I have big feelings. By that I mean, my emotions frequently overpower me; I’m always at the superlative end of the emotional spectrum. Enraged, distraught, overjoyed, overwhelmed.
This isn’t a particularly popular trait. Perhaps it’s a British thing – a lingering hangover from those cheery Victorian folk, all stiff upper lip and saucy table legs – but strong emotions are still seen as the hallmark of the weak, irrational & immature.
While the latter might sometimes be true, I dispute the other two: it takes a wily sailor to stay on course through fierce emotional storms. You learn an awful lot.
Emotions are, after all, entirely outside of our control – the result of our brain chemistry and childhood experience. Whether the reason some of us feel them more greatly is physical – more agents released, for example – or psychological – we notice their effects more – is really an arbitrary distinction. They are real, & to judge someone for feeling overwhelmed by emotion is not all that dissimilar to judging a diabetic for overreacting to ‘a bit of sugar’.
It’s like living with the colour saturation set too high; vibrant and beautiful, but lacking in quiet subtlety. How do you live like this?
Joyfully. Knowing that you will feel every delight so much more deeply than many others.
Despairingly, feeling sadness that gnaws at your soul with dully pointed teeth.
& occasionally hazily, when you’re brain clinks into place, you’ve had a gin, or perhaps just the right prescription medication.
There are times when I envy the people whose emotions don’t go to 11. R tends to live around a steady 4-5, and he’s generally level, cheerful and calm because of it. I ricochet from glee to despondency in the space of an afternoon, needing a nap to recover, and it doesn’t seem all that fair, to be honest. We don’t get to choose how our brains work. If we could – if we could medicate for over-emotion – there are days when I would happily do so. I think I’d trade all the highs, all the spontaeous songs about kittens & victory-laps in response to a twitter-like, just to skip the times when the world looks so bleak.
I’m getting better at handling it, the older I get, and perhaps my emotions are mellowing a little. But still, if such a drug were there, I think I’d be tempted.
I know I’m not alone. Us over-emotionals tend to flock together in life; I can easily know somebody shares the affliction by their response to my story about crying at Supermarket Sweep. It’s only when I talk to other people who get it that I really appreciate the gift of this problem: the magic of empathy, the dizzy depths of love. & then I think about history’s other big emotional types – Oscar Wilde, Sylvia Plath, Sukie the chef in Gilmore Girls – and realise it’s no bad team to be on. Normal is overrated. Who wants every day to feel the same?
So, for anyone reading this who suffers the same, here are my top tips for living with big emotions.
- Cathartic playlists. Make extremely emotional playlists to suit your common feeling offenders – anger, sadness, joy, inappropriate terror – and play them loudly on car journeys whilst singing along. Play them whilst hoovering. Dance around your living room until you break a sweat.
- Be honest about it. Accepting that you have big emotions and being able to talk about this aspect of yourself is surprisingly liberating. Trying to hide and suppress your emotions just leads to even more emotions, like shame, despondency and frustration.
- Don’t act in haste. When your emotions take over it’s easy to feel certain that something is imperative to say or do. Hold back, and wait for your feelings to pass. If it’s the right course of action, you’ll still feel it once the tidal wave subsides.
- Point & laugh. Often our big emotions are disproportinate and really quite funny, once we stop to think about it. ‘I’m really sad right now because I think Mark Hamill might have muted my friend on Twitter‘ was perhaps not quite such a big deal, now I look back on it. ‘I stood on a snail yesterday and I’m still not totally over it‘ might, on reflection, be one of the funniest things I ever said.
- Art therapy. Sod the mindful colouring books – you know what really helps me? Drawing spiteful pictures of people I hate. I give them spiders in their armpits and and pigs trotters and sacks labelled ‘grudges’ and ‘bad ideas’. It is neither mature nor particularly clever, but it’s better than two hours of bitchy conversation for getting all that anger and hurt out, and this way I can turn the page and let it go.
- Take a nap. Living with big emotions is exhausting, and just like toddlers, when we’re tired it tends to be harder to emotionally regulate. Cocooning yourself in a duvet and giving your brain permission to switch off is sometimes the kindest thing you can do for yourself. The world often seems much more manageable again when you wake up refreshed – and if it doesn’t, you can always just roll over and opt out some more. ?