Saturday, November 18, 2017

"Controlling" Emotions





I’m at a Broad Universe writers retreat this weekend with a bunch of friends, among them the fabulous Rona Gofstein, who also writes as Rachel Kenley. And in my all-important “procrastination before writing” time, where I was glancing through Facebook, I saw her recent blog post, “Emotions Don’t Need to Be Controlled.”

I gave a “quick” (i.e. 4 paragraphs long) response on the post here, but that only dealt with one aspect that I think is important in this discussion.

She said in the blog that it was probably an unpopular topic, but I don’t think it should be. It’s a many-faceted topic that I had about ten different replies to flying around in my head. In summary, I think our relationship with emotions needs to be more openly and readily discussed. Not just if we should and should not repress them or control them, but how they affect us, how we create emotions, the physiological and psychological importance of a good relationship with emotions…

Our relationship status with emotion, of course, is best filed under “it’s complicated,” but I also think all good relationships are. And as a writer, I love exploring those complicated relationships… and a good blog response should pick one particular aspect and discuss it. And perhaps save other aspects for future blogs.

Having had my surgery and a long history of period / hormone issues, though, what’s foremost in my mind and has been for the past year is physiological causes for uncontrollable emotions. (Basically, almost the opposite of what I ended up responding on Facebook.)

Our current culture in modern America, and many other places across the world, takes the stand that we should “control our emotions,” as Rona puts forward in her post.

I agree with her that we shouldn’t control our emotions and that it is a problematic, if not dangerous, thing to do so. (She has a great example of following her instinctual emotions on her blog.)

Emotions cause physiological effects in the body that we cannot control—blood pressure, heart rate, temperature, tears or laughter are some examples. (Breathing, too,  but we have some control over that, at least.) These are part of your autonomic nervous system—the things your body does that you don’t have to think about, and in essence, can only marginally affect even when you do think about them.

Because emotions have such a major physiological component attached to the autonomic nervous system, as well as the endocrine system (your hormones) and neurotransmitters, that means you can have physical triggers for emotions that you also cannot control. The science of psychiatry and psychology deal with those quite a bit. But consider when you have a health problem that affects your body’s chemistry—you’re not able to control your body chemistry, so you simply cannot control the emotions caused by these symptoms.
Many women suffer this dissociation with regular PMS—the butt of far too many jokes. However, consider how society pressures people (particularly women) to “get it together” and “control your emotions,” when she literally, physically CANNOT DO SO. Not only is there this awful feeling of intense anger, sadness, happiness, or what not because estrogen or progestin is doing its thing, but there is this logical awareness that the emotion being felt is not associated with any actions or events currently happening around us. And we’re regularly told that THIS IS WRONG; YOU ARE WRONG.

And it’s not wrong. And it’s not controllable. And no one should be punished for going through this.

It’s bad enough to be standing in the kitchen, filled with rage and a physical illness of dissociation because there is no good reason for there to be rage. Thought processes and thinking about the situation aren’t going to un-flush our system with the chemicals causing rage (or grief, or elation). In fact, the discomfort or panic of that dissociation can enhance and exacerbate the unwanted emotion. Add in feeling like a failure or like you ought to be able to control this emotion, and you’ve added even more chemicals interacting in the body.

What to do?

Change starts within us. Within individuals. I’d love to magically change society and society’s dangerious and poisonous views, but that isn’t something any individual can do. But we can learn to create a better relationship with our own emotions—and to forge more healthy relationships with the emotions of others by our own reactions.

For each individual, admit and surrender to the idea that emotions are not a thing to be controlled.

That’s a lot of work on its own.

Next, each of us should pay attention to your body during emotions. How do I feel? What is my natural inclination for action while experiencing those emotions? Is there a situational cause for the emotion? If so, what? If not, that’s okay too; I  notice and appreciate your body is going through something physical and physiological that creates this emotion.

This is also a lot of work. We need to give ourselves permission to take our time with this.

Then, then, after we’ve acknowledged these things, we can look for the things we can control.

For me, the first thing is to learn how to communicate about emotions. Let the ones I love know when I’m angry, that I need to do something physical—walk, yell, punch or throw inanimate objects. Anyone I’m in a relationship with—my hubby, my friends, my family—are people I could potentially act out upon due to emotions, and none of us have psychic powers, so it’s important to tell them why I’m acting out—what I’m feeling, what I need, and so on. Of course, it’s important that if the emotion was caused by an action that, once the uncontrollable need is met (time alone, being hugged, pillows beaten up), the cause needs to be addressed.  I’ve seen people (and it’s often shown in literature, television, movies, etc) take care of the emotional need, but then never address the issue—so it continues to fester and cause the uncomfortable emotion—and that discomfort will grow, requiring the physical response to be stronger and stronger. Communication is the most important thing in any healthy relationship. Communicating with ourselves and others is key when it comes to our shared relation with emotions.

