Feelings — and what to do with them

By Caitlin Kelly

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A box full of comforts…

Having them, acknowledging having them, processing them, talking about them, reflecting on them.

Sharing them.

Brrrrrr!

Several bloggers who reveal their painful and difficult emotions, (without becoming maudlin), are Anne Theriault, a Toronto mother of one who has written eloquently about her struggles with depression and anxiety at The Belle Jar and Gabe Burkhardt, whose new blog has described his battles with PTSD.

Ashana M. also blogs lucidly about hers, as does CandidKay, a single mother in Chicago.

Here’s a gorgeous essay about coming to terms with yourself.

It takes guts to face your feelings and try to work through them, certainly when they’re painful or confusing. I’ve found it simpler to just ignore and/or bury them.

Writing publicly about your most private emotions? I’m still deciding how much of it I want to do.

I’ve not struggled with panic attacks or severe anxiety, occasionally with depression. I haven’t been sexually abused or attacked. Therapists — starting in my teens when I was bullied in high school for three years — have helped.

I grew up in a family most comfortable expressing a limited set of emotions, often anger. There was usually plenty of money, and good health and interesting work, so there was no obvious source for it. Material wealth and a sort of emotional poverty are a challenging combination.

No one got hit, but verbal attacks weren’t unusual.

My mother is bi-polar and hated how her medication tamped down her energy and creativity — so her terrifying and out-of-the-blue manic episodes were a part of my life, beginning at age 12 and continuing into my 30s. These included police, consular officials in three foreign countries and multiple hospitalizations, including a locked ward in London.

As an only child, my father (then divorced) usually off traveling for work, I had no backup.

She also drank a lot, and smoked, both of which eventually have ruined her health. No one seemed to care very much, which was both understandable and heartbreaking. She was Mensa smart, beautiful, funny.

We gave up on our relationship in 2011; I live a six-hour international flight away from her.

It’s a source of deep and un-resolvable pain. I don’t write about it because…what good would it possibly do?

I have three half-siblings, each from different mothers; we’re not close.

When people rave about how awesome their family is, I feel like a Martian; I left my mother’s care at 14, my father’s at 19, to live alone.

I hate explaining this. It feels like telling tales out of school, or people react with pity or they just can’t relate to it at all.

Which stops me from writing about it, except for here, something, I suppose, of a trial balloon. I still don’t have the distance, or skill, to make it all beautiful, an amuse-bouche presented prettily for others’ enjoyment.

I wonder if I ever will.

My parents divorced when I was 7, and I spent my childhood, ages eight to 14, shuttling between boarding school and three summer camps. Camp saved me. There, at least, I felt wholly loved: as a talented actress and singer, an athlete, a friend and an admired leader of my peers.

But you quickly learn, when you share your bedroom with strangers, none of whom you chose, to keep your mouth shut. Guarded = safe. There’s almost nowhere completely private to cry, or comfort yourself.

At my private school, no one ever just asked: “How are you? Are you OK?”

The ability to be emotionally intimate is very much a learned, practiced skill.

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Not surprising, then, that I became a nationally-ranked saber fencer!

I also work in a highly competitive field — journalism — where emotional vulnerability can provoke (and has) attack, ridicule, gossip and bullying. A friend in India once defended me there against a lie that took root in Toronto, where I worked, carried overseas by someone who thought this was a cool tidbit to share.

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Β Jose

Luckily, later in life, I met and married Jose, a man fully at ease with having and expressing his feelings and hearing mine, a deeply loving person. He was the much- cherished youngest child of his parents, a small-town preacher and a kindergarten teacher. He was a late-life surprise baby, born after the stillbirth of a brother.

A fellow career journalist, working at The New York Times for 31 years in photography, he’s also quite private and cautious about who he lets in close.

I’m so grateful every day for his love and support.

How do you cope with your difficult feelings, of sadness or anger or loneliness?

Do you share them and/or blog or write publicly about them?

