Tag Archives: Emotion

The Day After the Worst Day

Recently, a friend mentioned seeing a segment from reality TV show in which participants discussed the worst day of their lives. I immediately cast my brain around to unpleasant areas and two days came to mind, though not in the way I expected.

I thought first of the night when my dad looked at my sister, brother, and me sitting around the kitchen table and said, “Mummy and Daddy won’t be living together any longer.” And then he started to cry. So did we.

I thought next of the morning when my now ex-boyfriend and I ended a relationship that had lasted eight and a half years. Calmly, in a fog, I looked at him and said, “Okay.” I did a lot of writing that day.

There’s a lot that I remember and still viscerally feel about those moments. I remember tone of voice and facial expression and it still makes me ache. As I write this, my breathing has constricted and my stomach has clenched. My hands are shaking over the keyboard and my chest hurts. I remember the feeling that came later: anguish, despair, and the sense of falling into thick, dark, unforgiving blackness.

But what I can’t remember at all is the day after each of those events. I can’t remember the day I got out of bed after what must have been a sleepless night and had to cope with a reality that, mere hours earlier, had been unimaginable. The day I had to begin relearning how to live because the way I’d been living no longer existed. The day the nightmare inside my head grew louder as time passed instead of fading.

I can’t remember the day after. I can only guess as to what happened.

This is probably a neural defense mechanism. My brain has probably suppressed the memories of the day that followed my parents’ separation and my breakup because they’re painful, harmful, and detrimental to my daily functioning.

The brain’s purpose is to keep you alive and the way that happens is fascinating. During a traumatic episode, the flight-or-fight response activates, leaving a sketch of what happened but relatively few details. The brain and body need to focus exclusively on getting you out of a dangerous situation. Both adrenaline and noradrenaline are released to allow you to respond quickly and to fight or flee as needed. Adrenaline blocks out non-essential information to focus on the essential (the quick response) and noradrenaline destroy’s the brain’s ability to store memories. Basically, the brain focuses on getting you physically out of a dangerous situation or mentally through a traumatic one and it streamlines its neural processes in order to do that. (Useful reading: Why Can’t Accident Victims Remember What Happened to Them?)

I’m willing to guess that this is what happened in the aftermath of my worst days. I have flashbulb memories of the specific events themselves (truly, neither of them fall in to the trauma category, which I’m inclined to reserve for real disasters, death, violence, sexual assault, etc.) but it seems that my brain’s neural processes interfered with my ability to remember the day after in order to keep me putting one foot in front of the other.

Since my hypothesis is based on one anecdotal example, I’m wondering about others’ experiences. Can you remember the day after a traumatic event? If so, is there something specific about that day that you remember? By contrast, is there a gap in time that you don’t remember? Have something else to say or a different idea entirely? Post a comment or send a message through the contact page. Thanks in advance!

Dear You

It’s a little bit funny this feeling inside
I’m not one of those who can easily hide

I grew up listening to Elton John and this particular song always comes back to me in moments of a certain strong emotion. As I write this, the video is playing in the background and I know I’ll be listening to his music all night. I’m writing now as a way to stay grounded, to remind myself of where I’ve been and where I’m going.

Where we’ve been.

I spent this afternoon with my best friend from the last ten years. He lives only a few miles from me, in an apartment leased in both of our names. I pass that street every day on the way to work. I had dinner on that block just last night.

We broke up back in August. A lot happened between us and everything changed. I’ve learned a lot since then. I’ve grown, hopefully in positive ways.

A friend called to ask how the afternoon went and when I tried to explain, I found myself a little choked up. There’s a whole life buried under the coffee we shared today.

I know it’s not much but it’s the best I can do
My gift is my song and this one’s for you

After all that has passed between us, I just want to thank you. I want to thank you for always being able to make me laugh, for holding me when I cried, for giving me the wings I never would have found without you. I want to thank you for teaching me to run and for broadening my understanding of the world. Thank you for all the times you didn’t give up on me. Most importantly, thank you for letting me see you, know you, and love you.

I didn’t always do right by you because I didn’t know how to do right by me. I’m sad for both of us that I didn’t know better. I know better now and I’m sorry you were the one caught in the middle of that journey of self-discovery.

