Mental Health Matters: Feeling My Feels

When I first received a packet of information from the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services outlining the events that led to my adoption, I called my then best friend to read her the contents. At first, her sniffles were low, but eventually they began to drown out my words.

“Why are you crying?” I asked.

“It’s just…so sad,” she began.

“Don’t cry,” I insisted. “Don’t cry for me.”

By this time, I was 32 years old and had mastered muffling and numbing my own sorrows. I wasn’t going to sob about my own life, and I certainly wasn’t going to allow anyone else to mourn for me.

I suppressed the pain of discovering I was an abandoned five-month-old baby with the other emotional trauma I’d endured. The only thing about stuffing emotions into an abyss is that they’re never really gone. Pain. Sadness. Anger. Whatever emotion you’ve attempted to ignore stays with you. I learned this nine years later when I was 41.

moon_womanI’d decided to do a relationship meditation hosted by Oprah and Deepak. I thought the meditation would help me have a better relationship with my husband, father, cousins, and in-laws. What was surprising is the meditation really focused on the relationship I had with myself. This was achieved through chanting mantras and answering journal prompts. One of the questions asked this: What, if anything, are you afraid of finding out about yourself? Or something like that.

At first, I didn’t want to write the truth. But, after realizing I’d be the only one reading it, I decided to be as honest as possible. I scribbled these words: There must be something wrong with me for me not to have any parents.

And then, I cried.

I cried for the five-month-old version of myself, who must’ve been terrified being left in an apartment for days. I wept for a baby who was separated from her mother. In that moment, I realized I didn’t need permission to empathize for myself. So, I also cried for being adopted and not told to feel anything about the finding years ago. I grieved losing my adoptive mother. My final tears were for my adoptive father, who, no matter how much he uttered, “I love you,” had shown otherwise.

That day was pivotal. I’d waited my entire life for someone to green-light my emotions when really, I held the power all along.

moonAfterwards, I stopped stifling tears and emotions. I began using honest communication in most situations. I refused to follow family and society’s made-up rules of engagement. From that day forward, I knew it was better for me to share emotions than it was to harbor resentment and damage myself further. This ranged from answering simple questions, like “How do you like working here?” to harder ones, like, “Why haven’t you invited me to your parties?” with truth. With many people, I ceased hiding my emotions, and subsequently, protecting theirs. I don’t mean to say that I trample on others’ feelings; that would be insensitive, but rather, I don’t hold back for fear of what others will think. I don’t owe anyone a lie or a watered-down answer because they’re ill-equipped to deal with how I feel or because they’re not used to hearing a different opinion.

Since that day, I’ve also learned how to move through emotions and determine why I’m experiencing a specific response. I have a phrase: I feel (fill-in-the-blank emotion) because of (fill-in-the-blank reason). It might look like this: I feel resentful because my family doesn’t consider how I feel around holidays. Sometimes I share these sentiments; other times, I don’t. The important part is to know how I feel and move through it.

Sometimes tears arise because I’m triggered by past life events, like the time I was watching TV and a woman and her mother were shopping for wedding dresses. I remembered how I shopped for dresses by myself and it made me sad. Being able to acknowledge that emotion and then pause for a second has been more supportive for me than pretending feelings don’t exist.

Finally, because I’m now more inclined to feel my feels and process emotions, I’m less likely to use unhealthy coping strategies. I no longer rely on people, relationships, or sex as a means to improve my mood or self-esteem. As a result, my relationships have improved because I’m interacting from an authentic space, not from a place of suppressed hurt and anger.

For me, an ability to feel has been liberating.

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38 thoughts on “Mental Health Matters: Feeling My Feels

  1. What a powerful piece. Learning to claim our emotions, especially pain, is really hard work. My kiddos are just starting to chip away at core beliefs and adoption loss with their counselors and boy, it’s hard to watch them sit with this pain. Your insights here are a gift. Thank you.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Awww thank YOU! It is very hard work to do and to watch. I suspect that’s why many of us shy away from feeling in the first place. Sending you and your children lots of love and light 💞

      Like

  2. So good. This felt especially true for me too, “I began using honest communication in most situations. I refused to follow family and society’s made-up rules of engagement. From that day forward, I knew it was better for me to share emotions than it was to harbor resentment and damage myself further.” After a death in my family three years ago, some big, old hurts came to the surface and demanded I deal with them. The work was hell but the other side of hell is liberation.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Super proud of you. Being able to speak your truth out loud is not only a beautiful thing but it’s one of the best parts about being in your forties (I’m 46). personally I found that the more I talk about the uncomfortable things and allow myself to feel, not only can I process it better but I found it helps other people feel less alone even if that was never my point. Your writing is exceptional, by the way 😊

