Sunday, May 11, 2014

On Emotions and Connection to Others

I have some thoughts on emotional highs and lows, personal independence and competence, what creates both, and how they help or hurt you in connecting to others to process. Spurred by a sentence I just read in a book.

I just read something about withstanding emotional lows in order to experience new emotional highs... and how some people can live life by shutting off their emotions to a degree and not having as many rocky bottoming out emotional lows, but they also don't get the experience of new emotional highs either. I 've lived life in several ways... I've never been not emotional, of course, but I've had the REALLY intense cycling back and forth between despair and euphoria several times a day of college and I've had periods of my life after college where nothing was THAT wrong but nothing was that right either - emptiness, boredom, a despair born out of no emotions worth having rather than too many emotions. I've had periods (okay, most of them) where the experience of anxiety was so great that it blocked out the experience of nearly all positive emotions, but the negative ones were intense.

And then I've had the experience of re-discovering joy and rediscovering what it's like to feel happy to be you (at least at some points in the day!) and rediscovering what it feels like to connect to the world as you.

The joy of connection, both to music or people or parts of the world, the feeling of joy over feelings of competence, which is still rare for me but oh so sweet when it comes, and the joy of the feeling of independence. The feeling of starting to feel a little more confident is amazing in itself... The realization I had one day now about 6 weeks or so ago of all of a sudden feeling like I could go with the flow more.

Realizing that day that that all of these things that were going on around me that would have sent me into a tailspin or made me insane  before, I could now seem to handle.
 While I felt vaguely uncomfortable, I felt like I could probably handle them if I had to. That was HUGE.

 Somehow this process has to include a way for me to recover feelings of competence about myself. My biggest emotional highs in my life have occurred while doing really simple basic things that were mired in independence and personal competence... The biggest emotional high of my life was probably simply walking back from the Super Fresh grocery store a half mile or so from my college in Towson, Maryland, with groceries, the radio on my Walkman and a smoothie in my hand. The feeling of utter competence and independence, of ability, of self determination... coupled with the natural (for me) emotional high of the songs on the radio, the sugar high of the smoothie (a la Smoothie King, which I mourned the closing of for so long when it closed in Portland years ago), and even the natural relaxing rhythm of walking and the feeling, at least when it wasn't humid as it so often was in Baltimore, of the air on my face.... All combined to create an ecstacy unlike anything else. I got it not all the time but almost every time I walked across that four lane highway/road that seperated the Super Fresh shopping plaza from the road leading to our school (hell, crossing that road after grocery shopping was an art form in itself). I sometimes would wonder why such a simple thing would make me so happy, but I didn't analyze it too closely... I was too busy enjoying it. I did realize that the smoothie and radio along with the independence were all connected, though. I still think of the steps leading up to the Sheraton that we would cross to get back to school every time I hear "Mississippi Girl" by Faith Hill on the radio because the memory and sensory experiences of the high of life when I was standing on those steps listening to it on the 430 Future File on WPOC Baltimore was... and is... forever etched into my head, in the best possible way. The songs on the radio carry all my memories, good and bad but mostly good, and they constantly bolster me and support me whenever I feel weak. The emotional language of my life is ingrained in them.

I would get similar feelings walking from Hannaford to my apartment when I lived in South Portland in 2007, before all the trauma in my life started. Unfortunately, since 2007, I haven't had a lot of opportunities to feel competent or independent in pretty much any way. I've had a lot of crises... one crisis after another, that called upon all my coping skills and didn't leave any or little room left for positive emotion. Since my crises were of a nature that it was hard for others to understand my difficulty, there wasn't much in the way of positive feedback about my effort to cope. In fact, I was called crazy most of the time and left to survive however I could in the way I knew I had to. I persisted, and I'm proud of it, but it wasn't easy. I often would complain that I wished I had normal problems so someone could at least relate.

I somehow managed to lose nearly of all my physical strength somewhere in the time between Liberty and Eugene... See, this is how fragmented my life is, I can describe things in my life based in what city I was living in at the time. Oh well. The point is it was not intentional, it was gradual, but when I went to leave Oregon I realized I could no longer lift my laptop. And I had no idea why. Nor do any doctors I have talked to since. So then I've had 5 or so years of having to ask for help with most physical tasks, which is intensely embarassing and many people do not believe me when I say it hurts too much to do something simple. So there went the opportunity to feel good about anything physical, and so much of life is indeed physical. No carrying back groceries for me and feeling good about that anymore.

It seems to be the times that we least expect it when feelings of joy or satisfaction, even, hit. I have in the last three weeks since moving to Portland and getting the chance to at least move around the city independently had moments, not nearly as intense as previous times or pre-2007 but moments where I am struck by the joy of what I am doing. Struck by the joy of being able to move around the city unencumbered. They have been tempered by all of my physical problems, which really wear on a person emotionally, but are still sweet when they come. Usually some combination of a good song on the radio, fresh, crisp air (of which I will soon have to mourn due to the approaching humidity of summer) and/or a good interaction with someone.

