Sunday, July 15, 2007

Emotional Responsibility

* This is an old archive from my photoblog "Overflow" before it became a photoblog. It was originally a place to release words that would have at the time flooded this blog. It was originally published on June 13, 2006. *

Perhaps it’s due to the fact that my life has historically never resembled routine. Maybe it was because I always ran fast and loose; never having much more than short-term goals and not much in the way of dreams or aspirations, I never really noticed. Indeed, up until quite recently, my life did not even remotely resemble anything like what many would call routine, predictable or stable. Since coming of age when the ownership for these responsibilities are magically transferred, I never really had anything planned; except for periods of time lasting a few weeks or maybe months at the most, some kind of upheaval was always possible and often imminent.

I have experienced depression, jubilation, hopelessness, anticipation, grief, honor, fear and even death, though only very briefly. There would seem to always be an external reason for whatever I was feeling – something that life dished out elicited the appropriate and sometimes inappropriate responses I experienced. I was always able to peg my emotional state – good or bad – on some person, circumstance or situation. In other words, it was not my responsibility how I felt. My response was never my fault.

I remember once while in the hospital recovering from a near fatal auto wreck (that brief encounter with death…), at about the two month mark with no end in sight, I was quietly sobbing in my room. It had been a tough day; they all were, but this one was particularly tough. My recovery had suffered a slight setback that triggered all these built-up emotions to come out at once. I am not a whiner and I knew who got me into this mess, however, everyone has their limit. Much to my chagrin, the night nurse heard my sobs. Suffice it to say, I was not in the mood to “talk” about it.

She wanted to know what was wrong. I thought it was patently obvious and therefore a rather stupid question and… I didn’t hesitate to tell her so. She was just doing her job and limiting the institution’s liability – they don’t need a suicide on their hands. I was not, nor have I ever been suicidal, but they had no way of knowing that. She persisted. She wanted to know if I was “depressed.” I replied incredulously, “Of course I’m depressed! Look where I am! Who wouldn’t be?” I left out some choice explicatives, but I think I’ve made my point.

Little did I know that the term she suggested and I readily seized upon, “depressed,” carries with it institutional meanings far beyond what I meant. Indeed, I was suffering from depression - situational depression. It would go away when the situation improved, which it did the very next day. However, because I expressed that I was “depressed,” I received the obligatory visit from the resident shrink. Although I had moved out of the depression, I was still plenty pissed off for a variety of reasons – and now one more got added to the list. To make a long and entirely tangential story short, I eventually got better, in all respects.

Ironically enough, that three month hospital stay was among the more predictable periods of my adult life and coincidentally enough, it was a period that I was not controlling. I had no place in the planning of my day; every aspect of it was dictated by circumstance, my doctors and/or the hospital. Everything, right down to when I ate and the quality of the food (or lack thereof) was taken care of. When it came time to take back control of my life, it found the same path as before, which was, of course, no path at all.

Today and for the past two years or so, I have been working towards a long-term goal and beyond that I have very specific dreams and aspirations. I am not locked into a routine so rigid that my every waking moment is planned, but at the same time there are certain constants that I can count on. Regular intervals are taking a prominent place in my life and instead of “tying me down,” it grants me freedom. Furthermore, it gives life purpose and that was a quality my life seriously lacked. Surprises are not less surprising, but I am better situated – better prepared to deal with them.

What this predictability has revealed is that my emotional strength is dependant on being in touch with what I feel and why. This is not as easy as it may sound, but like anything else, it takes practice and after a couple of years, I think I may actually be getting it. Lately, I have been experiencing a lack of motivation… it’s a little like being in the doldrums, but not quite. It’s just a little blah. I am not, however, depressed – experience tells me that I need to make that perfectly clear.

