Sunday, 13 June 2021

Day 8: keeping my feelings in mind

    When I started this exercise, charting my cycle for a month to see what might happen, I was unknowingly holding on to a misconception. I think it's one we all hold at times until we are reminded otherwise: the menstrual cycle is all about the period. It felt highly necessary to track during Day 1 and 2 because those are the days that feel so heightened. There's nothing like bleeding to get you to pay attention to how your body feels and the emotions that come with it. Now that I have stopped bleeding, I would usually continue to enjoy the Spring and Summer of my cycle. Increased energy and motivation, higher focus, more easily regulated body temperatures, and much nicer underwear. This time, however, because I am attempting to track my cycle and I've been making notes on it, I've realised that there is so much importance in the changing seasons. 

   Over the last few years, I have worked really hard on my mental health. I have been through Cognitive Behaviour Therapy and have seen a drastic improvement in my anxiety overall. This has meant that although my periods can still cause some pretty unpleasant emotional symptoms, I have had a much better time recognising them and processing them. 

   One of the most poignant lessons I have learned in my reading has been this: your thoughts and feelings are not always (and usually are not) the same thing. When I first came across this idea, I saw it as nothing much more than a concept. We're all used to seeing phrases like these spread across sparkly backgrounds and uploaded to instagram. They sound good, they're easy to like and share because they're vague enough to interpret however you need to, and you get to feel as though you've got some kind of control over yourself. However, it is only during these periods of self-improvement and soul-searching that I have come to realise what those words truly mean. 

   Now, more than ever, we see and hear phrases that have been born to validate and support victims of any description: "you are not to blame", "it is never the victim's fault", "don't victim-blame" etc. Like many others, I believe these statements wholly. The blame should always lie with the perpetrator. However, after some slightly difficult discussion, my therapist helped me to uncover the way in which my feelings were not matching up to my mind. I might say to her, "yes, I know it was not my fault and I don't blame myself. I was 15 years old and I didn't know what I know now". I truly believed that, but I also believed deep down that my 15-year-old self could have and should have done things differently and that perhaps that manifested as self-blame. This degree of cognitive dissonance went completely undetected by me for years and has shown me how far I have to go in the way of self-compassion and forgiveness. Whilst I work on this, it has also really helped me to look critcally at my thoughts and feelings as separate entities and has given me permission to assess my feelings honestly instead of trying to force them to align with what I think I should be feeling. 

   In part, this is something I really needed to write about right now whilst I'm thinking and feeling it. However, it's been highly relevant to tracking my cycle and thinking about my emotions. Getting my period and experiencing the rollercoaster of feelings has always been something I've joked about as I said in my first entry. However, I notice now that it is also something that I have squashed, ignored, and demeaned and I want to do that less, and hopefully not at all, in future. This is really just a post to say, let yourself feel what you're feeling instead of trying to cover it with what you think you should be feeling. Be angry at things you don't think you're supposed to be angry at, be sad about things you think are ridiculous to be sad about, and let anything and everything fill you with joy in an ever-increasing cynical and gatekeepy world. 

   I wasn't going to write anything today, and then I decided to clean up some folders on my computer. I came across some writing I did when my therapist taught me that there are five basic emotions: anger, joy, guilt, fear and sadness. She taught me that joy is just a fifth and that there's no sense in feeling ashamed for feeling the other ones too. When I wrote these notes, I remember feeling ashamed about the way each emotion feels for me. When I re-read it today, I feel empowered at my ability to recognise and describe the way I truly feel, and not distort it with what I think the correct/healthy way is to articulate them. I will share this with you, and hope it inspires you to do the same. Take care, saplin's.

When I am happy, it shines out of me. I know because everyone else around me starts to feel happy too, and I can see the starlight shooting past their faces and gleaming in their eyes, just like mine. The electricity is complete and unapologetic, and I can feel nothing else but its bursts in my heart, and light in my head.

   When I am sad, it starts small. A small, cosy, familiar flicker. I can hold it in one hand. But it can grow. It can engulf me, and I will boil and bubble over. It can roar, it can seethe, it can latch onto anything and anyone who comes close. It can go on burning for days and days and days.

   When I am guilty, it stings. I am paralysed by sharp spines that sink into my skin and pin my bones together so tightly I cannot breathe. Shoulder blades sawing, ribs protruding, teeth bared. It is ugly and unbearable and unrelenting. When I am guilty, my face looks pinky-yellow and swollen and monstrous and I banish every mirror from my memory.

When I am fearful, I am at home. I swaddle myself in the comfort of preparedness, knowledge, and the loneliness of knowing I can only trust myself again for a little while. Fear is being on your own. It is flying away from the world around me and swooping into a darkened cavern, making up the twists and turns as I go along. Fear is my penalty for ever allowing happiness to come in.

   When I am angry, I scoop its viscousness up into a bottle, a stopper sliding neatly into place. I tell myself I will open it again, but I gather more and more in my arms, scalding my skin, soothing the burns with my sadness and guilt. When it gets full, I quietly spill it away, the fumes intoxicating, igniting my wounds. Nobody must ever see. Anger is only for me.

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