By Caitlin Kelly
Do you start most sentences with “I think” or “I feel”?
Having, managing, expressing (or suppressing) feelings is a big deal in my life.
As someone who faced and had to cope alone with mental illness and alcoholism in one parent and frequent work-related absence in another, I learned early that no one had much interest in hearing how I felt about all of this.
So I learned to bottle it up, or to share only with close friends.
Living in boarding school and summer camp ages eight to 13 (school) and eight to 16 (camp) also meant being surrounded by strangers, some of whom became close friends — but some of whom were bullies.
You learned to keep your counsel.
So a recent workshop at a writers’ conference — where the audience was urged to write “I remember” and dredge up some memories — proved both painful and illuminating for me.
Some of us then read our initial sentences to the room, maybe 150 other professional writers; I did, as well.
I was amazed and moved by what I heard.
It made me much more aware of how limited my ability to express some feelings still is — even later in life.
I’m reluctant to show vulnerability.
I very rarely say “I love you” to someone, even when I feel it.
I’m much more comfortable (which tends to unnerve others) expressing dismay, outrage or frustration — less tender and delicate emotions.
Except — thanks to a diagnosis I received since writing this post (tiny/early/contained breast cancer) — my view has shifted radically and I’ve told a number of friends, neighbors and even professional colleagues.
This is not something to face alone.
It’s also exhausting keeping up a brave face when I don’t feel at all brave or badass but feel worried and tired dealing with six (!) doctors, even if all of them are people I like.
The greatest challenge so far has been managing my anxiety, a battle in itself, while absorbing and making lucid decisions about treatment. It’s a lot to manage.
Are you at ease having and expressing your feelings?