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“Controlling” Emotions

Maine Retreat Terri

I’m at a Broad Universe writers retreat this weekend with a bunch of friends, among them the fabulous Rona Gofstein, who also writes as Rachel Kenley. And in my all-important “procrastination before writing” time, where I was glancing through Facebook, I saw her recent blog post, “Emotions Don’t Need to Be Controlled.”

I gave a “quick” (i.e. 4 paragraphs long) response on the post here, but that only dealt with one aspect that I think is important in this discussion.

She said in the blog that it was probably an unpopular topic, but I don’t think it should be. It’s a many-faceted topic that I had about ten different replies to flying around in my head. In summary, I think our relationship with emotions needs to be more openly and readily discussed. Not just if we should and should not repress them or control them, but how they affect us, how we create emotions, the physiological and psychological importance of a good relationship with emotions…

Our relationship status with emotion, of course, is best filed under “it’s complicated,” but I also think all good relationships are. And as a writer, I love exploring those complicated relationships… and a good blog response should pick one particular aspect and discuss it. And perhaps save other aspects for future blogs.

Having had my surgery and a long history of period / hormone issues, though, what’s foremost in my mind and has been for the past year is physiological causes for uncontrollable emotions. (Basically, almost the opposite of what I ended up responding on Facebook.)

Our current culture in modern America, and many other places across the world, takes the stand that we should “control our emotions,” as Rona puts forward in her post.

I agree with her that we shouldn’t control our emotions and that it is a problematic, if not dangerous, thing to do so. (She has a great example of following her instinctual emotions on her blog.)

Emotions cause physiological effects in the body that we cannot control—blood pressure, heart rate, temperature, tears or laughter are some examples. (Breathing, too,  but we have some control over that, at least.) These are part of your autonomic nervous system—the things your body does that you don’t have to think about, and in essence, can only marginally affect even when you do think about them.

Because emotions have such a major physiological component attached to the autonomic nervous system, as well as the endocrine system (your hormones) and neurotransmitters, that means you can have physical triggers for emotions that you also cannot control. The science of psychiatry and psychology deal with those quite a bit. But consider when you have a health problem that affects your body’s chemistry—you’re not able to control your body chemistry, so you simply cannot control the emotions caused by these symptoms.

Many women suffer this dissociation with regular PMS—the butt of far too many jokes. However, consider how society pressures people (particularly women) to “get it together” and “control your emotions,” when she literally, physically CANNOT DO SO. Not only is there this awful feeling of intense anger, sadness, happiness, or what not because estrogen or progestin is doing its thing, but there is this logical awareness that the emotion being felt is not associated with any actions or events currently happening around us. And we’re regularly told that THIS IS WRONG; YOU ARE WRONG.

And it’s not wrong. And it’s not controllable. And no one should be punished for going through this.

It’s bad enough to be standing in the kitchen, filled with rage and a physical illness of dissociation because there is no good reason for there to be rage. Thought processes and thinking about the situation aren’t going to un-flush our system with the chemicals causing rage (or grief, or elation). In fact, the discomfort or panic of that dissociation can enhance and exacerbate the unwanted emotion. Add in feeling like a failure or like you ought to be able to control this emotion, and you’ve added even more chemicals interacting in the body.

What to do?

Change starts within us. Within individuals. I’d love to magically change society and society’s dangerious and poisonous views, but that isn’t something any individual can do. But we can learn to create a better relationship with our own emotions—and to forge more healthy relationships with the emotions of others by our own reactions.

For each individual, admit and surrender to the idea that emotions are not a thing to be controlled.

That’s a lot of work on its own.

Next, each of us should pay attention to your body during emotions. How do I feel? What is my natural inclination for action while experiencing those emotions? Is there a situational cause for the emotion? If so, what? If not, that’s okay too; I  notice and appreciate your body is going through something physical and physiological that creates this emotion.

This is also a lot of work. We need to give ourselves permission to take our time with this.

Then, then, after we’ve acknowledged these things, we can look for the things we can control.

For me, the first thing is to learn how to communicate about emotions. Let the ones I love know when I’m angry, that I need to do something physical—walk, yell, punch or throw inanimate objects. Anyone I’m in a relationship with—my hubby, my friends, my family—are people I could potentially act out upon due to emotions, and none of us have psychic powers, so it’s important to tell them why I’m acting out—what I’m feeling, what I need, and so on. Of course, it’s important that if the emotion was caused by an action that, once the uncontrollable need is met (time alone, being hugged, pillows beaten up), the cause needs to be addressed.  I’ve seen people (and it’s often shown in literature, television, movies, etc) take care of the emotional need, but then never address the issue—so it continues to fester and cause the uncomfortable emotion—and that discomfort will grow, requiring the physical response to be stronger and stronger. Communication is the most important thing in any healthy relationship. Communicating with ourselves and others is key when it comes to our shared relation with emotions.

