A long time ago, before I was aware that there was a choice, I let my emotional response to life's events become my normal response.
I feel my way through every decision, every act, and every event. I cry easily, I laugh easily and my rage blazes up quick like freshly lit tissue paper.
I experience deep, life-affirming joy in seemingly small but perfect moments that make me feel invincible. The molten metal of the morning light on the estuary mud flats, a look exchanged between my dearest loves that dissolves into laughter, walking over Waterloo Bridge at Sunset. All these things make me feel that way.
But life isn’t a sequence of perfect moments and being an emotional person isn't always a good thing. There are trials, hardships, pressures and barriers which trigger more challenging and unpleasant feelings. I am rarely carefree, crossing the Thames at golden hour. I am often anxious or angry and constantly riddled with self- doubt.
It’s a cruel trick of human design that made positive emotions fleeting and fragile but created negative emotions with strength and stamina. My negative feelings dominate and they pollute my perceptions and actions for days, months, even years.
My anger, for example, is greedy and rewarding. When I feel anger I feel power, so I feed it with thoughts and opinions and let it rage into an inferno that I can’t control and don’t fully understand. Then I lash out, shout and cry. I say things I don’t mean, things I don’t even really believe. It all spews out of my mouth in a torrent of rage that later morphs into the more permanent and corrosive emotions like regret and self-loathing.
My fear, anxiety and self-doubt are cunning. They seed in my brain and spread like weeds; knotting themselves around my sternum where they rest for days on end, rising occasionally to hiss and spit like an angry cat. They're relentless and manipulative but I trust their truths, so when they whisper "you're not good enough" or "everyone thinks you're stupid" or "you're a failure" I carry the words around in my heart like love notes.
I'm not depressive. I love life. I love everything about it. My negative feelings are an accompaniment to my experiences, a sort of side salad of adrenaline. I’m used to living with them but I’ve known for a while that this way of being is robbing me of something; a steadier more contented existence, less exciting perhaps but richer overall.
It’s hard to admit to yourself that there’s a better way of going about things, especially when you’ve spent years accepting and humouring a personality, believing that it’s the truest version of you. But I’m beginning to realise that in fact the opposite is true. These feelings are keeping me from myself.
I can see that my responses and behaviours negatively impact my view of the world. I can see that many of the decisions I make are based on an inaccurate view of events and don’t produce the best results for me. I can see how my feelings falsely elevate experiences that shouldn’t even be noteworthy, how they affect the people closest to me and how they hold me back.
I can see that in any given situation I have a choice. It’s not a choice between feeling or not feeling, I have no control over that and anyway I wouldn’t want to be that constrained. I just want to be able to decide which emotions I bestow with power and which I stop in their tracks.
Time is key to exercising this choice. Time allows me to acknowledge negative emotions, to question their validity, to understand if they’re the result of habitual reactions and to seek other perspectives which will help me to grasp the bigger picture. Kindness is also my companion in this endeavour; I have to be less judgemental of my own thoughts and actions, to accept that I will and do make mistakes but also to be less judgemental of others and their interactions with me.
I have been experimenting with this new approach for a little while now and I have seen glimpses of another me; a person that can handle disappointment with poise and maturity rather than anguish and tears, who doesn’t experience a panicking swell of the lungs, an overwhelming urge to cry or a sense of desperation every time she receives criticism. Who lets feelings come and go, a person who looks outside herself and seeks to help others rather indulging her own feelings.
I want to get to know her better. I think she’ll go far.