The most creative and expressive pieces of me are birthed out of extreme emotion. Severe pain. Radical joy. The kind of sentiments that, no matter where on the scale of emotion they fall, evoke a physical reaction that begs to be expressed. The kind of emotions that I feel so deep in my body it almost feels unhealthy.
I think I’ve always felt this much, but I never knew what to do with it.
It’s exhausting at times, all these feelings.
Mostly we are taught to conceal that. To not feel too much, or need too much as a result. It’s not really appropriate to burst into tears in front of people over certain things. It’s not always acceptable to just casually experience the depth of life on a daily basis with the people around us.
We do it some; but it’s usually a watered down version.
Outside of being with my boys and a handful of other experiences, the only times I feel fully authentic in my ability to honor the full penetration of my emotions is when I am writing or when I am listening to certain kinds of music. There are few people who seem to operate in such a way that allows the space for such emotion otherwise; yet I have had the great honor of meeting a few.
I discussed this idea with someone recently. The idea of connecting with certain music or people on a deeper level than others. We referenced a particular artist and the maturity and introspection his music invokes and he said, “It’s because he knows what it’s like to be exhausted.”
Are you there?
Screaming in the night
Hanging from the sideFeel the sunlight
The sunlight on my face
It’s cold out here
Lost in outer space-Ryan Adams, “Feels Like Fire”
I often feel afraid of my own depth. Caught between my own layers. It sometimes feels unsafe to allow myself to really pay attention as much as my heart wants me to because everything is just right there. Sitting on top of me, soaking into my skin, forcing me to feel things that don’t always co-habitate well with the daily details of life: my own experiences-the things that have exhausted me; as well as that of others.
There’s a constant push-pull of needing to both function and feel.
Sometimes I don’t feel like I can do both.
But what choice do we really have? We have to find ways to do our life: pay our bills, succeed at our jobs, take care of our responsibilities; while also staying alive: staying present, connecting with one another, feeling things in a real way-even the hard stuff.
The struggle comes I think when we sit in those corners of our own souls, feeling and experiencing the truth of our experiences and the world around us, yet being simultaneously pulled away from it by the other “real” demands of our life.
Miranda July states it perfectly. “All I really want to know is how other people are making it through life? Where do they put their body, hour by hour and how do they cope inside of it?”
I find myself needing to numb myself from certain things. Needing to pull away from it in order to survive. But I can’t really. It’s not who I am or how I operate. So then I end up stuck in this swirl of tangible reality versus the intangible. The intangible is what draws me in and makes me feel alive. I crave the moments and experiences that make the intangible tangible. But it’s not really possible to stay there for long and still function.
I think it’s why so many artists and creators are so tortured. They’re trying to exist in the regular world with hearts and souls that live somewhere else. Hearts and souls that feel things on a constant basis that simply aren’t sustainable long-term in a healthy way.
It becomes too severe.
So we find ways to create and express these emotions and experiences; yet live another part of our lives sort of tucked behind a veil. We have to create the distance to keep ourselves safe.
Everyone does this to some degree. Not just “artists.” Because really, we are all artists in our own right.
Children are the purist representation of an artist heart. They are the most respectful of their own emotions and experiences. As we grow up, we lose that ability because we somehow get taught it isn’t okay. We tell children to stop crying. That they’re being ridiculous. We laugh at their child-like observations and their extreme emotional outbursts over seemingly insignificant things.
We don’t really recognize that it’s us who teaches them along the way that those high highs and low lows are not acceptable. That they need to reign it in and water it down because the people around them won’t be able to handle their feelings.
It’s not wrong. It’s true that living a life of extreme emotions is difficult.
So then we learn ways to cope with life and the feelings we have in response to it. We learn how to taper our emotions to fit into what makes sense and what is more manageable.
But then what do we do with the excess?
That’s where our unhealthy behaviors come in. That’s where we numb ourselves out. That’s where we escape. That’s where we become exhausted.
The excess has nowhere safe to go inside our bodies. And unless we work hard to find ways of channeling it into something more healthy and constructive, we find ourselves caught in unhealthy, destructive situations and behaviors.
I’ve experienced a lot of that throughout my life.
I think I almost crave some level of something unhealthy and destructive in my life because it keeps me connected to the excess. It gives me a place to put it.
Every now and then, we are gifted places and people who can handle our excess.
People who understand us at our deepest levels. Places where we are free to feel the excess. People who see us below the surface and connect to us in the areas we feel we have to keep hidden from most of the world in order to just function.
These are the people we bleed with. The people who understand our blood when it pours out. The people who travel life at similar depths.
These are the places we feel safe. The places we feel alive because we are fully ourselves.
I am learning that rather than trying to squelch my human experience; rather than believing something about me is broken because I feel so much, I simply need to rest in the people and places that allow the excess. To ride my own waves. To experience my own feelings. And to tuck myself into the beauty that comes from those extremes.
There are healthy ways to channel the excess.
One of those for me is writing. That makes you who read part of my safe place. You catch the excess and allow space for it not only in your lives, but mine too.
That’s how I move from surviving to thriving. When I am allowed to spill out rather than reign in.
It’s not possible at all times. Sometimes we have to contain our souls simply because we do live in “the real world.” It’s why we have bodies-to protect our souls. But sometimes, in order to respect our truest selves, we have to find places to bleed. A place to honor the excess. A place to feel what it’s like to be exhausted. A place to feel the fire.
Thank you for being a part of that place for me.