Can we switch our emotions on and off? Can having a chronic illness lead you to turning off your emotions or at least dulling them down? Or you might experience the opposite and have your emotions run into overdrive?
Being chronically ill can be like riding a roller coaster of emotions – pain, grief, guilt, hope, anger, loneliness, anxiety, frustration. Some liken it to the stages of grief cycle. I am not sure it is necessarily a cycle or follows the same path, but I am sure most of us have been through some of these in relation to our illness.
After being diagnosed with Crohn’s disease, I was overwhelmed with emotions. Then, at some point, I feel like my subconscious decided to anaesthetise itself to some of these feelings, especially the more unpleasant ones. I didn’t want to feel these things anymore.
Don’t get me wrong. I’ve never been completely emotionless or desensitised. I’ve had gigantic prednisone fuelled crazy irrational fits just like anyone else, but I started bottling things up and trying to dull down my pain and distressing thoughts. I think I just couldn’t handle them or feeling that way. So instead I switched something off in my brain.
At some points I tried not to think about things or talk about things relating to my Crohn’s. It pained me too much to open myself up to what I was really feeling. To those raw emotions. To the fear. To the what ifs. Even to allowing myself to feel the occasional glimmer of hope.
I would break down in tears watching loved ones reunite on some silly reality TV show, but very rarely would I cry for myself. I didn’t want to feel sorry for myself or for anyone else to feel sorry for me. I was trying to put on a brave face for my own and others benefits. At the same time, I was becoming less engaged and less responsive to my own emotions and awareness.
This can be dangerous to our wellbeing. There is a fine line between protecting yourself and not allowing yourself to feel anything at all. To feel numb.
Eventually I decided to see a psychologist and hypnotherapist. They helped me talk about things I had been bottling up. Even things I hadn’t even realised were there. I opened myself up and let myself feel all of those feelings again, even if it was painful. This wasn’t a bad thing. I’ve learnt better how to acknowledge my emotions, accept them, understand them, manage and move on from them. Turn uncomfortable thoughts into positive ones. Allow myself to be vulnerable. And I’ve learnt that sometimes you just need to have a good cry and let it all out!
One of the best things I did was a 12 week “Master Your Mind” hypnotherapy program. This is NOT the same as being hypnotised. I learnt so much from these sessions. All those bad thoughts and sensations I was feeling – I allowed them some room. I gave up the struggle. I got curious and investigated the feelings without judgement or criticism. I discovered ways to spring clean my mind through allocated daily worrying time, eliminate intrusive thoughts and create positive affirmations, not believe everything I think, shut down my self-sabotage with a no excuses policy, finding solutions and truths for barriers I was creating. I know this probably sounds like gobbledygook to some of you. It would have to me a few years ago too, but it has honestly been such a huge help to how I manage my illness, and I continue to benefit from it every day.
At times I worry I haven’t switched my emotions all the way back on again yet. If I think about some things too much, I get overwhelmed. It’s all just a bit much for me, but I know the importance of being able to unwrap those complex layers of our thoughts and feelings, to be free and honest with ourselves. Life with or without a chronic illness is all about feeling and being open to the joy as well as the pain.
“There is no sun without rain,
there is no joy without pain”
“There is no emotion harder to feel than joy because we are so afraid that it won’t last” Brene Brown