Late at night, disturbed by feelings of emptiness and isolation, I sat in a dark room in front of the bright white light coming from my laptop, trying to divert my brain towards something less sinister than my thoughts. I dabbled aimlessly trying to do my best to focus on anything other than how I felt. Eventually, however, it took over me. I was no longer able to contain my helplessness and in complete vulnerability gave into the full intensity of every thought and feeling. There are palpable physical manifestations of such strong emotions. Your chest feels caged and taut, breathing becomes sporadic and it hurts in the pit of your stomach like you’ve been kicked and trampled on. I went over every detail of the situation trying to help my brain fathom what the body felt and I soon realised that everything I’ve known to be true can no longer help me explain any of what I was experiencing. As if that was not all, with each prolonged minute I continued to feel destitute and powerless, something also made me feel guilty for not being able to better “control” myself. I wanted to ask for help but I felt ashamed of not having the answers someone all ready to take on the world should be equipped with, or at least I thought should have been equipped with. After about an hour of drenching my pillow I finally fell asleep out of exhaustion.
It is not important what it was that brought me to that night. What is important is that one way or the other, we all have had a night like that. Behind closed doors, on bathroom floors, under blankets, we’ve all hidden under covers trying to protect ourselves at our most vulnerable moments. Or worse, we have completely blocked ourselves from ever experiencing moments of sour defeat living a precarious life of avoidance and denial, in order to maintain the façade of keeping it “together”. How many of those heart-wrenching nights do we end up sharing with someone? For many of us, especially those of us who are working, living alone away from home and family, we tend to “fix” our problems by consistently pushing conflicts to a side diverting attention to superficial issues that are easier to face, sometimes maybe even conjecturing new ones just to keep the mind busy; until one day when either we are forced to wake up to reality or have become completely oblivious to it by grounding belief in distorted perceived realities of situations.
One thing had become abundantly clear after that night. I had to pay close attention to what my mind was trying to tell me in muffled screams. However, as I would eventually come to learn, that realisation is only the beginning. Two most prominent thoughts that followed soon after were that of shame and guilt. I wasn’t sure if it is “normal” to feel so broken over the kind of life events I had been facing with. I surely wasn’t the first person or the only person to face uncertain times. I wasn’t sure if I was unknowingly using certain events as a crutch for myself and not trying hard enough to “move on”. I would make sure not to let out cries in front of people or bring up those topics that I really wished to talk about. I was actively sweeping sadness, anger and every other distressing emotion life had suddenly hurled at me, under a rug. Somehow, I had taught myself that it was not okay to admit hurt or that it was not normal to cry. It felt wrong not be able to “get over it” sooner. Something made me feel guilty that I did not have the expertise to tackle a conflict and that something irked me. Irked me because what if this meant I am not as efficient at taking care of my life as I thought I was.
The more time I spent focusing on managing these emotions on my own, the more irritable I got. Because I would spend so much of my energy making sure nobody notices I wasn’t feeling “rosy” that I would end up feeling constantly exasperated and tired of any actual human communication. As people began to notice this change and I realised I was getting into arguments with people a lot more than I usually would, I was forced to re-evaluate my priorities. When your methods aren’t yielding true happiness, no matter how difficult it is to change those methods, you must.
Why has it become so difficult for us to express vulnerability? If only we would learn that facing sadness, grief or anger just as experiencing happiness or joy does not define our capabilities of managing obscurity; we wouldn’t have such restricted emotional intimacy that we so commonly see around us these days. What we do with these experiences is more important and anyone who claims they never have or will never have these experiences is in all likelihood lying to themselves. The death of a loved one, going through failed relationships, dealing with loss of various other types, they are a part of all of our lives. Why are we even alive, especially as humans, if not for the experience of it? If our phone falls into a pool of water, we’d get bent out of shape because “our whole lives are in there”. Our work, photographs, late night chat histories, thousands of rupees down in water; however, if we were to experience heartache we would just tell ourselves “move on, it happens.” Really?
One individual I admire immensely and whose work helped me grapple my situation better is Dr Brene Brown, a research professor at the University Of Houston Graduate College Of Social Work where she has spent more than a decade studying courage, shame and authenticity among various other topics. I had stumbled across her work a long time ago and this phase of life seemed like the most appropriate time to take her advice. She talks about “the price of invulnerability” and says, “In our anxious world, we often protect ourselves by closing off parts of our lives that leave us feeling most vulnerable. Yet invulnerability has a price. When we knowingly or unknowingly numb ourselves to what we sense threatens us, we sacrifice an essential tool for navigating uncertain times – joy.” It is important to acknowledge that we cannot selectively feel emotions. We can’t truly experience joy if we don’t allow ourselves to truly experience grief for the fear of seeming weak.
I am a student of psychology and I will soon start my training in psychotherapy. It’s ironical that I would struggle with sharing or expressing difficult emotions when I am preparing to help others do the same. I would be cheating my profession if I myself don’t learn these lessons first. There are various mental health campaigns doing rounds on social media platforms these days. Many people acknowledging the need to be present for others who might need their help and support. And while it is extremely gratifying to see people’s willingness to step up and discuss and write about topics such as depression and anxiety, it is not enough. What is more important is to be aware of people around you. To be compassionate and kind, especially towards those who do not have it in them to return the favour. It isn’t necessary every person we would hope to reach out to would readily become open to the idea of accepting your support. However, patience is key. Even a silent friendly presence in another’s life that assures them that some individuals will continue to stick around for as long as you need them to can do wonders. Fear and scarcity of true joy has detrimental effects on everything from how we live, our work, our relationships, choosing possible partners and build relationships etc. simple acts of kindness and understanding maybe all that another needs to restore their sense of purpose and meaning.