Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Deep Ocean of Emotion

It occurs to me sometimes that maybe I feel things too deeply. I asked a lover this once if this were true: Am I more sensitive than other people? He said he thought so. I think so, too, but then I wonder about the flip side: why is feeling or expressing deep emotion, particularly intense sadness or pain, pathologized, stigmatized, and marginalized in our culture?

I look at other blogs, read books and articles on love, relationships, awakening, enlightenment, and find so little emotion there. The voices are mostly so calm, so reasoned. Be mindful of the moment, they say. Breathe. Sit with the suffering. Get out and connect, exercise, find a hobby. Bake cookies for a neighbor. Invite a friend for tea. This all seems so reasonable and healthy, of course. I have no problem with it. But there are very few voices describing how it feels to be in the midst of suffering, pain, loss, loneliness, disappointment, jealousy, those most integral and normal of human emotions. It's as if it's wrong to feel these things, or maybe just something we don't talk about in polite company.

When I'm in the midst of my suffering, I could no more bake cookies or sit with a friend over tea than I could jump off the roof and start to fly. In those moments, I can barely breathe, can hardly move. People looking at me probably think I look normal, maybe a little sad, but inside, a fire-breathing dragon has taken control of my insides and I feel like my brain is roasting, like someone near me could smell the smoke. It's a very painful place to be in, one I almost never see reflected around me.

When I hear people talk about their lives - their families, relationships, gardens, home renovations, jobs, commutes, vacations, I find myself always looking for the emotional subtext. I imagine myself in those situations, and imagine how I'd be feeling with that family, that relationship, those hobbies or projects, on those vacations, and I know that I'd be feeling something intensely. I wonder if they do, too. They talk about those things in such an offhanded way. Like they're such normal things to be doing, with no emotions involved at all.

So often, in the media, women who experience deep emotions, particularly the so-called negative ones, are almost always portrayed as crazed psychopaths, addicts, or suicidal artists. I think of Penelope Cruz in "Vicky Cristina Barcelona" or Salma Hayek in "Frida". (Don't even get me started on the "hot, fiery latina" stereotype, like we white girls don't feel passion!) Feeling deep, painful emotion is almost never portrayed as something positive, something to be valued and welcomed as a growth experience, even something normal.

And then, of course, as my friend at Waking Heart reminded me, there's the pathologizing of intense emotion in psychology. Medicate it away! Treat it! If you're sad for six months over the death of a beloved spouse, you have complicated grief and should be in treatment, they say. It couldn't be that losing your best friend, lover, partner, and soul mate might make you sad and might make you feel bereft and lonely, set loose in a new, unfamiliar world, floating on an ocean of pain. And that that might be, in fact, a normal response to such a loss.

I don't want to be in pain so much of the time. It doesn't feel good. But as I continue to learn new ways to cope with the world, and to let the pain open me, to teach me to let in - with love and equanimity - the world in all of its complexity, I still wonder if I am really the only one whose heart cries regularly, who struggles to stay balanced and sane in a world where safety and tenderness are fleeting and hard to find. I know I can't be the only one.


mistivelvet said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
bechtoldlifework said...

I love that you feel and write real emotion, Melissa. I feel things deeply too, which is I suppose one of the reasons why I have a job where I can be in a real emotional space with people. Yeah, the clinical model of emotions being "pathological" is a crock. I hate pathology. Without emotions, all of them, life would be so boring and bland. This was a great post. Thanks.