The Healing in Feeling
"Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow." James 1: 2-3 NLT
I read this verse repeatedly for years, trying to find solace from my pain. I came to realize in recent years that in order for me to find this "great joy," it would first require me to endure the battle. That meant doing the one thing I had avoided doing for so many years - feeling everything that came my way - the joy, the peace, the love; the hurt, the sadness, the anger, and the pain.
This may be the greatest lesson I have ever learned.
When I was younger, I thought that shoving aside all my pain (anger, hurt, sadness, and frustration) would help me cope with more invasive, more constricting feelings of anxiety and depression.
And to be completely honest - I wasn’t all that wrong. The younger me needed to compartmentalize the trauma and the pain. It was the only way she would be able to keep pushing through the monotonous days of “I wish I never had you,” “I hate you,” and “Why couldn’t God give me a better daughter?” Society frowns upon us (well, those of us with more melanin in our skin) for compartmentalizing and not dealing with the problem in the moment. But the reality is while we preach of therapy, breathing exercises, and self-care, we expect melanated queens to simultaneously care for ourselves, our families, our communities, clean up the cultural messes of our white counterparts, succeed at work, fight for racial justice, keep a smile on our face at all times AND talk about our feelings, unleashing centuries of generational trauma. Ten year old me and countless other black women and girls just can’t do that. The risk is too large. And see the thing about being audacious, taking bold risks and having the confidence to change, is the risk can’t be so large that it’s actually past challenging and is instead harmful to you. It’s not always the right time to open up. It’s not always safe to open up. And for ten year old me, it wasn't the right time to unleash “Becky” (that’s what I call my wonderful friend more commonly known as “Anxiety”), and it wouldn’t be the right time until I moved out of my childhood home and was on my own. So despite what the world is telling you, I’m here to say compartmentalizing is a justifiable coping mechanism and can (and should) be used as a strategic survival method. But please hear me when I say, it is a coping mechanism - a survival tactic - not to be used forever; to be saved for the moments when you are hanging off the cliff with nothing more than a finger. And once you find your footing and make it back to the top, you have to release it and deal with the trauma. Because if used for too long, it becomes null and void. It doesn't work. In fact, where it once was supporting you and helping you hang on, it will start to work against you and begin to pull you back down. What ten year old me didn't know was that in pushing aside the hurt and the pain, being too afraid to look “Becky” in the face EVEN when my footing was sound, I was also pushing aside joy, love, and pride (yes, pride - a feeling of confidence and self-respect). And not feeling all the glorious things in life is one of the most frustrating ways to be dragged back down the cliff. I learned quickly there's no way to splice the good from the bad when you box up your emotions and file them in the way back reaches of your mind. Our emotions are so entangled with one another - they rely on each other more than I knew. Life hurts because you choose to love people so hard. Or it can anger you because where you once felt joy and happiness, you now feel frustration or restlessness. I’m not mad at ten year old me for doing what she needed to do to cope with her anxiety. In fact, I’m not even mad at her for compartmentalizing for far too long. It was a survival tactic and no one told her there would be consequences if she allowed that coping mechanism to overstay its welcome. But today, years after all the initial trauma and the pain, after six years of actively seeking healing and love, while my anxiety still frustrates me and is in some ways the monster hiding in my closet waiting for the right moment to pop out, I call her my best friend. I love “Becky” because she reminds me that I'm still alive. Her existence, no matter how frustrating it may be at times, is an acknowledgement that I can feel again. I feel love, joy, peace, and happiness and that right there - that is living. I realized at a young age you really aren't living if you’re not really feeling. And wow, how I love to feel things now. In some ways this life I live - feeling all the things, crying in public when my emotions call me too, screaming at the top of my lungs because I’m so excited, and sitting in silence because sometimes I can’t put into words how I feel - is all so surreal. But the beauty of it is it is real. It’s my life. The life I finally decided to live. And I love her. My life and my anxiety. What needs to change so that you can love your anxiety, too?