PAIN DEMANDS TO BE FELT
I feel like all of my writing on here is a collection of the realisations I have and the things I learn. A glimpse into my brain, my changing perspectives and my mindset as I work on it, as it grows and expands and shifts.
Today someone told me that sometimes, you have to move towards pain to relieve it.
And for me, in terms of recovery, I resonate on so many different levels.
Hearing this makes me think of the first few months of my recovery from anorexia; how initially, things got so much harder. How it almost felt counter-intuitive, to how bad it was making me feel in comparison to how I felt before; even though I was deep in the disorder, those times held a false sense of normality and ‘health’. It reminded me of how, in order to recover, I’ve had to work through a lot of pain and discomfort, both physically and emotionally - and how, it’s only by doing this that I’ve managed to overcome things and relieve them - eventually letting them go.
But more so, I think this quote touches on a more important aspect for me and for many others, which is recognising your illness as a coping mechanism. People often recognise eating disorders as a mechanism for control (although it can be argued whether this is indeed real control over your life, or the disorder controlling you), and although control definitely does come into play, and did for me, I think the issue lies a lot deeper.
Where does the need for control come from in the first place?
It’s not that those suffering from these kinds of disorders are just inherently picky, perfectionist, controlling personalities (though many do identify with those traits), but the controlling aspect comes in response to emotion, to feelings.
Fear of failure, fear of not being good enough, not being liked, accepted, loved… it’s those beliefs that we struggle with, emotions so intense and ingrained that we unconsciously protect ourselves from feeling. When we can’t control how we feel, or don’t want to feel a certain way; we seek control or comfort in other ways to fix the problem; creating distraction or displacement of those fears onto something we can change, or simply numbing from them completely. Our unconscious minds deal with the threat in the only way we know how, or more so - creates a false sense of control that we’re dealing with them, when really, they’re just being suppressed in place of something else.
I had to recognise the false sense of control and achievement my disorder gave me to dull the fear of failure, from the unwanted, difficult feelings of not being good enough. It numbed my mind of the feeling that I needed to improve and change or I’d never be liked, or loved, or accepted or happy. Recognising that although at the time, I felt mentally strong; shifting into drive and getting on with life, not stopping for a moment to allow anything to get me down - in reality, my need to do so was in fact mirroring that mentally, I wasn’t strong at all.
I was unable to ever just sit with my feelings, and let them be felt. Even in the literal sense I couldn’t physically stop being on the go - overexercising, mind on over-drive, overthinking, a jam-packed schedule - the only time I ever allowed myself to sit was to study or occasionally see friends, and even then I was constantly in a state of distraction and engagement. Times where I would allow myself to ‘be’, which pretty much only ever consisted of the time period before sleep, I would be overwhelmed with all of the thought I had tried to suppress or ignore throughout the day. I’d unconsciously distract myself by always thinking about the future; planning the next day, planning my studying, my meals, when I would go to the gym… planning all of the things that would calm my anxious mind, because thinking about the present was an open invitation for the fear of failure, rejection, feelings of inadequacy and generally just terrible self-esteem to creep in. The time period before sleep would extend and extend as the actual sleep period became less and less - It became harder and harder to switch down the noise inside my mind enough for me to drift off.
Whilst my mindfulness practice and working on shifting my mindset and lifestyle to a more balanced one has helped enormously in quietening the noise and regaining control over any critical or disordered thoughts, something that I’ve realised still lingers is my difficulty in feeling the difficult.
But I know it’s something I shouldn’t criticise myself for - because the truth is, it’s completely normal. It’s simply human nature to dislike feeling unhappy, anxious, scared, rejected… because without these reactions we would never strive for the ‘good.’
But the thing is, as the writer Zak Rana cleverly stated, ‘cliches often contain profound truths that we have simply learned to ignore.’ And one of those cliches I’ve realised, is that ‘pain demands to be felt.’
I live by the quote ‘you can’t control what happens to you, but you can control how you react.’ And before you think i’m going against my words, or I’ve found a loophole in this quote, I haven’t. I’ve simply realised what being in control of our emotions really means.
There is a difference between feeling the feelings and shifting the scale towards positivity, rather than blocking out the ‘bad’ and trying to replace it with the ‘good’. Sometimes, as much as you convince yourself you’ve dealt with those feelings and your reaction is simply taking control of your life and your thoughts, those unwanted emotions are still there, just as an underlying undercurrent. They haven’t really been dealt with to their full capacity.
We all know we can’t feel amazing all of the time, yet it’s still hard to accept that sometimes, the more ‘negative’ feelings are okay to let ourselves feel, and sometimes are even the more appropriate in that situation.
Anxiety dealt with those emotions by putting me in overdrive, by living in the future so I didn’t have to accept the present. Anorexia dealt with those emotions by numbing the pain; the feelings of emptiness and state of malnutrition putting my body and mind in a frame where I couldn’t think properly, couldn’t feel properly.
I’m training myself to sit with those feelings, and let myself experience them. To accept that sometimes, I can’t fix the situation, and in order to really shift my emotion I need to first work through the negative. I believe that it is possible to train your mind to react to things differently, in a more constructive and positive way - but that doesn’t mean feeling bad isn’t okay. When it comes to shifting your mindset, you can’t just expect to build it overnight, because if you skip the foundations, the difficult part, you won’t be able to truly flourish. It might seem like you can from the outside, but deep down you know that structure you build will be as fragile as ever. By addressing the undercurrent, by really feeling it and then letting it pass - you build yourself up to be much stronger than you ever were before.
It’s true that sometimes, switching into ‘drive’ mode works; you can fix the scenario, take charge of your life, your environment and your emotions. But what happens when that fails? Is it then that you find yourself engaging in unhealthy behaviours - in numbing, in distraction, in displacement? Is it then you find yourself resorting to that quick, disordered fix that gives your the instant gratification and false calm or control?
That’s why it’s so important to learn how to sit with those feelings. Because life isn’t perfect. Sometimes pain, no matter what you do, will demand to be felt.
And most importantly, sometimes feeling it is the healthiest thing you can do.