A Lesson of Change: Feeling Is Progress

I’ll never forget the week or so I lived in a mood of depression, objection, and annoyance in my inpatient treatment program. It was about three weeks into my stay and I was questioning everything. What was uncharacteristic of me at the time was a turning point in my recovery and how I welcome and acknowledge feelings in my life today.

I’ve said before that my family sort of liked in this rose-colored world. My family is awesome and supportive and we’ve grown as people and as a unit in many ways since then. But then, everything was designed to be perfect on the surface. If it wasn’t, you sort of just dealt with it internally until it went away. But, I knew at one point in treatment that nothing would change if… nothing changed. And for the sake of my health, both mentally and physically, and the future of my world, I knew I needed to get really honest with myself.

At the time, I lived for pleasing people. Heck, that’s a big reason why I even tried recovery – to appease my family. I had always kept a journal because when I couldn’t express with verbal words how I felt and that there was a problem, I wrote.

On November 7, 2006, about a month after I first got to Renfrew, I found a journal entry where my handwriting went from neat and orderly, to MAD. Deep indentations with each letter, capitalized words, underlining… you get the picture.

Here’s what I actually wrote (yes, I kept these sacred journals):

I AM SCARED TO FEEL!!! That’s my big realization… I am no one – nothing! Have I been living my ENTIRE life for and AS someone else? I’ve always wanted to please everyone and not step on any toes, so I said (and DIDN’T SAY) the perfect, nicest think. I put on a smile. I walked around like DOLL of some sort – a PUPPET in the world. I was “HAPPY” – always with a smile, always “GREAT.” No feeling.

But what now? I am questioning every little thing I do, think, whatever, now. How can I be sure I do it for ME, that it’s MY thought, action, etc.??? Because it’s probably someone else’s engrained in my mind. It’s probably a cover to hide. No intimacy. No TRUTH! It’s not like I’ve been lying. I’ve been HIDING. I can’t TRUST or BELIEVE myself.

Every action or thought is not my own. It’s fake – superficial. My whole life. What a waste I am. I’m not engaged in life. I can’t express emotion, feel feelings, be present, be TRUE. […]

I feel so EMPTY. What am I doing here? Wasting space and air. Like, on this Earth, “living” this life. I’m not living. I’m just BEING.

I WANT TO FEEL UPSET AND DEPRESSED AND PISSED if I want! I want to FEEL. Why is that so hard?!

There are pages, and pages, of questioning myself and who I was. My struggle at the time was that, if I’m not this always-happy person, if I don’t meet people with positivity and peace, or didn’t want to, then who was I? I didn’t know, so it was easier to stay the person I had learned to be, which was the girl stuck in someone else’s opinions.

The same was true with volleyball. I told everyone – my parents, my team, my new pals in treatment, myself – that I was going back to school as soon as I was discharged from Renfrew… but I didn’t want to. I was only avoiding who I might be without volleyball. I’d have to face it.

I walked around the halls without a smile for days. In treatment, days feel like weeks, and a week feels like at least a month. Because I didn’t know who else to be if I was myself, I tried to reach for my own feelings (the good, the bad, and the ugly) by brooding in silence.

Before, my feelings were more, “I don’t want to disappoint my family, I’m so ashamed it got this far.” But, if I was set on living for myself now, then what other feelings might I have? I didn’t yet know. And, to be honest, I said I cared about recovery but I didn’t really care about myself. Because I felt my distorted mind couldn’t be trusted (heck, it got me there!), my goal at this point was to almost rebel against anything I believed.

This quest to discover me looked on the outside like arms crossed, speaking on impulse, and not making small talk to fill space. Turns out my therapist told me he saw progress with this. In fact, I began speaking up in groups when I had something urgent and I didn’t care if I upset someone trying to protect her own lies. I didn’t care, and that had me caring a whole lot. For the first time in years, I felt almost free.

I quote my journal:

He [my therapist] said I made a U-turn. He says that FEELING IS PROGRESS.

Later I mention that a nurse talked to me about change.

(Turns out I was the talk of the building at the time and I was still worried I’d be put on psych-meds. I don’t mean this as offensive – I’ve been on depression medication before, but not while I was inpatient, and I tried to avoid it.)

She said that the only choice I needed to make about how to live was right now. I still think about that to bring my worries down to a manageable level – what’s the very next thing I need to do?

That week of rejecting what I thought I knew – I’m telling you, everything from the way I got dressed, answered questions, walked with or without others… the years of learning habits and “rules,” as well as what I thought about myself, got kicked around that week.

I didn’t solve everything that week, but it was a great step to understand that I was allowed to feel unsure and sad, or happy and excited. After my own feelings had been controlled and suppressed for so long, this particular week stands out as one that allowed me to begin to take charge of my life.