The question of the day has been, how do you deal with 50 year old suppressed feelings? It’s evident that all the feelings and emotions over the many years have shaped current personality traits and behaviors. It just stands to reason; there are old wounds and unfulfilled needs that just couldn’t have been processed at an early age. Even into the teen years the skills just aren’t there. But how do you dig down to these old unresolved issues to effectively deal with them and truly let go?
Needless to say, this was a major topic in my weekly therapy session last night. We’ve talked at some length as to events that occurred at different points in my life that can be identified as the ultimate cause of my pain and suffering. Last week was the ‘revelation’ that acknowledging and understanding these past experiences doesn’t resolve the underlying issue. Which brings me back to the original question, how do you get them resolved after all these years?
The simple answer? You don’t.
There really isn’t a way to actively recall feelings about things that have already happened. The brain has a way of protecting our psyche; it buries these events for a reason. It isn’t a conscious act. Subconsciously my mind knows that what is happening at the moment is too intense, too painful, or too far beyond my abilities to endure. If it’s just too much to be dealt with it could cause more damage and end up exploding, or imploding out of control. So these emotions are insulated from conscious thought. But what of the long term effects? I do believe these subconscious thoughts and feelings end up forcing their way out, and usually in an inappropriate and untimely way.
So now there’s a contradiction.
I apparently can’t retroactively deal with the old events and the resulting emotions. Old events and emotions are impacting how I feel today. Does that mean that I’m just destined to suffer the effects of my past forever? That doesn’t give me a lot of hope.
Repressing uncomfortable or potentially damaging emotions isn’t just something I did in the early years. It’s become a learned behavior that I still do. Often times it isn’t even subconscious either. I’ve learned to make active decisions to not deal with something head on, but push it away and refuse to think about it. It’s even a skill that I’ve deliberately developed. When I’m in an uncomfortable or overwhelming situation, I’ll use deep breathing, self relaxation and distracting thoughts until the discomfort goes away. That’s effective for the moment, but it really isn’t resolving anything. Now I’m just layering more unresolved issues on top of other unresolved issues; just pushing the older feelings that much deeper. It seems like I have two emotions. Either selective feelings that keep me away from anything uncomfortable or overwhelming ones that are completely out of control. It seems to be an unending cycle.
But there’s a way to overcome.
I think the key is just to ‘be’, and trust the mind to work the way it’s supposed to. I should learn to allow myself to feel in the moment. One example I discussed with my therapist was, say you pass someone on the street that reminds you of a loved one who has passed away. You can ignore this person and look away. You can turn around and move away from this person. Or you can stop and spend a moment remembering this person and being sad that they are no longer around. My instinct is to turn and walk away. But it’s much healthier to accept the sad feelings and let myself experience feel. Or the way you react to a song on the radio that brings up a past relationship. You have the choice to listen to the song and feel the emotions associated with the experience. Or you can change the station and listen to a different song. Maybe you even stop listening to that station altogether so there’s no chance that you’ll hear it again. Guess which one is the healthy decision. That doesn’t mean you have to actively seek out those sad songs and force yourself to listen over and over until you make yourself completely miserable. It just means to live in the moment and settle into where you are.
But isn’t that going to be disruptive and painful? It could very well be. If you stopped your day every time something emotional happened to reflect and feel nothing would ever get accomplished. There are just too many opportunities for an emotional moment. But it may not be appropriate at the time either. There are times I have a deep caring and loving feelings towards my lady. But I know I’m not in love, and neither is she. If I were to express what I’m feeling in the moment it would most likely scare the hell out of her, and push me away. So rather than expressing a fleeting emotion, wait until I’m alone and then allow myself to revel in that time; maybe writing it in a letter to myself or even speaking it aloud. I can feel what I feel at a time and place of my choosing when it’s neither disruptive nor threatening to others. The trick is to feel, not ignore.
So how does all this figure into being bipolar? A healthy mind is equipped to manage the flow and ebb of emotion. But a bipolar mind isn’t healthy. They way it processes things is different. In my discussion with my therapist I likened it to a spillway on a dam. When the flood gates are working properly, the lake level remains constant and there’s no flooding downstream. But if that flood gate is damaged, the waters can back up behind them until they spill over the dam and cause it to give way. Or maybe they are stuck open and the lake drains and releases too much water downstream. For me, it seems that being bipolar is like that malfunctioning flood gate. There is no control over the feelings, emotions and behaviors that the brain is designed to regulate.
But my therapist brings up a good point.
Whether you are bipolar or not, the brain has to be free to function the way it was designed. Even healthy people have to make healthy choices and practice good mental health. Healthy people can have problems too if they fight nature. The bipolar brain may not function the same, but the more practice it’s given, the more likely it will do its job. That doesn’t mean the cycles won’t continue; because they will. But maybe by releasing some of the backed up emotions the highs and lows won’t be quite as intense. For me, the height of the cycle is when the old damaging feelings are let go. The intense manias are full of rage and hate. It’s likely that is fueled by the anger that I was denied what I have needed. And perhaps the depressions are deepened by the sadness and bad feelings that have been locked away.
Those old, suppressed feelings are going to be there. You may not be able to do anything about them, but you can do something about where you are today. The past is the past. But the more you apply yourself to the moment and the future, the less influence the past is going to have. You can choose to be a victim of experience. You can focus on the damage that has been done. Or you can put that effort into moving forward.
Is that the answer? Is it as simple as being in the moment and accepting your feelings? Absolutely not! It’s just one more component of the complexities that create who we are.
The journey continues. Every discovery helps me with maintaining my illness and living a healthy life. It’s a lesson to be learned, and a skill to be applied.
It’s just one step closer.
Footnote: I’ve referenced “you” often in these writings. I say things like “You can’t expect” or “You might feel”. By “You”, of course I mean me. I’m only responsible for myself and my own life and treatment. I am me, and you are you.