You Can’t Be Happy If You Run From Your Feelings

I used to ask my therapist what I was supposed to do with all of my bad feelings. “Feelings aren’t good or bad,” she’d say. “Feelings just are. The only thing you can do is feel them.” She was only partly right, as it turns out. The other thing I can do is run from them – but that never seems to work out very well for me.

A few weeks ago, when Jay’s sentencing was looming, I was really struggling with – well, with everything. I couldn’t concentrate, I found it difficult to connect with Jared and the kids, and I felt frustrated that I wasn’t able to control my attitude or mood. It was as if I was stuck in an infomercial for a bad self-help book with a constant loop of affirmative chatter running through my head.

I grabbed on to every thought I had and questioned whether or not it was appropriate.

I analyzed every feeling and judged it as good or bad.

I tried to will myself into a happy place of acceptance.

I knew what I was doing. I knew that I was trying to handle the pain instead of feel it. I was trying to do what a happy person is supposed to do. I was trying to be highly evolved and emotionally mature and, as my mom would say, “all zen and shit.”

All that trying to be “better” was getting in the way.

In my effort to control my thoughts, I’d become completely disconnected with my feelings.

Finally, after spending a few hours with my mom – who lets me be whatever the heck I need to be in that moment – I found myself crying alone in the car as I drove back to my in-laws’ house.

I stopped trying to be present, and instead I was afraid.

I stopped trying to be positive, and I let myself be pissed.

I stopped trying to find perspective, and allowed myself to be irrationally angry and sad.

Ah, there I was. I recognized myself instantly and was relieved to finally see the real me through all the mantra bullshit. I was relieved to feel, fully and authentically.

And then I started to let go.

It was the strangest thing. Once I let all of my irrational fears and ugly tears come flooding into the light, it was much easier to start making my peace with whatever I was afraid of. Letting go or being present or whatever was no longer a simple slogan, but a willful act.

This is a lesson I have to learn over and over again.

A week or two after my automotive crying jag, I had a panic attack in the guest room that Jared and I call home. I immediately got up from the bed where I was working beside him and went into the bathroom to try to breathe my way through it. When that didn’t work, I got in the shower and began to pace back and forth in the tub as the hot water ran over me. When that didn’t work, I sat on the toilet and cried.

Of course, that’s when Jared walked in.

I stopped crying and tried to smile, assuring him that everything was fine. He didn’t buy it and I let all my fears about our upcoming move come tumbling out.

“I’m sorry,” I cried. “I’m trying to be strong and supportive and positive!”

He laughed at me and put his arms around me.

“You have been all those things,” he said, “but it’s OK to be scared, too. Don’t ever not tell me when you’re scared because of how you think you’re supposed to be.”

He’s so smart sometimes.

Pretending not to be scared doesn’t make the fear go away.

In fact, pretending to be anything doesn’t seem to do much good at all.

The only way, it seems, to be brave is to admit you are afraid. And then choose courage.

The only way to be present is to acknowledge you’re uncertain about the future. And then choose faith.

The only way to have peace is to let yourself see the chaos and pain around you. And then choose hope.

Yes, happiness is always an option. But a real decision can only be made when you are honest about all of the choices. And you can’t, as it turns out, even feel happiness if you’re running away from your feelings.

Someone needs to help me remember that.

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  1. Lisa says:

    I think there is a point where you no longer have the option to hide from the pain/anger/fear. That was my recent experience, anyway. My therapist says I am amazingly good at suppression, which, it turns out, is not exactly healthy. Was that a news flash to anyone else? Because I always thought it a superior coping mechanism. I’m better now, but a couple of weeks ago I cried all the time and had a permanent knot in my stomach from feeling ALL OF THE FEELINGS.

    Running from my problems (literally) is the best thing for me. Nothing perks me up like the victorious feeling I get from a good run. Making myself take the time to do things that lift me up is affording me the strength to keep feeling the feelings without burying them in cheeseburgers, and work through them and move on. Ish. It’s a work in progress.
    Lisa’s most recent post: Who Finally Published a Life List?

  2. Dory says:

    That Jared; he’s a keeper.

    Gorgeous prose as usual, girl.

    *stage whispers* I brought Tom because I was afraid I’d have a panic attack and he’s better than Xanax.
    Dory’s most recent post: Maybe I need to break up with social media. At least attempt a trial separation.

  3. naomi says:

    amen sister. and I’m with Lisa re the run … pounding the pavement is SUCH good and free therapy.
    naomi’s most recent post: SATURDAY SNIPPETS

    • Miss Britt says:

      I hate running! I’ve tried to like it, but it has never been therapeutic for me.

      • naomi says:

        I can’t stand the elliptical, but my Husb and oldest swear by it. I definitely have to get out of my own head when I run, before it works for me … but once I get there, it’s magic. What works for you (exercise wise?) — are you still doing yoga?
        naomi’s most recent post: YELLOW

  4. Andrea S. says:

    Hi Britt…I am a new reader to your site and I just happened to stumble in as you were posting about your brother’s sentencing. This truly hit home for me. I have been struggling with some of my own brother’s actions and it makes you feel like there is nothing but a life of sadness ahead for him and for our family. Some days I just have to remind myself to breathe. This post came at an especially trying time and I find it perfect that I found your words in this moment. I’m also sending every warm and positive thought I have your way and you deal with your brother’s sentencing. It’s brave of you to share. I’ve never been able to.

  5. Liz says:

    I do this all of the time — try to be something else and shove all of my other feelings down. It never, ever works for me, yet I do it over and over again. It’s always freeing, though, when I stop and realize what I’m doing. I’m always so stunned when you put these things I do, too, into words. It’s an amazing feeling knowing I’m not the only one.

    I’ve found that writing through my feelings helps the most, aside from sitting by myself and facing them head-on. Sometimes you just need to cry. <3
    Liz’s most recent post: Getting Back On the Medical Merry-Go-Round

  6. [...] Right now, I’m resisting the urge to run from all these feelings. [...]

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