Morning is easier this time around, but still difficult. It is not quite like walking through mud the way it was a week ago, and I got up out of bed a little faster than I did yesterday. But it is hard.
Every day is another day without Natalya. It is another day to get through. My Pollyanna streak would like it to be other than that, but that is what it is.
I am trying to figure out if the sense of life being merely another chore is a remembered sense of what it was or if it is something I still feel now and dissociate the rest of the day. In other words, I don’t know if what I feel every morning is a memory or a reality I avoid knowing. The extent to which I need to push the sadness out of my awareness in order to get through the demands of the day is the same extent to which it is still reality rather than memory. Does the sadness genuinely fade at times, or am I merely shutting the sadness out of my awareness? And I don’t know. I think it might be mostly the second one. If I didn’t have to teach and carry on conversations and try generally behave like someone who can do things besides cry, I might feel this way all day long.
Emotions are meant to flow into each other, but when they are very strong, they don’t do that. Intense emotions have a tendency to persist—maybe because they shape what stimuli we take in too strongly to be supplanted by something else and they also overwhelm any other emotion that might arise.
I was thinking yesterday morning as I did the chores that life is very bleak and joyless when you feel so very sad. It does end up seeming like nothing more than moving through a list of things to do.
I had a rearranging dream. The first bit of the dream I remember is going into a large library—I used to be a librarian, and so libraries are a place of work to me—and saying, Everything has been rearranged. I can’t find anything.
And then there was some wacked out sci-fi bit about a warped bit of space-time continuum cordoned off in an out of the way corner. And someone ate a monster along with the magic bit of the monster that causes it to self-heal, which I had to say seemed like a bad idea.
After that little intrusion of biizarreness, I started to clean up. There was old deli meat somehow—one or two pieces in several different packages—and some salad dressing in one of those little to-go containers and some other stuff. I started to take it to the rubbish bins only to find they weren’t segregated, and this was totally flummoxing, because at home there is a place to put recyclable plastic bottles and a place to put vegetable scraps to take out to the garden, and also a place to put other non-biodegradable rubbish to be collected by someone on a tractor. And old cooked food I take directly outside to give to the dogs.
So I hope this means I am getting a few things sorted up there in my head, because it’s hard to think I am just hurting every day to no purpose.
I have been thinking that dissociation is really an extreme form of focusing one’s attention. We naturally pick and choose from the immense amount of stimuli we are bombarded by both within us and outside in the world in order to zero in on the relevant elements and screen out what is not important. Dissociation is just that.
Focusing our attention away from distressing stimuli usually extinguishes the emotions that go with it. It’s usually there in everyone’s tool box as a strategy for managing negative emotions.
With trauma it doesn’t work in quite the same way, because the emotions are too intense to fade away on their own very quickly. They persist. And so we end up with a divided experience: our conscious attention is on one set of stimuli, but the emotions and the distressing stimuli are registering somewhere else. Intense emotions naturally constrict our attention—pushing us to notice only what relates to that emotion. But you can go the other way too. You can direct your attention away from the emotion and everything associated with it, and notice only the pragmatic and the ordinary. It’s hard to do both together. You can do it if the emotion is sort of normal-sized: then the emotion is just one element in your experience, one stimuli among many. But you can’t do it if the emotion is intense. Then the emotion shapes your cognition.
“Warm” is trying to soothe the emotion into a range where the emotion can be felt without hijacking one’s attention—or needing to shut out awareness of the emotion so that one can still cope with the demands of life.
I think for a long time I didn’t realize that emotions are so many different things: They are an autonomic response in the body that affects breathing, circulation, sensation of pain, and so on. They are a set of sensations in the gut generated by the enteric nervous system. And they are changes in cognition. When we think about being able to tolerate difficult emotions, it’s not just a matter of coping with the awareness of having that emotion or the discomfort in the gut or even the unpleasant effect on one’s basic physical functions like breathing, but also the change in cognition. It comes down to being able to cope with the way the emotion is making one think, which is just not always desirable. The black hole of my mornings makes me think there is no point to anything. Nothing will ever get better. It’s all horrible and bleak and pointless. Which is not quite true. I go to class and for the most part, enjoy the children, and I talk to my friends and sometimes I even enjoy them. And Ruthie eats this horrible packaged cake which she likes and that’s nice. But despair always seems without remedy. That is what despair does to your brain.
Other emotions do other things, but they all push your thinking in a certain direction. Anger makes you want to punish people, which is frequently unwise. It also makes you more certain, which can result in poor choices too. Anxiety makes you more attentive to details and potential problems and leads to less certainty so that you can end up too paralyzed to do anything.
So you can’t quite just grin and bear difficult emotions sometimes, because they can make you stupid. Moderation. How do I get to moderation?