Self-Care Tip #148 – Identify your emotions, navigate, and get help.
Mad. And when Mia was angry she wanted to go eat. Nervous. When she was nervous she wanted to go eat. Like a wire with a current, she couldn’t stop her thoughts from moving and moving. Although eating soothed her in less than a shard of a second, it was also followed by self-loathing. Self-loathing brought on more eating and then purging.
Sitting in my office, Mia said it was like she was looking at herself from the outside in and the self on the inside could hear the, “Stop!” Demands, petitions, and begging to stop came from the other Mia, who was loosing her command-authority in a scary-fast way.
How often we hurt ourselves but blame a trigger, an emotion, a person, or an act of malice. If only we could say, “Put the offense down and take two steps back.” But sometimes we can’t. It’s easy to piously say, with habits and cassocks or soutane (French for traditional priest’s attire) in place, “Don’t make decisions based on emotions.” It’s easy to say, “Be objective, we can’t trust our emotions.” But if emotions are what we use to interpret the world around us with, if that’s all we have, what can we do?
Emotions are ideally the color, texture, perfume, music and salt in our physical self. Emotions are our spiritual sensory system. Not being able to trust them is a big loss. Being blind, deaf, anosmic (can’t smell,) unable to taste, and numb would make it really hard to interpret the world around us too.
Paul Brand, MD, coauthored with P. Yancy, “Pain: The Gift Nobody Wants.” This book uniquely tells Dr. Brand’s story of working with lepers in India. Leprosy is a disease that causes a person’s nerves to stop working so they lose their sense of touch and subsequently can’t feel when they hurt themselves. A once harmless thing like bumping a finger for example, is extremely dangerous. Lepers can’t feel the pain, and so don’t accommodate for it and protect themselves. You can imagine that bumping a finger but not reacting to it leads to tissue damage when it is done over and over, until one day the finger falls off.
Dr. Brand is right. Pain is a gift. And so are emotions. Including emotional pain, if serving as intended, to protect the individual and not self-destructive things such as bingeing and purging. The purpose of this post is not to get into what binging and purging is. That’s just an example of behaviors that might grow out of emotions gone amuck. Emotions that we used to trust. That use to tell us who is a friend and who is an enemy. Emotions that used to know who’s side they were on. Emotions that forget their own like that can be just as extremely dangerous as leprosy is to our tender fragile fingers.
The purpose of this post is to flatten the mountains of understanding between here and there. Between understanding that emotions are as physically important as anything else, such as the spinal cord. The purpose of this post is to furthermore say what to do about it once we can 1) identify the problem and 2) get past the stigma. Mia did the eating and purging stuff, but she also asked for help. 3) Ask for help.
Lepers have still so few options to help their disease. Us with emotional illness are very blessed because we do. We have medications, psychotherapy, coping skills, miracles, and more. We have a lot.
Question: How do you define the space between emotions and other “real” medical illnesses such as diabetes? How do you navigate around stigma? How do you ask for help? Please tell me your story.