When I was a child and got upset, the kind a child experiences where the stimuli is unclear and each emotion rolls through the whole body. I often would go into my bedroom and close the door, even lock it. I would self-sooth with my teddybear, told him all my complaints and injustices, because he always took my side. As my breathing returned and the crying subsided, for many occasions I would sit and write a letter. Almost all of this was directed at my parents, because as an only child my cast of offenders was small. I would write about what made me so angry or sad or frustrated or hurt and then what my feelings were and maybe a way to make it better. I would then slip these letters under the door and tell my parents to come read it. Mostly they would respond with, “Okay we understand; let’s try to do better next time.” Or something similarly measured.
Emotions seemed so big, interruptive, and sudden – I think one reason I took these pauses was to try to look at my feelings. It seemed clear to me that there was a cause to this effect, and if I could figure it out, perhaps I could avoid feeling so badly the next time. I also remembering the aftershocks when I would feel guilty or bad for having made my parents feel bad – and cry again.
I know other people have feelings that they speak of in the moment, or they want the other person there to be in dialogue, they cry, rage, yell, turn away, curl up, reach out, and for many people those emotions pass. It always confused me that people could express how they felt right then, in that moment, on the spot. I need time to have my feelings like a bird flight, see it from above, see it as I sit still, see it close up, sniff and taste just how strong it is. As I have learned more about my own mental and emotional health, I use more accepting language to frame these moments. I can pause and use HALT to check-in and see what other thorns may be in my paw.
But I think writing has always been a way for me to be with my emotions, a way to put words to sensations that feel turbulent, uncontrolled, unclear. I can empty my brain and thus my heart, I can examine it outside of me, clear my physical sensations to make space for what the emotions are.
For the people who feel and move on, my process can be misinterpreted as denial, suppression, control, false, inauthentic, buried, repressed. But my reaction to a stimuli has never been to first feel and to then consider – it happens symbiotically – I go into a room or a metaphorical one to see how I fell, to put words to it, to take flight and see the topography of my emotions. And on nights such as this, I write and then slip it under the door to share.