There have been, of course, many emotional low points, both in the past year and past few weeks. The more I start to understand how much I've missed out on emotionally, the more I sometimes am prone to feel overwhelmed by the length and size of the gap I need to bridge. But those moments when I feel connected to people are so sweet , so amazing, so powerful they make me smile for so long after. The physical sensations in my life are very often so overwhelming I can think of or feel nothing else, and the emotional isolation this brings is greater than anything else. But I am starting to realize, people are connected to others, they feel others' emotions, they trust others, they trust or have a stable sense of people caring about them even when they are not in interaction with others. Object permanence. This feeling of stability helps them to deal with unpleasant or traumatic sensations in their lives. So, if you couple my greatly heightened sensitivity to physical stimuli with my almost completely absent ability to understand on a consistent basis that others care for me and are connected to me at all times, my often complete isolation and despair becomes , I hope, a lot more understandable.

The concept, though, of WANTING new emotional highs enough that you can and will willingly suffer thru the emotional lows - of knowing even while in the emotionl lows that it is WORTH it for the emotional highs - is somewhat new to me. I can usually not think of anything other than the low when in it, and I have never had consistent or stable enough emotional highs to feel the presence of them when in the lows.

But I am hoping by moving into a city where I have some connections and some ability to be more independent, that I can create enough meaningful emotional experiences that they will start to blot out the lows all the time, consistently, giving me a capacity I hope for emotional regulation I've never had before. I've had some signs of it but it's a one step forward, two steps back process that it is often frustrating to me.

Last Monday, I was feeling particularly vulnerable after having felt somewhat unmoored all weekend. I was not able to find the emotional grounding and connection that I usually had been able to find in the situation I was in, and my distress kept building upon itself despite my best efforts to soothe myself with music or self-talk. I just needed to be heard by somebody, but I was aware of how much effort it took to connect with me and so let my desire not to be a burden supercede my need to connect. Maybe it's what I should have done, I still don't know. I just know I have to find ways to connect with people that are not so time consuming and difficult for the other person, because the ways I have are not maintainable, not self-sustaining, whatever. The level of connection I require to feel heard is nice when you can get it but not realistic for most people to have. I have to somehow find shortcuts. I have to learn how people connect with others, because most people seem to use verbal shortcuts, or maybe nonverbal language or physical intimacy of some kind to fill their need for this kind of connection, and I'm only able to do it with long, intense, rambling discourse. There is a time and a place for that but how do I develop ways to feel connected with others even when not in the midst of these discussions? How do I develop object permanance? These are the questions rambling around my brain tonight.

Someone today told me that if I am feeling calmer in myself I will be more able to take others in and feel their emotions - not feel so unmoored as a usual state of being. I agree. I had reached the same conclusion. But being calm for me is in large part a function of my physical environment. I can't feel calm if  my senses are under attack by loud music, smells, humidity, the feeling of my clothes on my body and so on. Most people do not understand these sensory issues and think they are a "preference." They do not seem to understand that my brain literally will not work right if subjected to them. They tell me to suck it up and be considerate of other people's needs. They give me the message that my needs are not worth accomodating. There is shame involved. All of this is not very conducive to being open to people's messages of caring, love or support. Yes, I realize that people can't always accomodate me, and I don't expect them to. But when it wouldn't put them out much to accomodate me, then it would be nice. Even if they could acknowledge as valid my difficult experience of whatever experience we are sharing, it would help silence the shame I always feel for experiencing it differently. People tell me constantly that my experience is different and imply "Well, this is how most people do it, so you better comply and start feeling it that way, or else just deal with it." Not going to happen. So then I get overloaded with not only the physical stimulus but the shame of being the only one to feel it that way, and it's usually the second one that makes me involuntarily start to cry. Crying is not a very good way to increase connection with others, I'll tell you that much. But it's one most people don't seem to understand I have no control over. Most people do not know how to offer support to someone who is crying, this much I will tell you for sure.

 My world is regulated largely through the consistency of music on the radio, since it's the only form of consistent emotional relatedness I can expect. I've just realized this recently. But I would love to have a human being that felt as dependable to me and as safe and supportive to me as the songs on the radio do. I hope to get there some day, hopefully sooner rather than later. I'd love to be able to trust people, to communicate with people without the barely disguised feeling that they are going to --unintentionally yes but still -- hurt me if I'm not  on guard. The first step to this is acknowledging it and trying to figure out how it came about. The second is probably putting yourself in situations that can challenge these beliefs. Maybe a healthy dose of patience? I don't know. But again... spur of the moment thoughts rattling around my head at 346am when I really should be asleep. Goodnight.

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