Once we get communication moving, we can look at other things that are within our control. Especially when emotions come at inconvenient times. Rather than try to control the emotion, however, we can control how we handle the symptoms of emotions. Rather than saying, “I can’t be angry right now,” we can think, “I can’t tell so-and-so to self-copulate painfully right now.” We can take time to pay attention to breathing and work at controlling that to an extent. We can take time with responses, crafting them so as not to damage other relationships. We can remove ourselves from situations when we realize we are at a place where the physiology of the emotions is not appropriate.

I don’t think I can say enough times that this is not easy, and I, for one, am far from perfection in this practice.

But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. And try again. And try again. (And apologize, communicate, and try again.)

The last thing regarding “control” over emotions is how we respect and appreciate others’ physiological-emotional needs. Telling someone to “get control” is, as mentioned above, not only likely impossible but damaging, potentially making the situation worse. Find out what they need in the moment to deal with the emotion, and later discuss the situation. Be forgiving when someone lashes out; it may be a thing they physically can’t control at the moment…

That said, suffering regular abuse from someone who “can’t control their emotions” is a relationship not worth keeping. That is an entirely different—but still very important—conversation that needs to be had. Physical attacks, deep emotional attacks, any abuse is wrong.

Outside of abusive behaviors, however, it’s worth being flexible, honoring the physiological aspects of emotion, and opening a channel of communication. For ourselves, and for the ones we care about.

I hope this isn’t an unpopular topic, and that more of us do start healthy discussions about what emotions are and what makes for good emotional relationships.

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Surgery Prep

It’s been over a year since my last blog post that was part of #HoldOntoTheLight…

This one probably could be too, but I just want to get it out there because I’m going into surgery tomorrow and I’ve been procrastinating on writing it for a while.

The surgery is fairly minor, though I do get anesthesia.

The short, less-icky version:

I’ve got a good-sized fibroid in my uterus that’s also on my cervix that’s been making my life miserable for a while now. They’re going to remove it via hysteriscopic surgery (i.e. no incision, using my own openings). And then they’re going to put in a IUD that’s supposed to help out with the other misery-causing issues that led to the fibroid being there in the first place.

Most urgent information… I’m going to be mostly offline / resting for the next week. I expect the procedure to be fairly easy.

The long and icky version of this is part of an ongoing medical condition that I only had doctors take seriously in 2014, though it has likely been an issue since I started having periods.

Yes, we’re getting into periods. Turn back if you’re scared; here there be woman dragons.

(I say that dripping with sarcasm, because I think everyone really ought to be educated about how half our population’s bodies work… and because I think this “ew” factor and ignorance that comes up with women’s health is a part of why I suffered as I have for over 20 some odd years…)

It took me having to go to the ER and nearly getting admitted due to a kidney infection that developed due to a bladder infection due to a uterine track infection that I neglected symptoms to because I couldn’t differentiate them from the symptoms I was already suffering due to a 6-week long period.

Short version of THAT: About six months’ worth of tests from a specialist OB-GYN and a urinary gynecologist, and I learn I produce too much estrogen, likely have produced too much estrogen my whole adolescent and adult life, because of that likely couldn’t have kids if I wanted, oh and my uterus is actually tilted and twisted (also affecting the “kid breeding potential”) and THAT contributed to my life-long war with my bladder that has led me to more embarrassment and pain than I want to get into with this blog post.

Yeah. All that.

After a few failed procedures (posted on FB and maybe I’ll do a blog post on them later… it’s almost time for The Walking Dead)… my OB-GYN gave me an arm implant that was supposed to even out my hormones and potentially make my periods go a way for almost three blessed years!

Less than a year and a half after said implant… I’m bleeding again. I was bleeding and in pain at…

Every. Single. Convention. I attended in 2017. All of them. Every month.

And it was going from five days to six days, to seven days…

And the time between periods was getting less and less and less…

It wasn’t until I spent more than half of Necon in July in my hotel room, in bed, puking and bleeding and exhausted, that I demanded another appointment with the OB-GYN.

I then had to go home and record three more months of my cycles for something to be done. (Despite the fact I had very clearly recorded the prior six months in red marker on my calendar for her to see already.)

I cheated and called her in two and a half months because I was on my third bleeding cycle. It fucked with my DragonCon.

More tests, more visits, and A REASON!

