking with us before reading any further. This obviously doesn't apply if one of us has given you the link!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Mixed Messages: How Are You?

Today I got to thinking about my relationship with my emotions. It’s not something I usually avoid thinking about, but it’s also not something I am particularly constructive with, either, most of the time.

Several hours ago, I was logged in when a friend signed on and asked a question that sent my anxiety levels through the roof. Did she ask what to do if a prowler is in your home? What to do about some sort of medical emergency? No, it was nothing like that; nothing that big or important. In fact, all it took were a few simple words: “how are you?”

Some days, I just don’t know. Even after a year of DBT, my emotions are a relative stranger to me. I still label them incorrectly; I still struggle to see them at all; I’m incongruent; and I definitely still try to deny and hide them. I hide my emotions so well, in fact, that our DBT coordinator commented on it. “[dawni] is hard to read, yes. She’s a very good cloaker. I think, actually, she’s the best cloaker I’ve ever met.” There was a lot of power in that; I could fool a therapist I respected a lot, without even trying. Of course, the flip side of that was that, without even meaning to, I was treading on my own toes - how could anyone help me get better if they didn't have a clue what was going on?

And that is what brings me to why, today, “how are you?” set off my nerves.

If I know what I’m feeling, I’ll try my damnedest to hide it from you. Hell, I’ll try my damnedest to hide it from myself. On the other hand, I don’t like to lie. If you ask me how I am, I will feel compelled to answer you honestly – while at the same time I will feel compelled to not reveal what’s going on. If I’m lucky, I’ll have something physically going on I can hide behind. “I’m a bit tired” is probably my ‘favourite’, but “my knee hurts” gets a pretty good workout as well, these days. When my physical health isn’t an issue, though, there’s not much I can do except answer or avoid. And as much as I know that simply avoiding the question, especially after the second or third time you’ve asked, is its own answer, I am often too caught between the two answers to give a decent answer. And buried in there, underneath it all is the little thing that sparks it – fear.

I always vaguely suspect that people don’t believe me when I tell them how I am; what makes this so frustrating is that the thought is strengthened by the very behaviours it causes. Of course you’ll have trouble knowing what to believe if my words say “I hurt” and my face and body say “everything is fine”. It gets worse when, as a protective coating, out comes my humour. Now my body’s saying “I’m fine”, my face is saying “I’m fine” and my words are saying, “I’m not fine, but let’s all laugh it off”.  Talk about mixed messages! But doing otherwise, allowing my body to tell its share of the tale? That leaves me vulnerable – not just to you, but to the one thing that frightens me most of all-- myself.

If I admit, honestly, to you what is going on here in my head, I have to admit it to myself. I’m not so good at that. I seem to believe, down in my core, that if I can’t see it, it’ll go away and I’ll feel nothing. For years now, I have been on a quest to simply cease feeling. I am, if you’ll pardon the Star Trek reference, the anti-Data. He spent years trying to attain the ability to feel – I spend them trying to avoid it.

The first step, I’ve heard, is recognising the problem. If the second is to find the why, then I’m well on the way. It’s pretty easy to figure out, this one: the answer is fear.  Are you picking up on a common thread, yet? I’ll probably talk a lot about fear in here – it’s one of my big hurdles.

What does fear have to do with my relationship to my emotions? Everything! I'm afraid of my emotions - including my fear of them. Maybe even especially that one. It seems that I have a few core beliefs about emotions and/or expressing them, that still need challenging.

It is okay to feel. Whatever I feel.
It doesn't matter what lengths I go to, I will continue to feel things.
It is sometimes okay to tell others what's going on for me.

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