I want you to know that you are always welcome in my corner of the sky, in my home, or at my table. I wish everything for you that you wish for yourself. I hope that you smile and find peace in where you are and what you’re doing. Please know that I’m always cheering for you, darling, and that will never change.

Love always,

Rebecca Michelle

On Love, or Why I Decided to Go to Therapy

I’m building walls again.

I thought I’d kicked the habit, but I guess not.

I’m building walls so I can hide. I’m looking for ways to feel safe, to protect myself from a constant feeling of hopelessness. I’m buildings walls that scream, “I don’t care,” because if I don’t care then I can’t hurt. If I can build my walls tall enough, if I can hide behind trap doors and drawbridges, maybe I can avoid the feeling of nakedness that comes with the deepest forms of human connection.

Because I’ve lost that connection with people I love. And I don’t know if I’m courageous enough to seek it out again.

I’ve been thinking a lot about love lately. The fluidity of how we use the word love to describe emotions about people, animals, things, and ideas. I’ve been thinking about what it means to fall in love, to be in love, to stay in love. All of those are different, and it’s fascinating to me.

Love is a verb. We never talk about that.

Along the way, that’s what I forgot. I forgot that love means doing. It’s a demonstration, physically or verbally, of becoming part of someone’s life and allowing others to become part of one’s own life. It is a way of being towards oneself and others. I think that I haven’t been very good at loving. I have certainly not been good at loving myself, which I think is why I’ve lost track of what it means to love.

I’m building walls because I’m in a process of coming to terms with my choices. And it’s hard.

I was 17 when I fell in love for the first time. The subject of my affection sat on the couch next to me, talking about something that I have since forgotten. I remember that at one point I stopped listening because my breath had caught in my throat, there were butterflies in my stomach, and I was filled with an instinctive drive to hold, protect, and give the world. I’d never felt anything like that before. Oh, I thought. This is love.

I was 18 when love brought me to tears for the first time. When I cried, it was out of despair at not being able to hold tightly enough, do enough, give enough, and adequately express all of my emotions. I was simply not ready to give up what I was giving up.

I was 21 when love scared me for the first time. I realized the feelings I’d called love had taken a different tone. They nagged, reminding me that they were not what they had once been. Those feelings had changed. I learned that with love sometimes comes rejection. I didn’t know how to respond and I didn’t know how to keep asking.

I was 22 when a coworker helped me make the connection between love as an idea and love as a verb. Love became action. It became deliberate demonstration of meaning, of care, of kindness. Love literally grew and blossomed because of attention to the way that thoughts become feelings, feelings become ideas, and ideas become actions. Love was not just evident, but tangible.

I was 24 when love scared me for the second time. I hid behind walls that love had steadily been tearing down from the time I was 17. Afraid of hurting and being hurt, I put up walls to avoid the former. I tried to forget about the latter.

At 26 I realized that I’d forgotten about a key element to love. I’d forgotten about loving myself. And as a result, I couldn’t act in love the way I needed to. All the hurt I’d hoped to avoid came crashing down and manifested in ways I never imagined.

A friend once called me guarded. I am. I have spent 26 years trying to do what is best for others. In doing so, I neglected myself.

Sometimes I remember to approach myself with compassion, which can be really difficult for me. But I have learned that without being good for myself, there is simply not enough of me to also be good for others.

So I’m trying to be good to myself. I’m trying to do what is right for me, at least when I think I know what that is. I’ve taken probably three steps back for every step forward, but at least there’s still forward momentum.

This is why I decided to go to therapy.

I decided to go to therapy because I’d reached a point where my inability to cope with the sadness I’ve been feeling in my personal life was interfering with my ability to direct my efforts towards areas that truly matter to me. Things like the state of the US right now, or developing a more peaceful world. Thinking about, learning about, discussing, and working towards change is the work I want to be doing. That’s the work that gives me the greatest sense of empowerment and self-efficacy.

I’ve been struggling to direct my energies towards that with everything else on my mind, so I’m going to therapy as a way of getting outside my own head and back into what matters.

This may be the most compassionate thing I have ever done for myself. It is also likely one of the most important.

You can search throughout the entire universe for someone who is more deserving of your love and affection than you are yourself, and that person is not to be found anywhere. You, yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection. – Buddha