Once we get communication moving, we can look at other things that are within our control. Especially when emotions come at inconvenient times. Rather than try to control the emotion, however, we can control how we handle the symptoms of emotions. Rather than saying, “I can’t be angry right now,” we can think, “I can’t tell my boss to self-copulate painfully right now.” We can take time to pay attention to breathing and work at controlling that to an extent. We can take time with responses, crafting them so as not to damage other relationships. We can remove ourselves from situations when we realize we are at a place where the physiology of the emotions is not appropriate.

I don’t think I can say enough times that this is not easy, and I, for one, am far from perfection in this practice.

But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. And try again. And try again. (And apologize, communicate, and try again.)

The last thing regarding “control” over emotions is how we respect and appreciate others’ physiological-emotional needs. Telling someone to “get control” is, as mentioned above, not only likely impossible but damaging, potentially making the situation worse. Find out what they need in the moment to deal with the emotion, and later discuss the situation. Be forgiving when someone lashes out; it may be a thing they physically can’t control at the moment…

That said, suffering regular abuse from someone who “can’t control their emotions” is a relationship not worth keeping. That is an entirely different—but still very important—conversation that needs to be had. Physical attacks, deep emotional attacks, any abuse is wrong.

Outside of abusive behaviors, however, it’s worth being flexible, honoring the physiological aspects of emotion, and opening a channel of communication. For ourselves, and for the ones we care about.

I hope this isn’t an unpopular topic, and that more of us do start healthy discussions about what emotions are and what makes for good emotional relationships.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Surgery Prep


It’s been over a year since my last blog post that was part of #HoldOntoTheLight...


This one probably could be too, but I just want to get it out there because I’m going into surgery tomorrow and I’ve been procrastinating on writing it for a while.

The surgery is fairly minor, though I do get anesthesia.

The short, less-icky version:

I’ve got a good-sized fibroid in my uterus that’s also on my cervix that’s been making my life miserable for a while now. They’re going to remove it via hysteriscopic surgery (i.e. no incision, using my own openings). And then they’re going to put in a IUD that’s supposed to help out with the other misery-causing issues that led to the fibroid being there in the first place.

Most urgent information... I’m going to be mostly offline / resting for the next week. I expect the procedure to be fairly easy.

The long and icky version of this is part of an ongoing medical condition that I only had doctors take seriously in 2014, though it has likely been an issue since I started having periods.

Yes, we’re getting into periods. Turn back if you’re scared; here there be woman dragons.

(I say that dripping with sarcasm, because I think everyone really ought to be educated about how half our population’s bodies work... and because I think this “ew” factor and ignorance that comes up with women’s health is a part of why I suffered as I have for over 20 some odd years...)

It took me having to go to the ER and nearly getting admitted due to a kidney infection that developed due to a bladder infection due to a uterine track infection that I neglected symptoms to because I couldn’t differentiate them from the symptoms I was already suffering due to a 6-week long period.

Short version of THAT: About six months’ worth of tests from a specialist OB-GYN and a urinary gynecologist, and I learn I produce too much estrogen, likely have produced too much estrogen my whole adolescent and adult life, because of that likely couldn’t have kids if I wanted, oh and my uterus is actually tilted and twisted (also affecting the “kid breeding potential”) and THAT contributed to my life-long war with my bladder that has led me to more embarrassment and pain than I want to get into with this blog post.

Yeah. All that.

After a few failed procedures (posted on FB and maybe I’ll do a blog post on them later... it’s almost time for The Walking Dead)... my OB-GYN gave me an arm implant that was supposed to even out my hormones and potentially make my periods go a way for almost three blessed years!

Less than a year and a half after said implant... I’m bleeding again. I was bleeding and in pain at...

Every. Single. Convention. I attended in 2017. All of them. Every month.

And it was going from five days to six days, to seven days...

And the time between periods was getting less and less and less...

It wasn’t until I spent more than half of Necon in July in my hotel room, in bed, puking and bleeding and exhausted, that I demanded another appointment with the OB-GYN.

I then had to go home and record three more months of my cycles for something to be done. (Despite the fact I had very clearly recorded the prior six months in red marker on my calendar for her to see already.)

I cheated and called her in two and a half months because I was on my third bleeding cycle. It fucked with my DragonCon.

More tests, more visits, and A REASON!

I had a fibroid.  A big one. Oh, and it was also on top of my cervix.

If you didn’t follow the link above for what a fibroid is, here is another one to the Mayo Clinic. I include that one because it has a handy list of symptoms, which I’ll copy here:

  • Heavy menstrual bleeding
  • Menstrual periods lasting more than a week
  • Pelvic pressure or pain
  • Frequent urination
  • Difficulty emptying the bladder
  • Constipation
  • Backache or leg pains
I have Every. Single. One. Oh, and also anemia. I need to sleep all the time, and I have no energy. Everything, everything I do and have been doing takes two to three times the effort.

