Expressing difficult emotions

Recently on the blog comments I was treated to a little lecture about how harmful it is to wallow in misery. It struck me that this would be a good topic to explore. It’s not an unusual thing to hear if you’re a depressed person dealing with people who apparently have decent mental health. Of course the primary function of this is often to make the depressed person shut up so that they do not make the comfortable person uncomfortable. Or perhaps it’s about not requiring the person who is in denial to think too much.

It is essential to be able to talk about how you are feeling in whatever ways makes sense to you. Anyone who denies you that space is someone to avoid – they may have their own issues, and sometimes stepping away from each other is the best choice. Working through your feelings is essential for getting on top of them, locking it away will only make it worse.

There are a lot of productive ways of expressing emotions. Pouring it into music, art or poetry can be a really good ideas, as can venting it through physical expression. I’ve found dance exceedingly helpful for processing things I couldn’t think my way out of. Difficult emotions can take time and effort to process – significant injuries, traumas, profound losses – we don’t automatically integrate these things or know what to do with them. Coming to terms with anything of this ilk takes time and most of us do better when we can engage consciously with those feelings.

Accusations of wallowing, or loving your own misery or simply making a fuss for attention is one that most depressed people are familiar with. It adds to the burden of distress. Having it thrust at you as an attempt at help, or for your own good just adds to the unpleasantness. So let me be clear that this is never about the good of a person who is suffering. Needing to spend time with difficult things you are feeling is not a moral failing or some kind of character flaw. It’s doing the necessary work that moves you, inch by inch, towards healing.

When we are accepting of each other’s emotions, we lend support to that healing process. When we listen, show care, and make space for whatever anyone else is struggling with, we help each other. I’m constantly grateful to the people in my life who share their own experiences –  l learn from all of that, and I know that in turn what I share of my own journey is at least occasionally useful to others.

I’m not sure what to do with people who respond to distress with unpleasantness. While I’m deeply invested in the idea of community resilience and mutual support, I think we’re all entitled to have and hold boundaries. There’s a very strong likelihood that the people who want to shut down others for expressing distress are speaking from places of having their own hurt, and unmet need. Perhaps they find some comfort or sense of self worth in hurting people who dare to express hurt. I don’t know and thinking about it taxes the limits of my empathy, I’m finding. 

The question of how best, as communities, to take care of the people who have little or no ability to participate well in community is something that impacts on all of us. How do we respond to people who come intent on causing hurt? Even if we’re confident they do so from a place of distress? I don’t have any decent answers to this right now, and I think I’ll need to be better resourced in myself before I can explore this in any significant way.

About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, polyamourous animist, ant-fash, anti-capitalist, bisexual steampunk. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. Exploring life as a Pagan, seeking good and meaningful ways to be, struggling with mental health issues and worried about many things. View all posts by Nimue Brown

20 responses to “Expressing difficult emotions

  • bish

    You just know, me being me, I went looking for that comment thread. 🙂 Good pushing back there; thoughtful and not angry. I get both sides of that brief interlude, but feel most of all that I should call on the small god Thumper, and his father’s aphorism, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothing at all.” Tangentially, if someone asks me how my tinnitus is today, it will immediately flare up to the point I can’t hear anything else. I wonder if it’s the same with depression. And yes, I’ve just done it to myself… bugrit.

    • Nimue Brown

      There are things – exhaustion is one of them – that has the depression come in like a tidal wave. Pain is another, and that’s just so often a thing. It’s frustrating, and I push back where I can, but some days there just isn’t a lot of wriggle room.

  • potiapitchford

    You handled that person well in my opinion. I probably would have been ruder. Keeping boundaries is important but gates are useful too, places where you can decide if someone is worth investing a bit of your energy in or not. We all have our limits 😊

  • lodestarwytch

    Honestly, I think you handled that “feedback” well. I really appreciated what you said as someone with depression who still loves to be creative and writes a blog! I think you dealt with the comment with a huge amount of grace & dignity.