I surmised that perhaps this was a cycle – one that I surely must have missed in the whirlwind that was my life. However, although my intent when starting this piece was to argue for that hypothesis, I must change my tack here and perhaps delve a little deeper. Indeed, the practice of getting in touch with myself through writing has once again proven that my head tends to be somewhat blind to second opinion. It is, in a word – lazy. Why pursue a new line of analysis when I already had it all figured out? And how convenient that I just naturally settled on a theory that represents no responsibility for my own emotional state. “It’s just a cycle.” Perfect!

Without the practiced skill of thinking via the written word, thinking out loud as it were, I would have come to the same conclusion that damned near killed me – a convoluted idea that it’s not my fault. Not that everything that happens in life is my fault or responsibility (really, I’m not that important!), but my reactions to these events are. There is nothing inherently “wrong” with any feeling. It is the behavior driven by these emotions that I hold responsibility for. Vigilance is important – my head almost took me there one more time, but introspection and a willingness to go deeper shut that door – this time.


OldLady Of The Hills said...

Michele sent me right back here and there is this wonderfully introspective post!
Looking into ourselves...So very important...

I so love when you talked about being in the hospital and saying you were depressed...Hello? And they immediately want to 'nedicate' you...! OY!
I mean, there is 'depression' and then there is SEPRESSION!
Deliver us all from the 'let's keep em quiet' kind of medicine. I want to "feel" whatever it is! Especially if I can learn and grw from it.

OldLady Of The Hills said...

Well, that was an interesting type...SUPPRESSION...LOL..I really neant that to read DEPRESSION...But, with the change of two letters....It came out even better..MEDICATE for SUPPRESSION!

Michele said...


This is a very difficult post for me to comment on without revealing that you are not simply a blog-friend but that I also consider you a friend.

So, there it is revealed.

This post is slightly more than a year old and yet, these words: "What this predictability has revealed is that my emotional strength is dependant on being in touch with what I feel and why. This is not as easy as it may sound, but like anything else, it takes practice and after a couple of years, I think I may actually be getting it."

Yes, those words, seem even more true for you now. You are correct, it is not easy, for most people to be in touch with how they feel and why. Yet, you are good at that, Very good. And it does indeed offer you an emotional strength that is profound compared to many others and yet continuing to grow for you.

I could also remark on what wonderful writing this is, but I think my admiration for your writing can be found in many comments on this blog. Thank you for re-posting this.

OldLady Of The Hills said...

LOL, LOL..Well, mike..Michele sent me back to you, once again....I LOVE that you two are "friends"...!

I so agree with these same things that Michele speaks of...."...What I feel, and why.."
Having spent a lifetime on this journey...Particulaly the last 37 years...I know how deeply important it is to "FEEL" what you feel and fromthat may come some insight as to why...! Does that change anything? Well...that is a whole other discussion!

Anonymous said...

Good thing you survived. Auto wrecks are never fun. We saw a fatal one a few months ago. Guy was driving over 100 miles an hour through a school zone. The thing is, he'll only get 2 years in jail, if that. He killed some poor guy who was coming out of the gas station.

kenju said...

Mike, this is another post that reveals how smart you are and how much common sense you posses, in addition to your book-learning. Self-awareness is the hallmark of an adult, but many of us don't have it or the means to get it. You have broken the code!!
Michele sent me this time.

kenju said...

P.S. I should have said "Intelligent self-awareness"... LOL

Sara said...

Hello, Mike, Michele sent me! Very interesting post...especially, since I have been suffering from "situational depression" the past few months. Just this week have I been able to get my "ass" in gear and get to starting a new life for myself after my relationship of ten years ended! Thanks for sharing...

Bobkat said...

Yes, being in touch with yourself is not an easy thing. It is far too easy to rely on other learned behaviours as sometimes the truth can be uncomfortable. Of course I am referring to myself here. Thanks for your insight. Of course I am speaking about your experience here.

mckay said...

our human experiences run us through the full gamut of emotions. the trick is to not run away or medicate to make them all fuzzy, but to actually face them and deal so we can move on in a healthy manner.

easier said than done for some of those heavy duty sledgehammer emotions.