Psychology and mental illness

It Feels Like Creativity

This post was reuploaded in 2018 as part of the archive restoration project.

One way to describe depression is that there’s a disconnect between the cognition and the emotions. I can tell myself not to feel so down, that I have no reason to be unmotivated and groggy, that there are things to do that I would enjoy doing, but it’s like signals sent into a void. Apathy is there, and it sucks in the rational knowledge.

For me, telling myself something I already know doesn’t help. “You’re better than this, you don’t have an excuse for this, this doesn’t make sense,” can sit in my thoughts for hours, and my feelings stay in a loop.

I know it rationally, but I don’t know it emotionally. The solution wasn’t to keep sending rational, wordsy solutions to the emotionless no-signal-receptors part of my mind. The solution was to let the emotions do the talking, which is messy because emotions are unpredictable and complicated and exhausting, and they don’t use words, and I don’t communicate with not-words.

I hadn’t been kind to my emotions. I held back my tears and my anger, because I’d learned that such things were dangerous. I didn’t give my emotions the chance to breathe, so they shut down. Then I realized I needed emotion to get anything done – I had no motivation, no enjoyment, without them.

Awakening the emotions is masochistic. Pain doesn’t really scare me, though, so I sometimes talk or write my way toward whatever I notice myself avoiding. When I’m most distracted, or I most crave junk food, I know that’s when I’m getting close to an emotional belief. It’s not something I would agree with if I could put it into words or write it as a formulaic syllogism, but the belief is in my emotions, not my rational mind.

Then I send signals from the emotions to the cognition, and when I find the words, I feel again. And it hurts and it’s not fun. But I can identify the wrong belief, and that’s often enough for me to stop believing it. When I realize why my emotions are looping the way they’re looping, the belief holds no power over me anymore.

So I listen to my emotions and I ask a lot of questions. There are a lot of lies, and I know they’re lies, but I can’t combat the lies, so my emotions keep quiet. I apologize to myself for being so stupid.

“Why do you believe this lie?” I ask myself.

“Because of that one time.” My emotions admit, and they bring back a traumatic memory.

And all the times. Over and over, the lie was reinforced. To the point that hearing a similar story, or even a certain phrase, can make me angry or anxious. That’s what a trigger is.

One of my favorite maxims is from the YouTuber Connor Manning: “Trust the process.” He has it tattooed on his right arm. It reminds him that even in mental illness, recovering from addiction, and fighting depression, he doesn’t have to get discouraged. [These pronouns reflect the time of writing, but I’ll let the 2018 update speak for itself.]

Each moment is part of the process, and I’m experiencing it in real time, so of course I’ll feel my emotions in ups and downs. During the past fifteen months of therapy, learning to express my emotions was about trusting the process. I just knew that I was trying this new approach where I was letting my emotions out.

After every therapy session, I was knocked out for the rest of the day. It took several months for me to get emotional in therapy, and then to cry, and then I was crying in every session. But I kept my promise to my starved and strangled emotions: I would listen to them, and not shut them off even if they made me hurt.

Then one day in therapy, I did what I had taught myself to do. I ran toward the pain, and sought out the thing I was avoiding. And instead of crying or dissociating, I channeled my emotions freely, and they weren’t “They,” anymore, it was me. I was saying how I felt.

“I feel like there’s something else here,” I said, and called out the lie I’d believed for so long. Immediately, I saw the inconsistency, and it lost its power over me.

“Do you know what you just did?” My therapist asked. “You just used emotion, and it didn’t knock you over.”

“But this feels so familiar.” I said. “It feels like I’m brainstorming, I’m just letting my mind free with ideas, and writing down whatever I think of. It feels like creativity.”

That’s when I learned that emotions aren’t a mark of failure and breaking, like I’d always seen demonstrated. I was using the intuitive, creative, emotional part of myself. I’m more creative and relaxed now that I know it’s okay to be emotional.