A Letter to Those Struggling with Emotional Fluency
By Caitlin Ackerman
Self-articulation or emotional fluency has never been one of my strong suites. Feelings and emotions, however, you’ll always find right on my sleeve. It’s really conflicting because everyone knows when I am super happy, extremely sad, overwhelmed with stress, or just calm; but expressing why and feeling free of judgement…not so smooth. Developing coping skills to regulate my emotions has been a long journey to say the least, one that I am continuously treading on.
Despite popular belief as you read this letter, writing to process my thoughts and feelings has never been a successful method to work through things that I am feeling. For example, I hear journaling is a phenomenal tool and it works for so many of my closest friends. When I sit to journal, I find that I critique myself a lot, am a little unkind, and typically am not writing about memories that I want to look back at in five years from now. I waste paper, I can’t read my handwriting, and I rarely feel better when I’m done. Similarly, I have tried to develop a creative outlet through painting, drawing, coloring, you name it – I’ve flopped on it. I find myself comparing my ‘work’ to what others with the amazing artistic skills produce. The list of trial and error go on and on. What I have come to understand about myself is I don’t enjoy the process of processing my emotions. Instead, I find myself continuously wearing them on my sleeve in the cycle of self-destruction and doubt.
In this time of COVID-19, I have been dealt an unusual hand; one that my extroverted mind was not prepared for as I transitioned into this isolated, stay at home lifestyle. Now, outside of work hours, – my ability to wear my emotions but not work through them seems like practice of the past. I have nothing but time and space to think and do the work. It was a goal of mine to try a few new mindfulness practices this year: meditation, express gratitude, and try therapy (working through things and being present).
Full candidacy, traditional meditation puts me to sleep. Truly, it’s become a technique that helps me knock out on restless nights. That said there are a few methods I have grown accustomed to such as walking meditations and acknowledging the present moment. Both of these help me to be ok just existing and that feeling being enough. And Full Candidacy (part 2), I’m probably not doing it ‘right’, but it works for me – and that’s what this is all about. This month, I have taken a lot of solo walks and more often than not, I end up along the coast, staring out into the ocean, watching the seals play, and listening to the waves breaking. I’ve always loved the beach. The walk to my preferred spot is about 3 miles. This period has been allocated as my “worry time.” My time to feel all of the feelings - to be scared, talk to myself, listen to sad music, have doubts, etc. When I get to the beach and find my spot in the rocks or on the sand, I take a deep breath and release it all into the wind. Then… I just be. I acknowledge my senses – what I see, smell, taste, hear, and feel – sometimes I cry, maybe scream, or other times I sit there for a while silently. I let go that I was burned by the man I thought I would spend forever with, the fear of uncertainty about my position at work, the economic challenges it is to remain in this city, feelings of loneliness and my anger towards this invisible virus that is devastating us. As I look out, I’m not searching for answers – I’m seeking peace.
When I depart the beach and endure the short trek home, I try to listen to something that will bring me joy - an audio book, a sermon or podcast, upbeat music, or even sometimes phoning a friend. During my walks back, a few specific things have resonated with me that I have held onto and found helpful to always remember. More specifically these “things” are quotes that I have found to be helpful to hear and reflect deeply on. So, naturally, I thought I would share them in hope that they will help you too!
“A lot of times love doesn’t work out. Yet even when it fails, it connects you to others and, in the end, that is all you have, the connections.” –Delia Owens, Where the Crawdads Sing
On one walk to the water, as I wallowed in self-pity and fear for what is to come, I heard this. After rewinding it to hear it again, I thought, wow. You see, I was betrayed and hurt by someone very close to me… but without that love that moved me here, I would not have the amazing friends and connections I do in the Bay Area. In a short period of time, I have found a team and job that I love and friends that are mine for life. I may still be figuring out how I feel about this city (particularly this cool weather that is not the California I signed up for), however, despite my current situation, a big part of me is grateful for all of the people I’ve had the opportunity to meet. “Yet even when it [love] fails, it connects you to others, and in the end that is all you have, the connections.”
“You don’t get to choose the situation, but you do get to choose the story you tell yourself.” - Pastor Steven Furtick Elevation Church
I may not have chosen heartbreak, sadness, anxiety, or quarantining in a brand-new city, but I do have full control over what I do about it and what I tell myself. This quote is how I fell into my cadence of scheduled worry time, peaceful reflection and release, and refueling with positive energy. I will come out of whatever I am going through stronger, it will not consume me. And we will come out of this pandemic better. We are living in a miracle of technology that connects us, medicine that will save us, and strength that will endure us.
“You are doing the best you can with what know in any given moment” – Heather Coros
While I only went to life coaching once and it’s not exactly the same as therapy, I still think my attendance was a step forward to checking off a goal set for myself this year. During my first (and only) session, I was angry, I cried, I felt shame, I was confused, it was my nightmare. A full 90 minutes focus on me to sit, feel, and process. This was before I established my new meditative walking routine and immediately following my initial break up. I remember I was unclear about my goals for the meeting and must have been rambling about unclearly about how I was feeling. In this moment of I hate the world and blaming myself, Heather’s response to me was: “I invite you to give yourself permission to believe that you are doing the best you can with what you know in any given moment. When you are unsure about something or feel shame in your actions, I want you to tell yourself that.” That little piece, right there in the middle, became my new self-mantra and has stuck with me every day since. Whenever I feel self-doubt, uncertainty, sadness, etc. and I feel as though I am doing something wrong, I give myself permission and say, “you are doing the best you can with what you know in this given moment.”
Navigating mental health is tough and being emotionally fluent is no small feat. It's a life-long learning process of trial and error and finding things that work for you. But first, you have to try. This pandemic is not ideal. It has disrupted our norms of the unforeseeable future; and we have a choice to make – we can let it destroy us or we can try to overcome these tribulations. I cannot tell you how, I can only share and hope that at least one thing resonates with one person. I am grateful for my connections. I am the author of my own story. I give myself permission to be ok where I am, with what I know.
Sending peace & love to each of you,