Re-educating Lisa

“The thing is for so many years now, I’ve squashed all the big feelings. They were all unwelcome visitors.”

What does it truly feel like to be overjoyed and ecstatic in the moment; to experience pure enjoyment? How does it feel to be afraid, terrified or grief-stricken? Do you recognise when you are nervous or excited and full of anticipatory wonder? I’m starting to question if I actually know. Sure there are glimpses but have I ever fully embodied these visceral life-affirming glorious feelings?

Stepping out of expectation and into residency of my one precious life, I’m starting to meet these big emotions head on. And it’s a remarkably uncomfortable business.

Take today for example, I’m on my way to London for a meeting about a new dreamy job. This morning my body has been turned up to maximum volume. My body has been tingly, my tummy is swishing round and round, my bowels are empty, my heart has been racing and my head is swimming. My turbo charge button has been initiated. At first inspection, I took it for pure fear.

I rang my brother and sister-in-law before I left, looking for reassurance, hoping that if someone else would just remind me that feelings are human and feelings are normal and that I AM OK, that I would believe them because this morning I am not listening to myself. Truly in this confusing world it seems that many of us, myself included at times, have outsourced all of our opinions, thoughts and beliefs to others; preferring to seek comfort externally rather than listening to the small voice of knowing within.

“Is it excitement?” Jess nudged. Good question….I’m not sure. It felt like fear at first but I’ll be the first to admit, I’m out of practice at this stuff. How mad is that? I am not sure what I’m feeling. I’ve been hanging around in this body for 41 years and I am not sure how to interpret its language. How can we even still be speaking different languages? And in a world where information railroads towards us from every angle, how can I ever be present if I’m still stuck analysing my own input? Ahhhhh.

The thing is for so many years now, I’ve squashed all the big feelings. They were all unwelcome visitors. They were dangerous, unmanageable and unsuitable in my world and so I learned or more accurately my ego chose to stamp them out. She has been so successful that now, I perhaps don’t even see them coming. I don’t know when it started but I think early in my childhood because I cannot recall many times when I have been alight with emotion. I am protected. I am safe. I am numb.

In these threatening moments, where feelings could have been created, perhaps my attention was diverted to something or somewhere else and eventually I learnt to disassociate effectively enough that I lost the ability to feel the big emotions which could destabilise my little island. 

I became an observer of other people’s emotions rather than an experiencer of mine. Happily, I am not a stranger to understanding these emotions and have developed an intimate understanding of them through others. I am an empath and perhaps the gap in myself has been filled by the emotions of the people I have walked through life alongside. My family life and work as a doctor have certainly provided me with rich learning zones. Perhaps losing myself early on has provided me with the gift of empathy. I wonder if this is a common thread with empathic souls?

I can remember at many points in my life wondering what was wrong with me. I would stand in packed venues body-to-writhing-bodies at a music concert or watching hundreds of people overcome with emotion jump to their feet to applaud at the end of a wonderful musical but, I did not dance or jump to my feet. I watched in awe of these free beings who went with their flow. How did they do it? I was not there. I was worrying about how it would look if I threw shapes with my body. What would people think if I wolf-whistled and clapped until my arms ached? What would THEY think? All of this whilst also deeply knowing that, ‘They will think nothing. They are watching the Killers play the set of their lives. They have no interest in you and your existential crisis. In fact, if you dance and enjoy yourself it will enhance their enjoyment’. And on and on…..Thinking not being. I had forgotten how to be present or more accurately learnt how not to be. How many moments have I missed?

Naturally, sometimes the emotional walls have been breached and I have been alive and participated in the moment. More so recently, and I have equally squirmed and revelled in this new found freedom. You’ll find me most Saturdays weeping over the beauty of a dance on Strictly or any afternoon just crying in the onion-free kitchen because of some intense overwhelming moment. Before, I could only access this place with help. A few drinks would do it. Temporarily disable my brain with alcohol, and I would dance with gay abandon and sing along loudly at festivals. In the dark at the cinema, I could shed a tear as the band played through the Titanic’s last moments. Of course later, I would then need to address these moments of weakness through self-flagellatory jokes at my own expense. But they were glimpses of possibility, if I could quieten the chatter of my mind, I could feel.

So as my train arrives in London, I am a pupil ready to learn more about these wild emotions within me. In the future, I will know fear and I will know excitement. In this moment, I am going to embrace my nervcitment and see what the day brings.

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