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Emotional Whac-A-Mole (Plus Lots of Untethered Anxiety)

After my therapist noted that I was emotionally shut down, particularly when talking about certain topics, I read Depression Part Two from Hyperbole and a Half with trepidation, wondering if I was once again in a depression without realizing it. Fortunately, my fish aren’t dead, they’re just hiding from me.

The last couple weeks have been filled with emotional Whac-a-Mole. An emotion pops up, but as soon as I notice it, it ducks underground again. They disappear so quickly that there’s no chance for me to knowingly knock an emotion out. When I described this to my therapist, she said to think of it as a subconscious protection mechanism (though she didn’t use those particular words). To keep myself from being overwhelmed by emotion, especially when a migraine attack commands my attention, I unwittingly developed a strategy to protect myself.

By far, anxiety has been the most prominent emotion I’ve had since starting therapy. It was free floating until my last session. Since then, “What is happening to my skin? Where is that protection when I need it?,” which are lyrics from another Talking Heads song, have been running through my mind. They so perfectly articulate my fear that returning to the world of emotional experience will mean peeling off my skin, exposing every nerve ending to the sadness of the world.

Thus far in my adult life, I’ve either been emotionally flayed open or closed off. I didn’t know it was possible to experience an emotion without being carried away by it, nor did I know I could choose to feel an emotion or distract myself from it. While I now know this is possible, I don’t yet have the skills necessary to manage my emotions. I first have to learn how to feel and sit with them. It is slow going, for sure, but I no longer feel as if I have to climb Mt. Everest yet again. I am seeing it more as a process, removing layer after layer to get to the heart of the matter.

I drafted this post last Thursday, the day after my last therapy session. I’m pleased to say that this week has been much less anxiety-ridden. I now trust that I can be open to emotions without being flayed open. Interestingly, I’ve also begun thinking of the work I’m doing in therapy not as monumental effort or even removing layers, but as the normal work of life. It has already become easier to notice and experience my emotions. They still hide quite a bit, but I’m definitely seeing progress from week to week. This afternoon is another therapy session… wonder what I’ll find today.

One Response to Emotional Whac-A-Mole (Plus Lots of Untethered Anxiety)

  1. Katie Burke says:

    I love this post. It may (not at all) surprise you to know that I feel emotions really big, too. I didn’t realize I was different from anyone else in this way until a decade or so ago. Before that, I just thought most of the world was being fake!

    I think you’re neat. I love the way you explore every aspect of your wellness and your illness and your everything, everything, everything. I’m an HSP too, and I can tell by your terminology that you’ve read the book.

    I play about twenty rounds of Whac-a-Mole before leaving the house each morning. It’s just the way some of us are built, I guess. I wouldn’t want to be any other way, but it can be exhausting.

    Those oversized stuffed animals they give to Whac-a-Mole prizewinners are pretty awesome, you know. So I say, step right up and play!

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