It was the end of 2018 when I visited Bali. It’s funny to reflect on it now, two years after… But somehow I’m drawn into that trip right now. Bali seemed a bit blurry to me. It was a time in my life where I couldn’t let go of my inner struggles and actually ENJOY the place. I was stuck in my head and it gave me blurry goggles. Seeing the Bali island in its true glory wasn’t possible.
Instead of feeling bad about not being able to enjoy the trip to the fullest, I have come to peace with it. It was a trip that was ment to be like that for me. I was in my own bubble, wanting to, or actually, NEEDING to control many things. But regardless of the mental absence, I still feel I went through many important lessons during that trip. Be it in my mind or in the physical.
For example, every time I felt anxious or bad, or uncomfortable feelings in general, I let them dominate my life. Those moments could last for hours or even days. I let myself stay very low. And I can understand it now. I didn’t have the skills to rise above those feelings. Maybe that’s why it feels so nice to go through this trip now. Because I have come a long journey from that! Being in those downs, lows, unpleasant feelings, it is impossible to see the bigger picture. And now, two years later, the picture has become clearer.
Due to my description, it would be misleading to leave the text here. Because it was not the only experience I had at Bali; feeling miserable or suffering. I had also great times. But the general energy was low, and I let that be the canvas for my being. Taking unpleasant emotions too seriously led me into believing them. That there was something wrong in me, or in the trip, because I wasn’t just happy all the time.
And that is why I will let this Bali trip always be my teacher. It showed me that like the trip, life is not supposed to feel happy all the time. I experienced and outlived weird growing pains and lows, and it was still (or maybe just because of that) an important and amazing adventure.
I have recently noticed that I panic quite easily when I feel that I am not feeling ok.
This urge to immediately feel ok finds its way to my consciousness and it makes me want to change my feelings as quickly as possible.
Behind this there is a fear of not being the best version of myself all the time.
Is this the good old perfectionism talking?
Maybe my reactions to my upsetting feelings are actually the ones creating my upsetting feelings.
Because even when I now know, feelings are just feelings and their mission is to teach us about ourselves and then continue their way, I still actually haven’t learned it yet.
Learned it deeply enough to actually live it when I am faced with those uncomfortable feelings.
My way of getting out of upsetting feelings is to distract myself with something to watch or move or eat or talk to somebody.
And as good as these methods can be, they are actually distracting me from just feeling that feeling and then letting it go.
This is quite an exciting insight to have.
Because I have thought that I actually have the skills to sit trough some nasty feelings and understand that they just need awareness to be seen.
I remember for example this situation from last summer where I was feeling low and bad about myself. I really didn’t even know why. But, I asked my sister who was home at the time to sit with me and help me go trough those feelings. She just sat there with me and held the space for it.
I had never really done it that way. To actually ask someone to join me and help me in that situation.
And I noticed that it was a big step for me to come from a place where distractions was the main way, to actually face the feelings.
But now I can see deeper.
Maybe that event made me think a little too highly of myself and made me believe that I am mastering this emotion awareness.
When actually, what I have now started to realize is that the moments when we are feeling emotions, “good” and “bad”, are constant.
The true work happens in the daily life when we can consciously breathe and make space for every emotion.
And as big of a step my last summer experience was, one big emotion release doesn’t make my distraction-pattern change. It requires repetition to change a subconscious pattern. Because often (or always) these patterns have been there for a very long time.
This is quite cool actually.
Because now I can truly start to listen to my emotions and be aware of them, maybe even learn from them.
The reason I have panicked or gotten upset about my feelings is that I haven’t let them just be what they are. I have attached too many meanings to them.
Or I have drawn an illusion in my head that I have failed as a person because of these upsetting feelings and emotions.
Like I would only be worthy if I felt only happy emotions?
But am I not then blocking this whole other side of me when I am not letting myself feel all the emotions there is?
I have basically forced myself into this role that I need to be kind, happy, easy and helpful all the time. Especially for others, and in their eyes.
Isn’t this ridiculous?
It is understandable, but also ridiculous. And in some level it is a quite fake role that I have been playing without knowing.
Now what follows is a reflection which I have learnt through my journey, through psychotherapy and healers (Candace Van Dell for example to name a few).
The “always just try to be happy, easy and kind”-role play comes from childhood, when there never really was any emotion mirroring. Everything was just constantly “ok”. Which then, was the way.
But now we know better.
We know now that it is really important for children to learn how to express their feelings, so that they are not suppressing them. This is how adults show kids that emotions truly are just emotions. Without feelings mirrored back from the kid to the adult and back to the kid, the kid slowly starts to think that emotions are scary and they shouldn’t be shown to anybody. Because it is not easy for a child to express feelings, unless they are guided and given enough attention.
A simple example of mirroring:
A kid is quiet and distant when a caregiver is driving him home from school.
Adult: I see that you are upset about something. Are you feeling sad about something?
Kid: Yes… I feel sad. I didn’t see my friend at school today.
Adult: I understand. It is very understandable that youre feeling sad because of that. And I see that its making you upset. But it will pass and you will see your friend hopefully tomorrow. Sadness is a feeling that doesnt always feel good. We all feel sadness, we humans feel different feelings. Do you feel better at all?
Kid: Yes, I feel better. I have so many things to tell my friend tomorrow!
Afterwords, a hug or a touch would be very optimal after handling an emotion to strenghten the experience of still being loved regardless of a sad feeling.
When a child is left alone with his feelings, the feelings can be so strong that the way to handle them is to start blocking them.