  • celticchick

    Some people think it’s okay to be nasty and it has a lot to do with the toxic environment we are in now. Writing about your depression is helpful to you and others who might also be experiencing it. Plus, it’s your blog. You can write whatever you want. If that person doesn’t like it, they can shove off.

  • Karen

    There are many ways of looking at such situations.

    But I suppose that if you are writing a blog then you have decided that you are going public. You could call it publicising.

    If you’re going to do the public thing, then you need to expect a public response. You might not like all those replies, but that’s the cost of going public. The public has an opinion which is not necessarily yours.

    Hence: don’t want to be faced with opinions regarding your character or behaviour: don’t write a public blog.


    • Nimue Brown

      Or alternatively, this is my space, I share things in the hope they will be helpful and people are under no obligation to read. Showing up in someone’s space to be rude abut what they are doing is inappropriate, and giving people (any person, not just me) a hard time over their depression is likely to make them feel worse not better. That last one is a point I really care about because I am done with people thinking they are being helpful when they say things that are actively going to cause harm to other people. I’m sick of the ableism, and I’m going to resist it strenuously.

    • gothicmangaka

      Karen- Mental health issues are best dealt with in supportive community. This is not opinion, it’s fact that isolating people and shutting them down worsens the situation and opportunity to be heard improves it. What you are expressing here on Nimue’s blog is a push back in a very literally harmful direction, To, shut up, to keep it to yourself in public- This sort of thinking and speech is why we have stigma.

  • MoonWater

    I completely agree with you Nimue! It’s all very unnecessary and just plain rude. What drives people to write these hurtful comments?

    I’m afraid I don’t have all the answers. But what helped me when I had been brought to an all-time low by the trolls on my own blog was surprisingly my dog. He’d had to go to the vet and get some stitches, so he came home with one of those plastic cones on his head to stop him picking at the wound. I immediately realised that that cone would help me with my own anxiety. Once he had finished with it, I started wearing it myself. I now never go to the supermarket without my beloved cone – it cuts out a lot of peripheral vision and also a lot of unwanted noise. Really helps my anxiety. The trolls haven’t won.

  • Dolly

    Hi Nimue

    Dolly here.

    It’s a shame you’ve chosen to write this piece when still clearly very angry. It was probably not a great idea for your mental health. You’d clearly been stewing on my earlier comments and that’s not good either and not what was intended. The anger comes through throughout the piece, but one need look no further than the line “I was treated to a little lecture” to get a true feel for the level of rage. It’s all very unfortunate.

    One feels you are not used to being challenged on your ideas, beliefs or opinions. This unfortunately comes through strongly, too. Hence the rage.

    We should all move on from this.

    Dolly xxxxx

    • Nimue Brown

      Why are you still reading my blog? What can you possibly be getting out if this?

      • Dolly

        Because you have chosen to write a piece about my opinions. It must have occurred to you that I might reply? I think that’s only fair.

      • Nimue Brown

        I have no problem with you replying, I’m just struggling to see what you’re getting out of this. The best thing to do with things you don’t like is to shrug and move on, honestly. Although I’m finding lots of good concepts for future posts in your comments so do please feel free to stay.

    • Nimue Brown

      Also, it’s not really about you, it’s about supporting people with mental health struggles and talking to a wider audience about appropriate and inappropriate responses to mental health, which you really would benefit from educating yourself about.

      • Dolly

        It’s definitely not all about me.

        But one gets the impression it’s always about you. I do wonder if that’s the experience of those who share an abode with you. I’d wager it is.

      • Nimue Brown

        I draw on my own experiences and that includes a lot of observation. Blog policy is not to name private individuals without their explicit consent unless I really don’t like them. Obviously with authors, musicians, visible Pagans etc that’s different. I make a point of not exposing anyone who has shared things with me privately and I’m perfectly comfortable therefore if anyone wants to read this as being all about me. People who know me well can usually infer what I’m talking about and anyone else is free to make of it what they will.

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