Feelings are not Facts
This is a guest post by Myra Sabel. Myra is mentioned twice in Six Simple Rules for a Better Life, including her story about how smiles helped her during the extremely difficult year when her husband, Ed, underwent three surgeries.
Many years ago a friend asked me to attend a program called “Recovery.” She was clinically depressed and did not want to attend alone. I found the program fascinating, particularly because it was member-driven: You learned from a book, and you learned from each other.
They had these sayings that you would repeat to help you through difficult moments. I sat there week after week absorbing the information, watching the participants improve. An experience like that stays with you forever.
One of my favorite expressions was “Feelings are not facts.” Over and over again that line has come to my mind. It has helped me to avoid doing damage to myself following paths of out of control feelings.
Earlier this year I had that brought to my attention in a very real way.
It has been a little over six months since my husband passed. His birthday was coming up and I told myself I would handle it well. I would spend the day thinking only of the good and get through it.
As the day came closer, I began to get agitated. I had seen people get wrapped up in anniversaries and birthdays of loved ones who passed, turning it into a day of mourning. I was planning to do all I could to avoid falling into that emotional trap.
But, thinking of the day to come, I wondered if I would be as “dignified” about it as I wanted to be. At the same time, I decided I couldn’t ignore the day and my husband of 26 years.
I continued to cycle up into an emotional state. On Sunday, I wrote a brief item that I would post on Ed’s birthday. I planned on buying a cupcake and celebrating his life. I was ready. I was there.
On Tuesday morning, I was up early, having barely slept the night before. I was trembling as I posted my birthday message. I was trying not to cry, but tears flowed.
I got myself ready and went into work. I stopped a few times as I got choked up, my mind returning to birthdays in the past, including laughing about all the times I nearly forgot his birthday and at the last minute ran around trying to make it look planned.
Around 2:00 in the afternoon, a co-worker asked me why I looked drained. I explained I hadn’t slept, that it was Ed’s birthday and that I was emotional. She tried to comfort me. I said I guess April 11th will always tug at me a bit. She looked at me and said, “Today is the 10th.”
Like a light switching off, my grief disappeared. I was still tired, but all those feelings I was having faded away.
The following day, on Ed’s real birthday, I was fine. I got up, thought of what day it was, turned on a favorite CD of ours, and listened to it while getting ready.
The day at work was uneventful. On my way home I thought of that cupcake and said, “Nah, who needs the calories.”
Here is the now somewhat obvious lesson from this: Sometimes we set ourselves up. We start anticipating all sorts of emotional road blocks and our body responds in kind. My feelings pushed me into hyper drive and my body followed.
While the feelings were real, the way they switched off when the false premise of the day was revealed allowed me to see that I have more control over my emotions than I thought.
I am not saying you can turn grief or any strong emotion on or off, but I think when we are in those emotional places we need to stop and ask ourselves, “Am I doing this to myself? Am I seeing the facts of the situation? Or am I in some sort of out-of-control hyper drive?”
Now that I have had this moment of clarity, I’m going to work on getting through things like this in small steps. I’m not going to spend time and energy and emotions anticipating how huge the moment will be. Instead, I will think it through. I will have moments on a day like Ed’s birthday, but I will realize it is still just a day.
What do you think? What are some ways that you have let your feelings run away from you and reality? Join the conversation with your comments…