I passed my emotions a note in class.
“Will you be my friend? Circle Yes or No.”
I scribbled it on a ripped up piece of lined paper from my composition journal. I drew a pink heart next to it.
“I’ve been waiting for you to ask.” Smiley face.
I’m not saying our friendship is always easy, but at least we’re in this thing together now. We’re on the same team, fighting for a common cause: me.
It’s been much easier this way. All the energy that went toward fearing my emotions, dreading them, now goes toward embracing them and being present with them. All that energy I exerted in repressing them, in burying them deep in my psyche, is now freed up for wonderful things.
There’s more to the story, of course. I just told you the happy ending first.
Truth is, my emotions and I haven’t always been friendly toward one another. In fact, we were estranged cousins at one point. We didn’t even know of each other. I mean, I knew about them, but that’s as close as I had gotten. It’s like when your parent speaks about a family member you’ve never met and there’s this emptiness about it—unfamiliarity. There’s an unspoken understanding that you won’t ask too many questions or go too deep. You will just accept the surface level, like a family secret.
My emotions weren’t with me; they were apart from me, something else entirely.
They were this scary, elusive concept with which I didn’t dare intermingle. I was taught to push them aside, like sour milk. They are not to be consumed or talked about, for fear of what others might think of us. For fear of this commentary: “That family has sour milk! There must be something wrong with them!”
They are to be discarded immediately without a trace left behind. This is what I was taught. Throw away the carton, cover up the smell, and move on. Nothing to see here.
But emotions fester when you ignore them. Just like anything we ignore, eventually they will demand to be heard.
And so the plot thickened.
When, to my dismay, I finally began listening to them, they came out sideways, backwards and upside down. They were red, tangerine, canary yellow and egg green. They flew around me, inside me, outside me, above me, below me and behind me. Nothing made sense. It was fragmented, whimsical, abstract and out of order.
Nothing was proper; everything was nonsensical.
Emotions showed up uninvited! They were those friends I didn’t invite to my party on purpose. They’d show up in the bathroom stall at work in the form of tears. They’d arrive at my car during the commute home from work. They’d come to social gatherings and parties, out of place, seemingly unwarranted.
I realized I had a choice: I could either continue to allow them to show up uninvited in my life, or I could begin to form a friendship with them.
The process of befriending my emotions was a gradual one.
It started with a simple concept: labeling. I was a baby learning the ABCs. When a friendship became distant, I would say to myself: This is sadness. When something would irritate me at work, I would say to myself: This is anger. When something would frighten me at home, I would say to myself: This is fear. Although the feelings weren’t new, the ability to identify them was.
The first step to change is self-awareness. I began to be aware of what was happening in my body when I would become sad, angered or fearful. I began to know sadness felt like a pit in my stomach. Anger felt like a fire in my chest. Fear felt like a pit in my chest and a paralysis in my entire body.
My new friends and I were getting to know each other better.
Emotions and I have spent a lot of time together—good, bad and ugly. We have crossed borders together, survived breakups together, suffered losses together, ran marathons together and endured all kinds of rejection and acceptance together.
Sometimes they surprise me, just like a friend might. They turn up in the least expected of places just when I need them, like a really good cry at the end of a long week. Other times, they are a little bit harder to get in touch with. Perhaps they are busy, not purposely ignoring me, but focused on other things.
But, like good friends, I know they are always fighting for me.
Author: Ali Mariani
Apprentice Editor: Alicia Wozniak / Editor: Toby Israel
Photo: Juliana Coutinho/Flickr