I need ALL the feelings

I need ALL the feelings


Depression is often described as a malingering, toxic presence that sucks away vitality. But depression is an absence: the absence of feeling. In the film Inside Out the young girl Riley loses her connection to her emotions and slips into a dazed existence that means nothing. It is only when she connects with her feelings – in particular, sadness – that she can feel alive again and connect with life again.

Emotional vacuum

Depression is no villain. It is an emotional vacuum, an absence of feeling. It’s the consequence of someone being deprived of something essential. We need to experience feelings as much as we need to breathe, drink and eat. And we need to experience all of our feelings. Focusing on just some – whether it’s the nice ones or the awful ones – leaves us weak and unfulfilled.

Humans have the ability to shut out feelings, and in small doses it’s a very useful tool. It’s good to know a heart surgeon can block out that argument he just had with his partner in order to save your life. But this is crisis-management, and if we live like that all the time we dwindle. Life becomes flat; relationships seem like a game of masks; the mood of life becomes quiet anxiety, a twilight of doubt and worry.

The cruel thing is that emotionally shut down people are well rewarded in our society. In politics the thick skinned and emotionally oblivious seem to thrive. Business leaders are praised for their cold-blooded actions. The child that cries is considered to have a problem. But the child that doesn’t cry has lost the power of expression, and in that loss madness grows.

How to open up emotionally?

How to open up emotionally? How to feel again after years – maybe decades – of suppressing feelings? It begins with talking about feelings and acknowledging them. And we recoil in horror! Let feelings in? They cause my pain! Letting them in seems to make no sense. But staying in the armour of ignoring feelings makes life increasingly worse: I become hyper sensitive, until the merest dissappointment can trigger incandescent rage. I crave a numbness that I can’t maintain.

Personally, in the end I let the feelings in because I had no choice. As I got older they got stronger until finally I had to acknowledge them. It was that or die.

So I try to sit with feelings, as one would sit with a troubled friend. Excruciating, but better than the alternative. Our fear of feelings makes them monsters. To sit and grow accustomed to witnessing feelings weakens that fear and slowly the feelings become something else. Not exactly friends, more like members of a community. Strange, infuriating, unreasonable neighbours in the small community of me and all my feelings.

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