A while back, Greta Christina wrote a series of ‘Grief Diary’ posts about dealing with her dad passing away. One of the things that she talked about was judging herself for her emotional reactions. If she was feeling really down, she’d feel like she was overreacting, and when she had periods of feeling alright, she’d feel like she was callous and unfeeling. Reading about this was really helpful for me.
It was helpful for two reasons. First, because I experience exactly the same thing when I’m dealing with tough shit. Knowing that it happens to other people both helps me feel more normal, and helps me to say no to those judgy impulses when they happen. Second, it made me recognize another very similar thing that I do in circumstances where I’m dealing with tough shit or depression.
For some reason, I’ve grown up with this idea in my head that if you’re feeling bad about something, that bad feeling is your whole emotional state until you feel better. And vice versa, that if you’re feeling good, that good feeling is your whole emotional state until you feel bad about something. Say, for example, I’ve just gone through a breakup. One might reasonably assume that I’d spend a while feeling shitty about things following a breakup, and I would. But, sometimes, when I experience those in-between moments of feeling okay, of joking around, etc., it makes me feel like the feeling-bad-about-stuff emotions were disingenuous somehow. How can I still be feeling bad about things, if I can have these moments of feeling fine, or good?
I think a similar thing happens on a broader scale with people, including myself, who suffer from depression. During my more serious bouts of depression, there is an extent to which I’m prone to think of Depressed Me as The Real Me, and Not Feeling So Bad Me as somehow not really me. It’s easy, when you’ve been dealing with depression for a long time, for it to end up feeling like an integral part of your identity.
The reality in all of the above cases is that feelings are more complicated and dynamic than those perspectives allow. You don’t always feel just one way at a time (a good example of this that comes to mind is, in the context of poly, people feeling both jealousy and compersion about a partner’s other relationships at the same time), and having fluctuations in mood, even during periods of intense stress and/or depression, is completely normal. A period of feeling really shitty is no less valid because there are periods of feeling alright about stuff in between— because you managed to have fun, joke around, forget about the problems for a little while, whatever.
This is another of those revelations that, for me, feel trivially obvious in retrospect. I’m not sure why it took me so long to, first, realize that I was thinking this way, and, second, realize that it was a ridiculous way to think. But there it is.