22 thoughts on “Feelings — and what to do with them

  1. Thanks for sharing of yourself like this. πŸ™‚

    I think that one of the difficulties with writing about your family of origin is that so many others have had it so much worse. For instance, I come from a hugely dysfunctional family where there was hitting and mental abuse. But it came nowhere near to what I know a good friend of mine experienced. It’s not a competition (nor would she try to make me feel that way), but my friend’s experiences make me think that I have little to complain about – even though I know that I do have things to complain about. I also have worked hard to get rid of the whole “victim” mentality I was carrying around.

    Writing about it is up to you. If that does something for you, then do it. I write (I don’t really consider myself to be a “writer” just a scribbler) about narcissism because it helps me to think through it, and the comments from others help a lot with that. One thing I do know – be good to yourself, gentle with yourself where this area of your life is concerned. πŸ™‚

  2. Exactly.

    I read a lot of others’ work (i.e. personal essays) and it becomes challenging to feel like one’s story — esp. if you come from what many consider a very privileged position — has any value to others. I only decided to post this after many revisions and even then with reservations.

    It can turn into the victim Olympics, and that’s not my goal at all. The very fact of surviving and thriving is something in itself to celebrate. I have no wish to be a “victim.”

    I also have a narcissist within my own family and it really leaves scars, as you well know. The gaslighting alone leaves you doubting the validity of many of your feelings.

  3. Jan Jasper

    Caitlin,
    I am so moved by reading about your experiences, and I’m impressed that you’re willing to share so much. You have much insight and are so strong. I’m inspired to share some myself, so here goes. My father became a paranoid schizophrenic and committed suicide when I was 6 years old (belated onset of PTSD from WW2). My only sibling, my little brother, died when he was 19. My mom and I were close ever since I was young. I married, for the first time, in my very late 40s. Around this time 3 years ago my husband of 14 years was diagnosed with cancer and he died in Sept 2014. The only family I had left was my mom, then she died last June. That brings a weird kind of pain because she was probably my best friend, my mom & I almost never argued about anything. I know I was very lucky to be close to my mom, very few people have that kind of relationship with a parent; I keep reminding myself to focus on the positive. Yet my mom’s death has affected me so much, it’s such a huge loss and I miss her every day; I know that painful feeling will never fade. It’s odd to have my entire family dead. (I have no children, by choice – a choice I sometimes doubt, lately.) I talked the other day to a neighbor who was also very close to her mom, who died 17 years ago. She said people tell her that she should be “over it” by now as 17 years is a long time – a stunning lack of empathy and insight. (What is wrong with people?) I wish I believed in life after death, that would be a comfort to think “We’ll all be together someday,” but as a rational, scientifically-inclined person, I can no sooner believe in an afterlife than I could believe in Santa Claus. I doubt my tale is very interesting or special, but since you opened up so bravely, Caitlin, I felt inspired to do the same.

    1. That’s a lot of deep loss — so sorry to read this. One is NEVER over the loss of someone they adore. Why would you be?

      I live in daily dread of losing Jose for this reason. I have some good friends, but without kids, grandkids, nieces or nephews (they exist on his side, but not close at all)…it’s worrisome.

  4. I’m usually in a good mood. I haven’t felt depressed in a long time (not counting the day after the election, when everyone I knew felt depressed). The last time I really felt anxious for longer than a few minutes (and those are usually anxiety of the sort that goes, “Where did I put my such-and-such?”) was in college, when a lot was going on and I was wondering how I would pay and get through school. Thankfully, things improved, as did my mood.
    I have on occasion used my blog to deal with my issues, but often I don’t need to. I have good people around me whom I can talk about my problems with. I have hypnosis tracks and Netflix and books should my mood need a lift. But if I really want to vent my feelings and just talk, I know my blog is there for me. It’s worked before in the past, and if need be, it’ll work in the future.

    1. Good to hear that things are going so well for you…Not surprised to hear it.

      Good friends are essential to our mental health and just pure happiness. I’m so grateful for mine, and looking forward in Europe to reconnecting with several of them face to face.

      1. You’ll love it. Easy to get around and very cosmopolitan.
        And while it may not really be your kind of thing, I recommend checking out Sachsenhausen concentration camp just outside of Berlin. It’s depressing, but I think everyone should take the opportunity to visit off concentration camp if they can. Especially in today’s climate.