I had a fibroid.  A big one. Oh, and it was also on top of my cervix.

If you didn’t follow the link above for what a fibroid is, here is another one to the Mayo Clinic. I include that one because it has a handy list of symptoms, which I’ll copy here:

  • Heavy menstrual bleeding
  • Menstrual periods lasting more than a week
  • Pelvic pressure or pain
  • Frequent urination
  • Difficulty emptying the bladder
  • Constipation
  • Backache or leg pains

I have Every. Single. One. Oh, and also anemia. I need to sleep all the time, and I have no energy. Everything, everything I do and have been doing takes two to three times the effort.

So, add in depression, feeling like a failure, and all the emotional baggage that goes with that.

Thing is, I get most of those symptoms with my messed-up estrogen and twisty-tilty uterus anyway…  This fibroid was just exacerbating a regular level of misery I live with each month. Hopefully, this IUD will help with the hormones.

But seeing as the arm implant failed after a little over a year, I’m not all that hopeful.  I’m just glad to get the fibroid that’s making things worse out…

What I want is a full hysterectomy. Kids aren’t in the planning, and there’s always adoption and fostering if we do change our minds.  I have no need for these parts.

But I got a hard “no” on that from the doc. That’s its own blog post.

I plan on returning to blogging. I’ll talk about that as things continue.

But, for now, I’m going into surgery.

And I have a medical affirmation for at least part of my suffering, for many of the failures I’ve felt over the past year, for not being as productive and being more “flaky,” for the exhaustion and the anger and uncontrolled emotions, for the pain…

Having a name for it, having a cause does matter. Having a plan and having power over it… that’s in progress.

 

For now, I will take well wishes, hope, prayers, and whatever anyone wants to send.

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I’ve never wanted to end my life… #holdontothelight, #alwayskeepfighting, #akf, #mentalwellness

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I’ve never wanted to end my life.

I’ve been sad, angry, lethargic, overwhelmed to the point of being unable to get out of bed. I would never use “depressed,” though, to describe how I felt. Part of it, I’m sure, is stigma. Another part, however, is knowing my friends who have been depressed – clinically or situationally – and who at one point really did want to end their lives.

I was bullied through a good part of school. In first grade, my best friend told me she was leaving me to hang out with the cooler kids. In fifth and sixth grade, my best friend and I were belittled by teachers and physically threatened by classmates for being different. I became the lead drummer in junior high because I spent every lunch hiding in the band room, practicing so I could avoid the lunchroom where no one would sit with me and I’d gotten shoved and told “Stop following us! We don’t want you around us!” by a group of girls I’d thought were friends. In high school, things changed because there were over 2000 kids, so enough of us outcasts and geeks found each other and made our own group – but we all knew we should never travel alone. Regardless of gender, ethnicity, religion, or if we were Magic the Gathering people or Dungeons and Dragons players, we employed the buddy system and made friends with the librarians who let us stay there rather than the more dangerous realms of lunch rooms and study halls.

Through all that, I never came close to wanting to end my life.

My emotions didn’t go to the dark level I saw in others, so I didn’t want to take that term “depression” from them. I was worried about appropriation before I’d even heard the word “appropriation.” I loved these people, and I respected what they were going through – even when it made me feel helpless. It wasn’t about me feeling helpless; it was about them. People who were hurting the way I’d hurt – only much, much worse.

I’m going to get into a confessional that some people might just consider “woo-woo” or “New Agey” or some other diminutive term that downplays the intense levels humans can connect. This is a #sorrynotsorry moment where I think such people are wrong.

A friend of mine, also a writer – keeping names confidential – and I regularly share how we both are deeply affected by others’ emotion, and how that affects each of us in our writing  and working lives. We remind each other to protect our energies – because if someone is very excited, we get that way. And if someone was hurting, we take on that pain in hopes that it made them hurt less. Often unconsciously. Often to a level where we need time to physically, mentally, and emotionally recover from a particular conversation.

When I started learning about energy work in my adulthood, I’d been told by more than a few people I needed to protect myself better when it came to energy. I did. Somewhat.

Until I didn’t.

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I was visiting another dear friend of mine who was going through an especially difficult time in her life. She was successful, happily married, brilliant in literary gifts as well as science… And for the first time, she was actively thinking of ways she might end her life. She was even planning ways she might do so with as little impact to others as possible – because she didn’t want to hurt anyone. I listened, we held each other, and I just wanted to do something to help.

Perhaps I did. I don’t know. I know she is still alive and at least posting happy things on social media.

I also know that I was more drained than I’d ever been. And a few days later, I was feeling things I’d never felt before.

I didn’t want to kill myself.

