Heavy emotions – a good thing, or a bad thing? Disappointment, anger, loneliness, fear, sadness, confusion, longing, and shame visit each of us at some point or another. Or, in a pandemic, they plague us all at once as mercilessly as the virus. Times like these reveal any and all holes in our emotional wellbeing as our resilience and fortitude are tested.
Some of us scrape all the unwanted feelings into a locked chest, which we stuff in the closet with all the other unacknowledged pain. Others of us find ourselves tossed around like a cork in the ocean, nearly drowning in every wave of suffering. But neither response – repression or obsession – leads us to being healthy and whole.
I used to be the box-it-up type. As efficiently as a moving company, I would shut down every uncomfortable emotion, or let it spew out as anger onto whichever unlucky stranger crossed my path. But after a deep loss and the health issues that followed, my “emotional closet” began to overflow, and I couldn’t stuff down how I felt any longer. I sunk into the deepest depression of my life, and for a long time, could not find a way out.
Through the excruciating journey that followed, which included 12 step recovery, therapy, and medication, I slowly began to unpack all of the hurt, and began to deal with all the feelings I wished did not exist.
As I listened to all the hard things my heart needed to say, I realized how vital these uncomfortable emotions are to the human experience. They tell me when something matters to me, when something is wrong and needs to be addressed. They highlight injustice, and urge me to do something about it. They connect me to the people who matter to me, as well as humanity as a whole, by lending me empathy. They reveal what I believe about others, myself, my life, what I’m capable of, and what’s worth fighting for in a world that often breaks down and tears apart what is vulnerable, beautiful, and good.
So, when the hard and the heavy hit me like a massive wave, I’ve now learned how to stand my ground. I acknowledge what I’m feeling by naming the emotion, as it genuinely helps to label what floods my heart and head. Then, I validate my own experience.
For example, let’s take the current pandemic – we’re all isolated, losing our jobs and businesses we love, and everyone’s arguing about what to do about it. I’ll start by listing my frustration, stress, anxiety, and grief. Then I’ll express that it IS irritating that our government keeps contradicting itself. It IS nerve-wracking not knowing how long this is going to last. It’s scary wondering who I love might get the virus, and maybe not make it. And yes, I’m just really missing my friends and family, and being able to get together with my tribe whenever I want.
That’s self-validation. It matters.
Then, I’ll make one more brave choice. I find things to celebrate. I have an ongoing gratitude group thread with some of my community. For the past year and a half, we’ve posted what we’re grateful for nearly every day. Sometimes they’re big things, like new jobs or a cute guy that’s peaked our interest. Other times, it’s everyday things like functioning AC, a good meal, or hot coffee.
Brain science shows you can actually change the physical shape of your brain with a gratitude practice. I can tell you from my own experience, it shifts how you see life. Terrible situations take on silver linings. Good days overflow even more with wonderful details. It’s made me more hopeful, more joyful.
Celebration has transformed my life.
That’s why I started the hashtag #validateandcelebrate. It’s a banner to wave over your courageous acts of facing the depths of your heart while searching for each day’s hidden treasures. It’s accountability for yourself and anyone who’s watching you to cultivate emotional wellbeing, and craft a life you love, even during seasons you wish would end.
Let’s not fear or avoid the deep, dark emotions and experiences of our lives, my friends. Let’s acknowledge, appreciate every damn good thing, and overcome them together.