Emotions Matter. Painful Lessons from This Year That You Need to Learn.

“Depression is often anger turned inwards.”

These were the words my sparkly new (and first ever) psychotherapist said to me in our first appointment, and these were the words that explained so much about what had happened to me to end up in the place I had ended up.

I am a liar

I decided that in 2019 my focus is to be a better storyteller. At my first ever writing class I was surprised, quite naively, that we were starting with some writing exercises. I started my letter to 2018 to thank it. I have a lot to be thankful for, I started the year with depression (though I was in denial because apparently, I am the only human who could possibly be immune) and ended the year a happier, more focussed and more honest than the person I was before.

Pretending to be okay

When I say ‘more honest,’ I don't mean that I was a dishonest person (although I did steal pot Pourri from a gift shop once when I was 5), I was dishonest with myself. I lied to myself a lot. I ignored a great range of emotions that I felt, to make my life more straightforward.

The thing is- living with psoriasis means I pretend things are alright A LOT. From a young age I would tell my mum I was ok when I wasn’t, it broke my heart to see her upset when my skin was terrible, so when I could, I hid it.

When I get a sore throat...or even find out the kid chatting to me in the playground has a sore throat I feel worried and at any sign of a sore throat starting in myself or my immediate family I experience feelings of fear.

Why we need to be honest about our emotions

There are two statements I wrote as I reflected on my year, that still resonate with me, many weeks after I wrote them. "Fear is not something to be avoided. It is an emotion to embrace, much the same as love. Emotions tell us something."

Emotions should not be repressed- would you stop a child from telling you why they are upset? The thing is, emotions are never silenced when we try to hide them, they turn into something else- and that something is uglier and more sinister. When anger is repressed, it can lead to resentment, and resentment is much harder to get rid off. It's the red wine that's been trampled onto the carpet.

Resentment can affect your relationships with others and with yourself. It can break things which should not be broken. It can manifest itself in ways you don't even notice, sideswiping comments to people you care about for example. This can damage your support network, the network of friends and family that help keep you sane. The people who want to help you live a happier life.

Being in tune with your environement

The thing is, being so in tune with our environment has made us the success that we are today. Our bodies are built to be dynamic and to respond. Just look at our sensing organs; our eyes help us see danger and potential sources of food, our we use touch to find and feel and connect. Our nose can smell food that is full of toxins and protects us from harm, in the same way, it can detect a bacon sandwich from 200m after a heavy night on the beer. Our senses help us navigate our external environment, our brain takes information from all of the senses, to make sense of the outside world. It exists so we can make the next 'right decision.'A challenge that emotions are essential for a successful life too. They tell us about our internal environment. What we feel is right or wrong.

Villanizing emotions

Some emotions are villainized, and I am guilty of this with my own children. I catch myself using words when we are out in public like ‘Calm down, we can talk about this later.’ Words like ‘stop crying, your overreacting’ or ‘what's the matter with you? You don't have it half as bad as ….” These are all examples of situations which teach us it is not ok to cry in public, nor is it ok to scream, rant or tantrum. I threw an armful of blankets on the floor in a shop recently and shouted ‘i've had enough!’ to my toddler who had disappeared for the 400th time into Santa's Wonderland. It did not go down well with the other customers.

Our anger, pain, frustration and upset are not acceptable when expressed in public, but why?

Children know best

When children encounter death, they express all of it: tears, tantrums, anger and the aching of loss. They feel so intensely all of the emotions, and then they move on. They have allowed their bodies to feel, and have expressed those emotions outwardly.

When we as adults encounter death, we have to be strong for someone or other. We hold our emotions in. I must not cry- I must be strong for my husband/ wife/ daughter… I can't let my mascara run- I will look a mess. The thing is- If you can't cry at a funeral- when can you cry? Crying in public is a sign of weakness, and men feel this more than most (don't even get me started on the term ‘Man Up’). We try to stop crying as soon as we start. The problem is because we don't allow ourselves to feel, we can carry those feeling of loss for a lifetime.

We do not allow ourselves to process our less socially acceptable emotions- and it is in this way that we tell ourselves we aren't happy, nor are we proud to be who we are. Which is essentially, that we are human.

So what is next?

I propose that we all try to become more human this year. I admit crying in public is hard to initiate, but try not to hold it back the next time you hear a lame excuse like, 'my mascara will smudge' running through your mind. Be brave and bold- let it open up the dialogue you need with yourself, and with those around you.

It is normal to feel angry- and you know what? You can go to your doctor because you are angry. Its true- I spoke to a psycho-dermatologist who explained this was a great reason to see your G.P.
There are lots of support routes for people living with psoriasis to help them process anger, anxiety and other emotions they feel as a result of their circumstances. They are there because they are important.

Depression is more common in those of us living with psoriasis, no one is protected from developing depression, listening and being honest about how you feel is the way forward. As I wrote in my letter to 2018 -“Growth can only come from honesty.”

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