About ten years ago, I went to a big debating competition in the US with some of my now-closest friends (yes, I’m cool). It was an incredible trip filled with new experiences, wonderful people, and we performed really well in the competition. Yet, it became a running joke that “Jo doesn’t do overwhelmed. The best you get is whelmed.”

I’ve been reflecting a lot recently on the changes I have made over the last decade or so in recent months. Partly, this has been spurred on by my fairly momentous decision to have surgery, but also by other big things happening in my life, and my general reflection that my mental health is amongst the best it’s ever been.

A big difference: now, I do emotions.

After a lot of therapy, I’ve realised that the numbness I get when depressed is my brain’s way of protecting me from bad feelings. From having to feel the tough stuff.

So I’ve worked really hard to try to retrain my brain. I try to look for the good in things when bad things happen. Of course, I’m not ‘cured’ (whatever that might mean); I still dwell and spiral sometimes, but I have learnt how to at least try to break that spiral. It’s mostly been by trial and error, and the support of excellent professionals. But, a lot of what I now practice on a daily basis is probably grounded in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy.

When I feel something, I stop and think about how it really feels, physically and emotionally.

This can be very hard. Sitting with anxiety, with sadness, with disappointment, is NOT fun. Feeling how it affects, not just my emotional state, but the whole way my physical body responds, is scary. But noticing these effects gives me back the power over them.

Recently, I’ve had some hard things happen in my life. But I’m not worried that this is the start of a spiral. I can say to myself, “I feel sad right now. That’s ok because a sad thing has happened. Have a cry; do your thing.”

One of the great things about doing emotions, is that you also get to feel the good stuff. I don’t just get whelmed, I get overwhelmed – with happiness. I cry happy tears at my friends’ success, my sister’s upcoming wedding happiness, the enormous support I’ve received from those around me over the last couple of months. 18 year old me would have shrugged those things off, glazed over from feeling the real stuff, frightened of exposing the REAL EMOTIONS!

 

Image credit: @bradmontague