You could be living with a long-term medical condition or had a serious illness or injury and feel you have adjusted to the changes it brought to your life. But then as you are doing something, the enormity of the difference in your life now may suddenly come flooding back and you find yourself trying to ward off strong emotion.
In response, other people may say things like, ‘But you’ve been doing so well!’ And you have been. You’ve been taking measures to be well in mind, heart, body and soul and so these surges of emotion feel out of place, not right and concerning.
You may worry that these emotions will engulf you and you will end up not being able to shake them. That is a common concern and hence why the thought of being in touch with emotions like sadness, anger, hurt, and loss can feel scary.
These unexpected surges of emotion can be very normal and are part of the adjustment process, even if they are occurring some years after the onset of the condition/illness/injury.* They are coming to the surface because they want your attention in some way, shape or form.
I was reminded that you can give your emotions the attention they want in a way that feels right for you. This happened in May while I was watching the BBC two part documentary of Gareth Malone creating the Invictus Choir of service men and women who live with the ongoing impact of the trauma and/or injury they experienced while serving in the UK military.
So here is how one member of that choir gave their unexpected emotions some attention, and how you can do that to enhance your health.
Sgt Andy Mudd, who lost his legs in an IRA car bomb in 1989, started to cry during the choir practice with the Americans (episode 2). He mentioned he thought he had accepted his situation, but he had shut things away.
So what was going on?
Sgt Andy Mudd was involved in an activity he was enjoying – singing.
The activity was about the collective experience of injured and traumatised service people, of which he was one.
The learning – I reckon he let the experience of singing touch his experience of losing his legs, all the change that meant for him and his life, and the emotions associated with that.
Letting experiences touch one another is a form of ‘processing’
Previously, I’ve mentioned how ‘processing’ the experience of your illness/condition/injury allows you to integrate it into the story of your life without it being ignored, shut away or owning you in an unhealthy way.
‘Processing’ means to get in touch with how you think and feel about an experience, what it means for you and your life, and what you do as a result. You can process an experience through an activity – talking to someone, playing sport, singing, creating music, knitting, painting, baking, cooking, dancing, writing, reading, exercise, something else. You have so many ways to do this.
The key thing, which Sgt Andy Mudd demonstrated, is that you don’t just do an activity for the sake of doing an activity and think, ‘Ok, I processed that experience.’ Check. Move on.
You let the experience of the activity touch you and your experience which is the source of the strong emotions. Like the singing did for Sgt Andy Mudd in the Invictus Choir. He opened himself up to the singing, to letting himself participate in it, and to let the experience of it all touch him. And it did in such a way, he realised that the injury affects him to this day, that the emotion is still there about it, and that he enjoys singing.
Your emotions are just asking you to visit them
When strong emotions appear, even unexpectedly, they are asking you to visit them. That is all. They aren’t saying, ‘Hey I feel crap, and I want you to feel endlessly crap too so I’m never gonna let you go.’ They are expressing, ‘Hey, I’m here. Please spend a little time with me.
So here is how you can do that in a way that feels right for you.
Select an activity you enjoy.
As you do the activity, do so with the intention that you are open to whichever emotions decide to drop by for a visit.
Spend some time with the emotions by noticing
- How you are feeling
- Where in your body you are feeling the emotion – in your chest, around your heart, gut, shoulders, neck, elsewhere?
- Give the emotion a name – sadness, loss, anger, fear
- What is it like to feel the emotion; spend some time feeling it
- What thoughts arise
If you are concerned that you may become trapped by these emotions, set a time limit on how long you will spend with them. And it’s ok to start small, like for 5 minutes.
Remember, you are the leader of you, all the parts within you and your life. So you have the power to determine when to visit with strong emotions and for how long.
When you are finished, let your emotions know that and thank them for visiting.
Important side note: I wrote the above in regards to strong emotions that you may find troubling. But you can also do this exercise with strong emotions that bring you joy and happiness. That’s a really positive thing to do for yourself, including for your achievements (no matter how small or big they are), because it helps to increase your sense of self-worth and self-esteem.
What’s it like for you?
Have you thought you accepted the changes to your body only to find yourself feeling strong emotion some time later? How have you dealt with strong emotions? What worked for you and what didn’t? Feel free to share below to give others ideas on what they can do.
Pass it forward
Although these blogs are written in the context of living with serious illness or a chronic condition, the ideas contained within are applicable to everyone. So if you think a friend or family member would benefit from reading it, or you just want to share it with the world, share this post using the icons below.
I have started to research the concept of ‘acceptance’ within the context of long-term conditions and serious illness/injury. If you or a loved one experienced the onset of a long-term condition or serious illness/injury in the past 2 years and are struggling or wondering with what acceptance means for you, I would love to speak with you. Click here to find out more.
© Copyright Barbara Babcock 2016
*Important caveat: If these surges of emotion happen often in many aspects of your life and they feel uncontrollable to the point they keep you from actively participating in everyday life, this is a sign that another form of help is needed (than what I am qualified to provide). Chances are therapy may may help you at this time but your doctor is the best person to discuss this with. S/he can let you know what can help your situation.