The language of feelings

Mental health conversations often revolve around feelings, and for me a lot of these conversations come back to me “having a lot of feelings”.

Which I do, and which everyone does (some people just don’t realise they’re there — that’s probably not good for you). I also often hear, “you have too many feelings”, and I say this about myself and to myself too often. I am starting to understand how unhelpful this language is. It minimises the feelings that I have and makes them feel that they are invalid.

The reality of managing a mental illness is that you are significantly more aware of your feelings. You have to be, because if you’re not, you backslide, or flip out once all the feelings pile up and demand to be extruded.

Successfully managing mental illness requires incredible self awareness and the ability to see thoughts and feelings and decide what they are. It also involves being able to determine whether a feeling is legitimate, do I feel this because of my mental illness? Would someone else feel this? (and if someone else wouldn’t feel it, does that mean it doesn’t count?). Is this a rational feeling or concern?

For instance, someone hasn’t turned up by the time you expect them to, so they must be dead and it’s time to plan their funeral in your head, and what you’d wear because that is very important. That’s probably not rational (or helpful). Someone says something to you and it hurts you, is that rational? Can you still respond to the every day, simple elements of living a life without it being through a filter of mental illness?

I don’t like feeling that I am being distilled to a catchphrase; she feels like that because she has bipolar.

I am aware that I do feel with more intensity as a result of my mental illness. My responses can be exaggerated, highs too high, lows to0 low, love too fierce and frustration explosive. But that is also part of me, prior to being ‘bipolar’ or ‘depressed’ I was just Ellison. She was energetic, passionate, interested and felt things with intensity. She gave a shit.

Perhaps part of this is that I think people are seeing my feelings as being related to having bipolar. I think it’s also easier to just lump everything into the bipolar basket, it negates responsibility. We can just all ignore that thing that was said, or done or felt, because it was the crazy talking. If I’m feeling something because I have bipolar does that mean it’s not valid? Does it mean that that feeling doesn’t actually exist? Does it mean that every feeling that emerges is because I have bipolar? Can’t I just have feelings like everyone else?

I had a conversation this week about how I think I’ll feel in a few months time. The answer was honest, I have no idea. I don’t know how I’ll feel tomorrow (or even the rest of today). Who does? And who can predict, you might be feeling great one day, that doesn’t guarantee the next. I think it would be foolish of me to pretend I know.

I feel how I feel right now, and that is actually all I can know. It’s all anyone can know.