But I didn’t want to do anything. I hurt. Everywhere. I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t stop crying. I felt utterly and completely empty, like there was nothing inside and nothing good would ever happen again. My brain was spinning its logic wheels; there was no reason for me to have these emotions. My work and money issues were actually doing well, I was writing a story I really enjoyed, no one I knew was terminally sick or dying or dead…

I was sitting in the car while my husband had run into the store and I was just sobbing uncontrollably.

Not only were there all those negative feelings, but the fact there was no logical reason for me to have those feelings, feelings I’d never felt before, was utterly terrifying.

Fortunately, I do have a wonderfully supportive husband who took how I was feeling very seriously and spent the day doing things with me. He looked online for ways to help “reset the brain” while I napped. Then we went walking in the woods. After that, we visited our long-time friend, apothecary, and “kitchen witch,” who smudged me and suggested foods with garlic, tumeric, and chocolate. My husband drove to all this so I wouldn’t have to, and he listened to me going on and on while he drove.  Then we went home and I took the “day off” and snuggled with him as we binge watched Supernatural.*

The feelings alleviated as the day passed, but not entirely. It was not an immediate fix. Not for a week, maybe two, did I feel even close to my usual self. And the memory still chills my stomach and grips my lungs so I feel I need my asthma inhaler.

Those feelings – the combination of them all at once – that is how I understand depression.  It’s not just one thing. It’s everything all at once at the loudest volume and THE HIGHEST PRESSURE. And no strength to handle it.

I’ve never been diagnosed as clinically depressed. In fact, I even got turned down for a weight study because, during the interview, I had no signs of depression whatsoever.

But it happened to me.

It happened to me, and it can happen to anyone. It could happen to everyone; you don’t need a diagnosis.

Do I know what my other friends with depression know? Certainly not. I know enough about emotions that they are not the same for any two people. And everyone has a different pain threshold. Can I speak for people who suffer clinical depression or any other type of depression? Absolutely not.

But I can say how I felt. And I can share the stories I’m permitted to share. For those who are suffering, you aren’t alone – even if someone might only share a moment or a piece of that pain – someone has felt desperation and depression.  Someone believes what you say you feel. Someone wants to help.

For those who don’t understand, can’t imagine…perhaps my short moment will give you pause, will describe it in a way you can understand and help you empathize. It happened to me; it can happen to anyone; so everyone needs to be aware and everyone should be more compassionate. I hope that adding to this conversation, we can build a better support system and a kinder, more aware culture.

If you are experiencing depression and suicidal thoughts, here are some resources for you. Remember, you’re not alone and people care about you:

http://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/#  – 1-800-273-8255

http://suicide.org/suicide-hotlines.html – has a list of numbers for specific states and regions.

http://www.nami.org/ – The National Alliance on Mental Health has a lot of resources you can call for emergency help, to educate yourself,  to find community support, and more.

* When I had my writing colleague who has confided about me about her depression beta read this article, she gave me a lot of great feedback, but one thing she told me was that I needed to detail what I did to get through my depressive episode. I was reticent to do so because I get infuriated at all the “inspirational” posters, memes, messages, etc. that say “You don’t need pills; you just need to walk in the woods.” I want to slap the people who post them because it’s insulting and outright deadly. Period. Long explanation short: Sometimes natural, herbal, cognitive-behavior methods work; sometimes they don’t and medicine does. There are good reasons to take medication and there are good reasons to not take medication. Respect what works for each individual, share information and techniques, but NEVER shame someone or belittle their choices or needs.

About the campaign:

#HoldOnToTheLight is a blog campaign encompassing blog posts by fantasy and science fiction authors around the world in an effort to raise awareness around treatment for depression, suicide prevention, domestic violence intervention, PTSD initiatives, bullying prevention and other mental health-related issues. We believe fandom should be supportive, welcoming and inclusive, in the long tradition of fandom taking care of its own. We encourage readers and fans to seek the help they or their loved ones need without shame or embarrassment.

Please consider donating to or volunteering for organizations dedicated to treatment and prevention such as: American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, Hope for the Warriors (PTSD), National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), Canadian Mental Health Association, MIND (UK), SANE (UK), BeyondBlue (Australia), To Write Love On Her Arms, and the National Suicide Prevention Hotline.

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Back in the Saddle #WriterlyWednesday #BabySteps

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I’m Blogging Again…

I’ve written and re-written my “Hey, look, my blog is alive again” post so many times it’s sickening.  I’ve revised some of my published short stories fewer times.

Why is this post so hard? It’s not more personal than what I pour into my fiction nor what I give to the authors I edit.