      2. Maybe. I plan to see the Holocaust Memorial. Having immersed myself in violence and death while researching my 1st book, I tend to be very cautious about that stuff — as we’ve discussed here (why I don’t read horror books or watch horror entertainment.)

      3. Right. I get it.
        BTW, if you catch anyone disrespecting the Holocaust Memorial like doing yoga on it or something stupid , take a photo of it. There’s a guy online who takes those photos and photo shops with people in them on the corpses of Holocaust victims. It’s very good at keeping these idiots from disrespecting a memorial to a tragedy ever again.

  5. I never share about my life experience on social network, I’m trying for an exception now. Each time I have attempted to share about feelings over the internet, I erased everything a few minutes later. Even on such basic things as political frustration after elections for instance. The thing is, what do we expect, when we tell a group of people about what we experienced and how we feel about it? I have no idea myself. When a friend of mine shares about his/her daily ordeals, childhood traumas or pains, I always read with concern and sympathy, and try to confort, when I find something useful to say–or just show that I pay attention by a little word. Do I expect this from people, when I myself am tempted to share about sorrows or struggles? Where does the temptation stem from? I ideally expect people to jump in their car and come to me, and solve my problem, or just be with me, for real. But I don’t really care about the few words they can tell me over the internet, which are about the only thing I can reasonably expect from them. Once, a distant friend of mine became suicidal over facebook. She spoke of it, became silent, and all of her friends inclusive me, were saying: “someone ought to do something.” Well I caricature, but almost none of us knew her phone number, nobody dared to call the police, just in case she was not really serious, just in case she was behaving that way to gain attention. It was hard to link this situation to something real and true. Did any of us help her? I guess that yes (she thanked the morning after–someone had finally called the police), but, that is not the type of help I would require for myself: I guess that if I was to commit suicide, I’d rather try to hide it into an accident, I’d post something like “texting and driving haha!” and make sure that these were my last words :-)). In short, I rate it very natural that others would share about what they go through, over the internet, I even sometimes appreciate that they do, because their experience is often interesting to know about, but I never seem to be in a situation where I myself can imagine what it would bring me–even though I’m sometimes depressed or have good reasons to vent out, moderately most part of the time. And also, I’m not so sure about what it would bring others. I think that it’s a matter of how we trust people. I think that I don’t trust that people would know how to respond if I was to talk about private, painful life online. After all, they don’t always know how to react even when they’re standing face to face.

    1. Great points, all…thanks for sharing.

      Yes, it’s very true that people often have no idea how to react with compassion, even if they (ideally) want to help. It’s hard to know sometimes what someone most needs, or what might feel intrusive.

      It’s also probably (surely!) generational that people younger than 30 are much more comfortable than I and my older peers are at pouring out our feelings in a medium that is both public and permanent.

      I’m OK writing this because my life is now in good order, thankfully, and I’ve gotten there after years of challenges — much less than others, as discussed above.

      But, in general, if I were younger and more vulnerable economically, (i.e. someone could crush my career by using it against me, and people have tried)…nope. I’d keep it all quite tightly buttoned.

      At this point, I’m less worried than I once was, although fully aware this could be weaponized once more.

      There’s been a trend to deeply confessional essays published on the Internet that some writers have deeply later regretted. Too late.

  6. it is always a delicate balancing act for me. i admire you for overcoming what you’ve been through and choosing to live a positive life. i think that you have to share the things that you are ready to share and comfortable sharing. each person has their own experience and way they deal with it. in general, i think that people sharing their stories help others who may feel alone and that they can connect to. you will never know how many you help and that is okay. be kind to yourself and give yourself the nourishment you need and deserve.

    1. Thanks…This wasn’t meant to be a cry for help!! πŸ™‚

      It might have come across that way, so I’m sorry if it did. Oy.

      I’m amazed at what others are willing to put out there, and they seem to get a lot of very emotional responses in return. I’m not looking for that in my blog, really, at least not on this topic.

      I’m careful to set much tighter boundaries now than I once was. That has helped.

      1. not at all. i was just speaking in general terms for anyone who dips a toe in this arena. boundaries are very helpful, that is true –

  7. Pingback: [BLOG] Some Wednesday links | A Bit More Detail

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