Guess what, y’all? We’re still in this Pandemic.
I’ve seen all the memes making fun of the fact that 2020 has felt like a decade, not a year. So much has happened, and so much of what we thought was going to happen has not happened.
Whether you’re thriving this year or barely surviving, I think we can all admit that this year has put demands on us that we weren’t necessarily prepared to meet – some adjustment has been necessary. Failure is traumatic, but so is success, and both experiences require specific perspectives and healthy mindsets in order to not be pummeled by them.
Learning to navigate emotional strains like these is stressful. Y’all, it is STRESSFUL. We have been in tension for a year straight, some of us even longer if the Pandemic caught you at a bad time to begin with. I have been listening to so many thought leaders, faith leaders, medical and mental health professionals during this time. My only goal lately has been to stabilize. I’ve been doing everything I know to do to try and keep my spirit fed, my soul nourished, my body strong, and my mind renewed, but even so I’ve been doing all of that while strapped into an emotional roller coaster.
There came a point this summer when I had to stop myself from reverting into old habits, things I used to do to feel better when I was depressed, or overwhelmed, or irritated. By definition, numbing is the act of depriving one of feeling or responsiveness. Simply put, when you numb out, you do it to stop feeling something.
Numbing is the things we do to take the edge off, the little vices that we may not engage in consistently, but that take us out of the pain of the present.
I believe we underestimate how far we will go to feel better.
If the pain is severe enough, and the desire to escape is strong enough, human beings have been known to go to great lengths to squelch negative feelings. And I’m not just talking about ‘big addictions’ like drugs and alcohol abuse, I’m talking about everything you do to intentionally take yourself out of present pain.
For me it used to be food. I’ve spoken about my college journey and how incredible and important and wonderful and difficult it was for me. Even though I had an amazing experience, I was stressed the vast majority of the time, and I did not handle it in the healthiest ways. I ate my feelings more times than I can count. Overeating wasn’t a one off occurrence, it became a regular practice. I would sit down to eat and stop when I felt better, not when I was full.
I attempted to fill a yawning hole in my soul with Large pizzas at 2 AM while I sat in my dorm room working through problem sets.
I found solace in having chicken gyros with extra tzatziki sauce and two sides of French fries delivered to the door of my building while I sat at the RA duty station.
I coped with the anxiety I felt while I sat in my lectures by popping a few candies in my mouth every two minutes. In my two-hour long night classes I could make it through a big bag of Welch’s fruit snacks.
The eating became ritualistic. I could feel myself shutting down as I focused only on the food. I hardly remembered much of the actual eating, I didn’t eat to enjoy, I ate so I would be in less emotional pain. I looked forward to sinking into the sensory overload, to letting my mind go blank.
For the few moments that I was cleaning the bones of my honey barbecue wings from Buffalo Wild Wings (with extra blue cheese), I wasn’t concerned about my failing grades or the fact that I’d been sad for weeks and knew it. I was able to dull the pain of inadequacy, disappointment, discouragement, confusion, rejection, anger, depression, and fear that gnawed at me day in and day out, even if just for a few moments.
When I moved back home, I wasn’t doing it as much, but I would still find myself shutting down to shovel a medium guava cheesecake blizzard from Dairy Queen into my mouth when I felt emotionally overwhelmed.
I remember sitting in my bed one night sobbing into my laptop while I tried to finish a drawing set (I used to be a Civil Engineer. Long story). I wasn’t crying because I disliked the work I was doing (even though I did), I was crying because I felt inadequate and discouraged, and the only thing I wanted to do was go into the kitchen and eat until I was sick. I wanted to shut down and not think about anything besides consuming what was on my plate. I finally asked myself, “How far am I going to let this go?” In that moment of realization, I understood that feeling those feelings had become so overwhelming for me that I’d been deciding to numb myself with food instead.
It hasn’t been an easy process, and it has required a lot of self-awareness, acceptance, honesty, and vulnerability, but now I know when I’m eating because I’m hungry, because the food tastes good, because I’m simply being social, because I’m in emotional distress, or when it doesn’t matter to me at all. Realizing that I was using food to numb has helped me to identify other numbing behaviors I may engage in, like losing myself in mindless television for hours at a time, jumping from social media app, to social media app, and refreshing, and scrolling, or sleeping way too much.
Of all the types of pain there is, I am most likely to go to great extremes to ease the burden of emotional pain most. And this year has tested my coping abilities and really tempted me to do some unhealthy stuff under the guise of relief.
I have to admit that some of the things I’ve done are flat out dysfunctional and unhealthy, but before you judge me I want to point out that even good things when used for the wrong reasons can become crutches.
Nothing is inherently wrong with taking a nap, or eating a plate of food, or watching a bit of Netflix, but when we use these things to silence painful thoughts or feelings it can be a problem. Entertainment can become a source of shame if you find yourself using it to escape constantly.
The question I want you to begin asking yourself is this, “What do I do to feel better when I’m in pain?”
Do you lose yourself in Ben & Jerry’s ice cream?
Do you drown yourself in work?
Do you get high?
Do you close the curtains and go to sleep?
Do you lose yourself in sexual encounters so you’re in your body and not your mind?
Do you binge watch show after show after show until your sense of reality is skewed and you can forget that people need you?
Do you sip wine until the buzz is stronger than the pressure of your responsibilities?
Do you slide into the DM’s of someone you know will draw your attention away from your stressful present?
Do you watch porn?
Do you spend money you don’t have on things you don’t need?
Ask yourself where you hide – where you seek solace when your soul is overwhelmed. We all run somewhere, it’s important that we know where we run and why.
In a year as consistently stressful as this one has been, I want us to be aware of what we’re doing to ease the pain, what we’re relying on to feel better, to cope. We have to walk in the light when it comes to our habits, even if we’re not particularly proud of them. So here in my tiny corner of the internet, I want to create a space where shame has no authority and you don’t need to hide.
The first step to changing a tendency is awareness – you have to be aware. And until the day I die I will encourage people in their pursuit of self-awareness, because it is a war weapon.
Is this out of your control? Is your life being ruled by an incessant need to feel better every day? It may be time to enlist some help.
If you can, I want you to, be honest. What are you doing to feel better these days?