    PS- As a woman about to adopt two girls (7&9) find the foster care system, I was wondering if you had anything on your “time machine wish list”… i.e., what you wish you would have had when you were adopted that you didn’t have when you were younger. If you have written about this already please forgive me (I would love to see a link to that). My husband and I always believe in absolute transparency and us both having lost parents and adopting in our 40s and 50s has us really focused on learning from those who have been through it (as kids rather than as parents). We know we can’t make their grief disappear and having grieved ourselves when we learned things about our childhood that weren’t how they seemed, we know that being able to talk about it is everything. When I was 30 I found out that I was molested at 10 by my sister’s then-husband, something I had obviously blocked out, and realized she had stayed married to him for many years thereafter and my mom was apathetic as well when she learned. I spent years wondering if the memories will ever emerge and trying to figure out where I fit in that family, and after going through 5 years of infertility and miscarriage and failed adoptions (with no support from them and the father who died 12 years ago), I know that my family is with my husband and not them…and think about new parenthood in such different ways than I did when I was young.

    And I just went off on a tangent… Sorry about that. Anyhow, please keep writing and keep showing yourself that love. All I can say is that shit will eventually get easier even if it’s in the tiniest of increments. There is a quote by Brene Brown that says “one day you will tell your story of how you overcame what you went through and it will be someone else’s survival guide.”

    Xoxo

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you so much for your kind words! I completely agree about being in your 40s. It’s like a light switches on (or off) depending on how you see it) lol

      I actually haven’t written about the topic you’ve raised, but I’m happy to tell you that I’m beginning a new video/podcast series where I ask mental health experts to weigh in on specific issues. On June 19th, I’ll be sharing thoughts from a psychologist, who has begun a website: https://myfamilybydesign.com/. I think you’d be interested in her interview, but until it’s posted, I’d like to encourage you to visit site.

      Good grief! That’s an awful story and I’m sure traumatic for you on several different levels!

      I love Brene Brown and I agree! It’s partially why I write. I want everyone to be a little bit healthier and a little bit more truthful; if I can help lead the way, then I’m happy to share.

      Thanks again for stopping by and please be sure to come back on 6/19 for the video.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. “I’d waited my entire life for someone to green-light my emotions” — WHEW. I felt that. i have nothing else to add. Beautiful post.

    I still think feelings are dumb but I’m getting better about acknowledging them.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Another deep and inspiring post full of lessons, reflections, and inspiration. Grateful to be on the receiving end of your profound insights. And also to be referenced in your post. Thank you my dear friend Dr. G. I cannot wait to continue the conversation via video interview in July! Dr. D ❤️❤️

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Thank you so much for sharing your experience with learning to “feel the feels”, it’s a tough lesson for most of us to give ourselves permission to do. I will have to look into this Oprah/Deepak course, sounds like something I would benefit from as well.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. I can’t even imagine what you went through, Katherin. But you are such an honest and expressive writer. You have a way of letting people enter into your heart and experiences. It’s a gift and I have learned so much from your writing. Thank you.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Acknowledging our feelings isn’t babyish or indulgent, it is necessary for good mental health. I liked this: “With many people, I ceased hiding my emotions, and subsequently, protecting theirs… I don’t owe anyone a lie or a watered-down answer because they’re ill-equipped to deal with how I feel.” Yes, yes, a million times, yes. A favorite Dr Seuss quote goes like this, “Be who you are and say what you feel, because in the end those who matter don’t mind and those who mind don’t matter.” 🙂

    Liked by 3 people

  9. Beautifully expressed. I’m also ‘changing my rules of engagement’. Some don’t like me being more open, but it’s just SO much better than boiling away on the inside. Thanks so much for sharing so much encouragement.

    Liked by 2 people

  10. another beautiful post to be sure — am especially intrigued by why is it so hard for us to see others cry for us? perhaps it goes beyond not wanting them to be sad too? some of it, at least at times (& not like many folks have cried for me lol) their empathizing can feel like they’re wanting to niche-itize it… dunno… just thinking… but interesting that something that’s meant to connect can sometimes rile me…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Well, for me, it’s because I hadn’t even cried for myself, so I never wanted anyone to then mirror the behavior back to me that I really should’ve allowed for myself, you know?

      Also, I think many of us are not in tune with our own emotions, so we don’t wanna feel someone else’s either. But, you’re right. It is definitely a way to connect (empathize, sympathize, etc.) with others.

      Liked by 1 person

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