Emotional trip-wires

I tell myself I can’t feel buried emotions — they’re trapped underneath an avalanche of denial, unworthiness, habitual avoidance.

I’m stuck with the residual effects of prolonged blocking of sadness, anger, frustration, grief. These effects of saying “NO!” to emotions has taken over my body. The amping up of my hormonal system has thrown my adrenal system out of whack. Cortisol/adrenalin don’t follow the normal pattern. I’m awake in the night because my body tells me I need to wake up. I want to sleep in the day because the fight-or-flight hormones lose their potency.

My pancreas no longer reacts to the fires of panic lit by adrenaline and cortisol. Too many fires over too many years depleted my pancreas of its ability to produce insulin. The fires of anxiety continue to burn. I inject insulin to bring my body back to a semblance of normal.

But then, something happens. It can be at thought out of nowhere. The other day I was talking to a friend about how easy and habitual it is to bury fear. My recent stay in the intensive care unit didn’t frighten me at the time. I knew I was very sick, but had confidence in the nurses and doctors. It was only in the week or two following my discharge that I felt fear creeping to the fore. My right eye watered continuously. My breath at times became jagged. I thought about death. Gradually, it wore off. Life returned to relative normal.

My friend suggested that while we have an urge to avoid these strong feelings, it can be good to sit with them for awhile. It sounds simple but fear is such a powerful emotion, my first impulse is to jump back from it. It’s like looking off the edge of a high, high cliff. You automatically want to retreat. How can I be okay with full-on panic? How can I know I’ll know that it’s transitory, that it will move on — I just need to breathe through it?

The other day, as I was driving through the pre-dawn gloom to work, I had a thought. It was a similar epiphany as one I had on my birthday camping trip, one that prompted my blood glucose to spike. This one, like the other, came in a full sentence: “My family avoided emotional issues by going to logic or humour.” As the thought arose, I felt a catch in my throat.  My airway suddenly blocked. My body was triggered by the realization, the simple truth that family dynamics lay the foundation for illness later in life. Avoid the feeling the feelings, and you pay for it later in alcoholism, drug use, anxiety/depression, migraines, diabetes and other autoimmune illnesses.

Now that I think about it, it’s possible my body is trying to heal. Maybe that’s what prompts these illuminating thoughts to arise. I will try to feel the fear and not run from it. So much easier said than done.

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