Creating Space for Your Emotions

If we could be together today, I’d welcome you into my home with a hug and a smile. A sweet baby boy would cackle with delight when he saw you coming up the walk, tugging on your pant legs as you come inside. The smell of coffee would fill your nose and I’d offer you a mug from our eclectic collection. I’d invite you to take a seat, make yourself cozy, and simply be. If we could be together today, I’d welcome you into my home because right now, I miss community.

It’s been a little over a week of time to ourselves, social distancing, quarantine, or whatever terms you might like to use to describe the current state of our world lately. With the news rapidly spreading about the Coronavirus and many cities around the United States essentially shutting down, Jonathan and I made the call to retreat into our home life. Despite missing out on fun activities and precious time with friends and family, I consider us to be fairly lucky. We are still employed. We still have a roof over our heads. We have food, comfort, and each other. As a team, we are finding a rhythm to our days.

Because we are so fortunate, I was beginning to feel like difficult emotions didn’t belong to me. I have friends who have had to post-pone weddings, are experiencing wage cuts or lay-offs, or are struggling to make ends meet because they had to decide if they wanted to put themselves in a harmful situation for an hourly job. With my thoughts spinning, I kept telling myself that I don’t deserve to feel difficult emotions right now. Here we are, surviving. And yet, in spite of our blessings, I still feel emotions like a stronghold over my heart:

  • Inconvenience
  • Uncertainty
  • Disappointment
  • Grief
  • Out of control
  • Anxiety

Last night I sat in on a small, virtual retreat with seven strangers. We were each asked to reflect on the overwhelm and disruptions this pandemic has brought to our daily lives. I listened as each woman expressed the same feelings that were building up inside of me. Each of us are in different life stages — some with children, some married, some single. We are from different corners of the world. I’m sure if we had time to dive deeper we would have disagreed on politics, religion, and values. And still, in our small gathering together, we came to realize we all share so much in this moment. Our generation has never been fully connected by emotions until now. We were not alone. And neither are you.

In the past, I would have fled these thoughts in anyway possible. Happy, optimistic, hopeful — any way to escape feeling pain. Over the course of my lifetime, I have numbed with food. I have numbed with wine. I have numbed by scrolling through social media. I have numbed by widening distance between myself and others. All to avoid settling into pain. Each of us find a way to escape reality for one reason or another. In cognitive psychology, they often call this the “fight, flight, or freeze” response. My typical response to emotional processing is flight. I don’t want to make space for difficult emotions in my narrative. Before social distancing, I could probably call myself a professional daydreamer because of the many ways I had found to escape my reality. Browsing Pinterest for changes to our home, from new furniture to new floors to new light fixtures. Spending hours researching part-time, working from home job opportunities to use my talents and skills. Fantasizing with my husband about a  dream vacation in the United States. (Spoiler Alert: his idea was South Dakota… Apologies to all the Black Hills fans out there, but I was hoping for something like Hawaii.)

But one way or another, pain can be like a boiling pot. Even if you spend time fighting or running, those bubbles will build over time. Eventually, with the heat rising, they will collectively rise to the top.

A couple of weeks ago, I received a fun package of stationary which featured a card declaring “Find Joy in the Ordinary”. At first, I didn’t think much of the popular saying. It wasn’t until when my eyes caught the card after our time in isolation that I took it a step further. Find joy in the the uncertainty, the anxiety, and the grief. In the midst of trials and pain, find space for every emotion and let it be

In this moment of history, I am choosing to hold on to those feelings and experience them. All I can control is the internal. My external world has forced me to pause, even though I wish I could grip my environment between my fingers and mold it like clay to my will. But I will create space for discomfort, just like I will create space for happiness, joy, and hopefulness. I refuse to retreat to a state of numbing or escapism. I know that my narrative is so much stronger than the difficult emotions during this time. This forced pause has helped me realize that I was craving something intentional and meaningful in my life, needing quiet time for my soul in the midst of motherhood, and seeking out solutions before taking time to understand the emotions I was truly experiencing. Now that it is quiet, I’m ready to listen.

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