If I’m to guess, it’s because I’m afraid I won’t keep up a schedule, that I’ll fail. I’ve dropped blogging so many times – though I do enjoy it – to make time for paying projects and such. And when you drop or fail something…and take a long time to get back into it, it’s So. Much. Harder.

That’s why, in horseback riding, when you fall off, you should always get back on right away. The longer you wait when it’s been a failure, a hurt, a fall, the more difficult it is to get back into the saddle.

Well, this is hardly the first, nor will it be the last blog post where I intersperse some riding wisdom with writing wisdom.

Here’s another piece, just for today:

Even a short ride or short interaction is worth it.

In writing, once you’ve been away from a project, you lose passion. It’s easy to forget it and keep putting it off. Same lesson…

Sometimes just making yourself write one sentence, edit one paragraph, re-read one page is a good start. Just keep at it.

I had one author friend who could only squeeze in one sentence a day. That’s all. Then she finished the story.

If you want to write, if you want to market, if you want to accomplish anything… baby steps are okay. Just keep making them.

My awesome/torturous/awesome-because-she-is-torturous riding instructor once had me dedicate an entire class to mounting/dismounting. Calico and I were having issues…and that was the baby step we needed.

So, here is my short #WriterlyWednesday blog post. To get me back in the saddle.

It’s okay to take baby steps; it’s okay to only write a little.

Just keep going.

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New facet of Chaos, or Katie’s hyperbolic, mythic moving experience

ImageFor those wondering why I’ve been even more remiss than usual about regular blog posts, here is the reason – told in the (only slightly edited) words of the cause.  A happy cause it is, though.  Life is a positive flavor of chaos at Chez Wooldridge.  Helloooooo, Katie!!

 

xx

 

Passing the protective daemons resting with the dryads of this mystic land, I come upon my home for the unknown future.  The grand cathedral [Trish, here, is deeply moved by such a description of her crooked, humble, home] is adorned with angles, fairies, and protected by its four legged guards and their elfin comrades. [I really hope she’s not considering Nylis a guard. Maybe Loki, and the ghost–hell, even the statue, of Miss Rhetta.  But Nylis?]

 

First, we chose the clean out the junk in the room I wasn’t going to sleep in and turn it into a more cleverly organized storage closet and library. [It’s still a work in progress.]  To do this I, as a monkey, ascended the stair to the attic where was found many a box, chest, and crate filled with hidden fortunes and forgotten memories.

 

Next was the ship…. Ohhh…. Wait!!!  The weaponry.  Must mention those. [Even I had forgotten the depth of our collection…]

 

In the storage closet stood all manner of weapons for this palace’s gallant warriors to wield as each practiced and sparred with the spirits of the wood, lain bare from Winter’s chilly wind.  We transported these to the Temple Viewing (TV) room and blocked this entrance, protecting what would protect us, with the rugs and coverings found within the room that was to be changed next. [Oh my… those who know my writing – I swear, I am blameless here.  This is ALL Katie.]

 

Next was found a white, well built, with the sturdiest logs and paint, book shelf. Moving it is highly silly to watch and was done by mainly myself. (I made a short video).

 

Once we removed from the windows of the adjacent room [Katie’s near-future completed bedroom] what had been keeping the cold-winter out and sunlight from ever coming in a refreshing and cleansing sensation came over us and hot chocolate was the perfect for that moment. [To my editor friends: A discussion will be had about passive writing.] And so we share a moment by the Comfort Stove.

 

Tho’ this be a wonderful place to rest, we must journey forward through our days…

 

Days later, at Home Depot, I had a challenge of choosing not only the new color but the design, finally deciding on nothing and arriving from the store with a new fire protector (lamp shade), spackle and paint supplies.

 

Once the ship [read as: Katie’s room, I had to ask about the metaphor, too] was emptied was when the handwork began.  [And Katie got tired of writing, so she bulleted the rest.

 

Spackling:  Finding and sealing every hole and ding was a chore taking days.

Painting:  Two coats helped me keep my thoughts warm.

Furnishing:  Moving the bed took two of us and after this the rest was up to me.

 

Now, I am happy to see my new residence built to allow for freedom of motion to and from nature. [She has a balcony.]

My aery was made for flight and its motion felt when you sit in its center–being as the floor is tilted and the furnishings are placed as tho’ the room were a circle. [She likes her room and is kindly making the most of the aforementioned crookedness of my humble home.]Image

 

Now, we work on making the rest of the house liveable… while I attend to my email slayage, deadline challenges, and journey demands.  Ack… the mythic hyperbole is catching!!  I better end this post now and get to bed…

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