Hey, how’s it going today?” said the young guy at the counter in Prêt a Manger, with wide eyes and a beaming smile.
“I’m OK, thanks,” I said, smiling back. “A bit tired, but OK.”
“OK? I was hoping you were awesome,” he said, reminding me when he handed over my sandwich that tomorrow could be another awesome day.
As I stepped out onto the street, I hoped that I’d chosen what the Prêt guy had eaten for lunch. Not really. What actually dropped into my mind was a recent conversation with my counsellor about how it can be a challenge to stay unhappy for prolonged periods of time.
Let me explain. I’ve probably spent most of my time on earth trying to be an upbeat, positive sort, cheery in company and smiley with people who work in shops and restaurants. I’d say I do it pretty well and I like the fact I’m that way inclined. But there can be a flipside. I mean, what happens when you feel less happy than awesome? It happens.
When we can’t be how we really feel
For me, strange things happen when I don’t – or can’t – allow myself to be how I really feel. Clearly, I’ve learned somewhere along the line that certain emotions are less permissible than others. So I can end up feeling guilty about being unhappy, angry with myself for feeling angry, awkward about being unsociable, or similar. It’s a weird double-whammy of feelings that end up nowhere useful.
I read a good quote once where repressed emotion was likened to ‘locking hungry dogs in the basement of your house’. ‘The hungrier the dogs get, the more energy it takes to control them’.
So our bodies and minds do amazing things in being able to control, but what happens when the less permissible emotions become unmanageable? I wonder if depression steps up here. If you can’t stand the barking, it's taken further underground, into lockdown where it isn’t heard at all.
Connecting with emotions
Back to the session with my counsellor, I was trying to describe what I experienced on a walk with our dog earlier in the day. While she was running about our local marshes, sniffing clumps of grass and stuff (our dog, not my counsellor), I felt sad. Not about what was going on right then; not about anything in particular; but sad. It stuck with me. I stuck with it. We walked for a while with Molly the dog. And, though I am genuinely talking about sadness here, there was something comforting about spending time together. I might be tidying things up in my mind as I can only see all this in retrospect, but in the sadness I glimpsed something rare and skittish like the foxes Molly and I sometimes see while we’re out.
In the counselling session it was good to share this experience with someone who would – and could – hear what I was saying. Of course, that’s what a good counsellor can do. He or she can hear what you can’t anymore. And, by sharing, you start to trust these emotions aren’t that weird after all.
There’s another quote I like, even though I’m not sure I understand it. It goes… ‘Emotions are like conversations. Others must participate for us to feel happy, sad, angry or satisfied’.
By others participating then, perhaps we can get to a place where we rekindle connections with our more out-of-favour emotions (though this is clearly not easy). We put our own stigmas aside, unlock the door of the basement and pick up the connections again. So, to be awesome we don’t feel obliged to break into song. We can be ourselves, and we can allow others the same.