And so the role building and playing starts.
Some of us develop a “kind”-role, some of us develop a “distant”-role, some of us develop a “bully”-role. Even a goofy clown is one of these roles… A role is anything that is build to distract the kid from the emotions.
“Mom likes when I am funny, I will always just be funny.” “Dad is calm when I am kind, otherwise he is just yelling, I will always just be kind.”
And as we can imagine, these roles are built because the parents and caregivers weren’t emotionally aware themselves.
Luckily, we are living in the 21st century and the awareness is raising all the time.
Isn’t this the most important and interesting thing ever?
I am really starting to understand that there is something very interesting behind this emotion awareness.
And that the most important thing here too is to be kind towards myself in this journey towards emotional awareness.
In this journey towards a more mindful aspect of emotions.
Whenever I am now catching myself having an upsetting emotion, I will stop and breathe and listen to it. And most importantly, be with it.
Like I would be parenting myself. I can even act the conversation from the example to myself. This way I am learning that I can handle the emotions I am feeling and I can just be there through them.
Not escaping, not distracting myself.
Just being there.
Becoming friends with every feeling there is to experience.
Becoming ok with not being ok.
And that way, I am accepting my whole self.
Not just the happykindeasy-me, but the whole me with every emotion and feeling as it is.
Five years ago when I moved to Helsinki and started studying, something happened.
I was in a new environment. I had moved into a new apartment by myself and I had started studying in a new school. I kinda started over, but I just didn’t know how. Eventually, I found myself completely lost.
The thing is. When you have lived most of your life in your own shadows; not really connected with yourself mentally or emotionally, it is quite a journey to start finding out who you really are.
And this was the journey I was about to take on.
My first years of studying went on in a blur. I was living my life from an autopilot. I managed to complete my tasks and from the surface pull it all together, but in the middle of my third year, I couldn’t handle myself anymore.
I started to get panic attacks and in the beginning of 2017, I fell into a hole. A hole of fear, anxiety and depression. From there I didn’t know what to do. I was in this zone where nothing really mattered. I felt so weird feeling so down. I mean, everything was on a way “okay”. But inside, I felt that I really wasn’t okay. I had lost my fire.
Fortunately I knew myself well enough that the zone I was in was something I didn’t want to stay in. So I reached out for help. I saw a psychiatric who prescribed me medicine for anxiety. I took that medicine for three months and as a quick fix, it helped me to get out of the hole for a while.
But what helped me more was a change. I was moving to Amsterdam to study as an exchange student for five months. The change helped me to get some clarity in my head.
During my exchange I started to question everything. For example partying and drinking alcohol. I was often the one who didn’t show up to gatherings or had something else when there would have been a chance to go to a pub crawl or meet other exchange students. I wasn’t interested in getting waisted.
Fading out from social events in general brought me to a slightly lonely place, but there I wanted to stay. I felt that it was necessary for me to get to know myself better, and in a new city it was from time to time somewhat fruitful.
Having adventurous experiences and time for myself weren’t unfortunately enough to lift me from the hole back to light. Because after returning back home, I fell into the darkness again. This time though, I didn’t want to get the quick fix.
Instead, I started to question myself. My behavior. Why did I do things certain way, why did I live my life the way I did. I was in agony to find out what the hell to do with myself. With this life.
I reached out to find answers from the external stuff. This was something I did a lot. I searched for external changes that would change me from the inside. I though that if I just had something interesting to do, I would feel alive again. But that’s not the whole story. What I know now is that everything starts from the inside.
In spring 2018 I started psychotherapy. I went to talk to a therapist once a week. I was actually very eager to do this. I learned that I am a person who needs reflection a lot and I was happy to get some tools to understand myself from a deeper level. The therapy sessions helped me to open up my mind. I got new perspectives and reasons for my inner storms.
And after some time, I started to realize that the reason behind my darkness was a really critical self-talker.
This talker inside of me ruined everything for me because I believed it.
I believed that all those fears and insecurities it pointed out were true. I believed that I was actually that negative self-talker. And sadly in some ways that made me hate myself.
And because I was suffering so much, I couldn’t see the love around me.
The good thing is, when I started to understand myself, I could start noticing that critic inside of me. That it was just a conditioned voice. And that it was not me.
This opened up a whole new world. I started to realize that I wasn’t broken or a bad person. I just had listened to the critic for a bit too long. The shame, the fears, the sadness, the beliefs of being faulty or just in general, bad.
I also understood that being aware of that critic was only half of the story. Practice is needed to make anything habitual. So I needed to change the pattern from believing my anxiety to start understanding it and then letting it go.
Now, instead of listening to that critical voice inside of my head, I am learning to become more compassionate towards it. And what I really am learning is, is to become more compassionate towards myself.
With compassion I am slowly feeling the fire again. And it feels awesome. It’s like my fire is now getting more oxygen to burn instead of the water that I have been drowning it with.
Some occasional water spills still occur. But now there is more oxygen to prevent the water from shutting the fire completely down.
Looking back, I understand. I understand that I was afraid of myself. I was so stuck in my head that I became my own enemy.
And that is okay. I clearly needed the wake up call from the identification with the inner critic.
So in many ways I am grateful for the anxiety I have been faced with. It has now started to find ways out and oh boy how much I have learnt from this journey!
I am grateful for the inner critic for teaching me that everything starts from the inside. And that when we are suffering, there’s actually nothing to be afraid of. That suffering is just a wake up call to learn necessary lessons on the journey towards ourselves.