Emotions: The Physical Gift We Can Name

Leprosy hand affected fourth digit

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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.

10 thoughts on “Emotions: The Physical Gift We Can Name

  1. “Emotions are our spiritual sensory system” What a profound and yet simple way to define. I have read with some fascination how Mary Baker Eddy deals with your questions in Science and Health re Christian Science. Besides a religion I thank CS is a psychological plausibility structure based on God relationship which allegedly enhances physical healing too.

  2. I have many instances of mental illness in my family. I don’t define them any different than any other type of illness. In our country, it is socially acceptable to be sick from the neck down. We have heart disease (disease in the heart) kidney disease (disease in the kidney), diabetes (disease in the pancreas), There are many, many diseases of the organs in our bodies. Our brain is also an organ and it gets sick as often as any other organ. When the brain gets sick, it manifests by having mental illnesses. I think it is much easier to ask for help and receive it when we stop looking at an illness as a personal failure. It is simply an illness that needs treatment. The treatment may include medication, or just working through it, or any number of other alternatives. As far as talking, I have come to believe that none of us get through this life without a little damage. We all have issues. All of us need someone to talk to occasionally. Some are lucky enough to have the support they need in a network that surrounds them. Some never have that type of support and need to find other ways. Some have too many issues and need professional help. Our emotions are physically important. They are part of what helps us to cope with the world around us. They are part of what makes us who we are and they help define what we can do and be. When our emotions run amuk that we are unable to protect ourselves from emotional pain and injury. I pay attention to those signals and ask for help when needed. Sometimes, I can go years with no extra help, sometimes I need it much more often. My emotions are what give me the clues I need to realize I need help before it gets too out of control. Also, if you have close friends or family, you can use them as a gage for when things are wrong. They are often the first to notice when your emotions and behavior might not be “normal”.

  3. I have Fibromyalgia. Emotions effect the body when one has Fibromyalgia. Fibromyalgia may actually be a result of emotions – a severe trauma, physical or emotional. When someone has Fibromyalgia, he or she looks perfectly normal and far from ill…emotionally or physically…when, in actuality, he or she is in horrific pain all over, frequently to the point that it is incredibly difficult to do most anything.

    Thus, the stigma. You look fine, but you hurt like crazy – in the craziest ways – and in so many different ways. Trying to explain that to pretty much anyone…including some doctors…is almost impossible. Fibromyalgia is so difficult to understand unless you actually have it (and even when you have it yourself!!), and it is so frustrating (and hurtful) to be misunderstood (or judged) because you have to say “no” to so many things, that emotions kick in and the pain just gets worse. It’s a “real” disease, but, too often, it’s a disease that is the result, as in my case, of an emotional disease. Navigation? No. I think in the case of Fibromyalgia it is survival…and, self-acceptance, which is, at least for me, the most difficult thing of all. But then, when we are emotionally ill, self-acceptance is equally difficult.

    I think I’m rambling. I’m sorry. It’s the result of something called Fibro-fog. I could explain but….

    • ended on a smirking frown. could explain but…
      that sounds rough. i wish more often we were able to say to ourselves and to others, “Ok. You feel that way.” And let it be the truth that each person’s reality holds. Things just are sometimes. i’d hug u but i know you’re hurting and don’t want to set off those trigger points ;). keep on nancy.

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