So, add in depression, feeling like a failure, and all the emotional baggage that goes with that.

Thing is, I get most of those symptoms with my messed-up estrogen and twisty-tilty uterus anyway...  This fibroid was just exacerbating a regular level of misery I live with each month. Hopefully, this IUD will help with the hormones.

But seeing as the arm implant failed after a little over a year, I’m not all that hopeful.  I’m just glad to get the fibroid that’s making things worse out...

What I want is a full hysterectomy. Kids aren’t in the planning, and there’s always adoption and fostering if we do change our minds.  I have no need for these parts.

But I got a hard “no” on that from the doc. That’s its own blog post.

I plan on returning to blogging. I’ll talk about that as things continue.

But, for now, I’m going into surgery.

And I have a medical affirmation for at least part of my suffering, for many of the failures I’ve felt over the past year, for not being as productive and being more “flaky,” for the exhaustion and the anger and uncontrolled emotions, for the pain...

Having a name for it, having a cause does matter. Having a plan and having power over it... that’s in progress.

For now, I will take well wishes, hope, prayers, and whatever anyone wants to send.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Coffee Shop Office Hours; #WriterWednesday, #coffee, #amwriting, #wheretowrite, #writinglife, #NaNoWriMo, #WW



Today, I had a coupon for an oil change at one particular place, but as they were being difficult to schedule, I spent $5 more to hit the Monroe I normally go to. I was perfectly fine with that, as it’s closer to my local Starbucks.

Mind you, hands down, I prefer and go out of my way to patronize local coffee shops and small businesses. (Hello, Sturbridge Coffee Roasters!) That said, there is a lot of good to be said about Starbucks – particularly my local one, which has excellent customer service and baristas who know my name.

But, back to my oil change and why that inspired my #WriterWednesday post...

I have yet to get an oil change anywhere that is done in the 15-20 minutes they promise. That’s why I prefer the one by Starbucks; I pack my computer and I know I can get work done in a fairly comfortable setting with readily available caffeine and at least semi-healthy snacks – depending on my resistance level to not-in-the-least-bit-healthy for you snacks. (Salted caramel fudge block and s’mores squares, I’m looking at you!)

When I’ve interviewed writers for my non-fiction articles, or when I get interviewed as a writer, there is almost always a question about rituals and what one does to “get in the zone” to write. I laugh at that. My requirements: somewhere to sit semi-comfortably and either a functioning machine with a word-processing program or just plain paper with pen or pencil.

And that’s all you should need, too.

Life is hectic. Writing time needs to be fought for and protected fiercely. That’s why writers should get into the habit of writing anywhere, anytime. Always have pen and paper, and whenever possible, bring a netbook, tablet, or something like that (because it’s way easier to transfer work via email or thumbdrive than actual transcription, IMHO).

Now, when it comes to coffee shops in particular, if you haven’t ever explored that old cliché of a writer in a coffeehouse, you’re missing out.

(There’s also the cliché of writers in bars; I have tried it with varying success. But that will be another post.)

The coffee-shop-as-office is becoming a ubiquitous trend. I see people with their laptops all the time – and not just writers. There’s a unique vibe to the indie and Starbucks-esque coffee shops that I haven’t found elsewhere. These havens work as both a place to be alone in a crowd or part of a community – sometimes both in the same visit.

When someone’s looking at their computer intently, usually, they don’t get bothered. (Usually: YMMV). But if you’re stuck and looking around, sometimes you’ll meet eyes with someone and strike up a short conversation. Or, someone you know might be eating, relaxing, reading,.. or staring into space rather than their computer screen (especially if you frequent this spot a lot). Sometimes just that brief conversation will reinvigorate you about your topic; sometimes that person might have useful information for you.

Today, for example, I was pushing through email when two local police officers walked in and were chatting at the table next to me. My current short WIP includes some things that police officers would be uniquely qualified to advise me on.  I kept smiling and trying to catch their eye during lulls in conversation, and finally, one of them addressed me.

With a shy smile, I started, “This is really weird, but I’m a writer and I’m working on a piece that I want to get right in how the police might handle a situation…”

“What do you write?”

“Science fiction, fantasy…”

“My favorites! What do you need…?”

I asked about a particular plot point, got useful information, and we bid each other good days. It was great!

In my coffee shop office hours, I’ve met pastors, teachers, lawyers, other police officers, mechanics, and all sorts of folk from whom I’ve had the pleasure of learning. I’ve ended up getting speaking and book signing gigs based on our conversations. At the very least, my writing time has included delicious beverages and food.

Most importantly, having “office hours,” even if they’re at someplace public, in and of itself, can be a tool to help productivity. A change of environment, the white noise of conversation, the general “coffee shop” style music can push your brain out of a stuck mode. Or, if you are set on having rituals and practices to help you write, setting aside a place and limited time might be just enough to get you started.

Have you tried coffee shop office hours? How did it work for you?

 
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