I suffer from depression and anxiety. One of the most distressing symptoms is the arrival of what I call brain grenades. These are unwanted thoughts that show up randomly in my mind. They can be memories of things that trigger a shame response, or projections of my future where everything goes wrong and I end up homeless, or imagining that everyone who “pretends” to like me is actually stabbing me in the back, or memories of failures etc.
The thing about the grenades is they arrive, explode and then I’m left with the emotional destructive chaos. And what’s worse is that once my brain has lobbed the first one, it’s likely it will keep lobbing them, in random and unrelated ways. In the first couple of years after my homelessness, I used to cry on my way to work every morning. Because my brain had decided that driving was a great time to bomb me with grenades. I finally realized that I could cut the battle out all together by playing podcasts in the car. Distract my brain and I wouldn’t end up bawling for 20 minutes on the way to work.
Yesterday I was listening to one of those podcasts, called the Happiness Lab. And it was talking about how avoiding thinking about a thing is much more likely to trigger thoughts of the thing. And as a related note – avoiding an emotion, makes the emotion come out later in more destructive ways. I had a bit of an epiphany with that information.
You see, I am something of a judgmental cranky pants at work. I get angry at the errors and bad work that other people do, which ends up on my desk. This is a new side of me. Back in the days before my brain imploded and I lost everything, I was generally patient and positive at work. I always assumed everyone wanted to do a good job and looked at errors as learning opportunities. But the aftermath of the breakdown seems to have fundamentally changed that part of my personality. It’s one of the reasons why I reject the idea that I am somehow a better person for having gone through such a traumatic experience.
I am not a fan of emotional experiences and I am always trying to tamp down and avoid them. And as a result, they spurt out at work when I see errors. I’ve long been aware that I’m worse about this at the end of the day, as I get more tired, but haven’t been able to figure out a way to not react with anger at these errors and the people who make them. I think the fact that I try to avoid emotions instead of accepting them is causing my spurts of anger.
I think I need to not focus as much on self control in the moment of the spurt as much I need to be more aware of moments when I am corralling an emotion and refusing to acknowledge it. That the emotion I avoided feeling hours before is the root of the spurt – and I’m better off just managing it rather than the eruption later.
And even more important – will it also help me eliminate the brain grenades? I cannot tell you how distressing brain grenades are to me. I call them that because it often feels like I need to find shelter from the shrapnel and on really bad days I spend most of the time on the verge of tears.
So. the new plan. Pay attention to my emotions – allow them to exist in their appropriate time. I will turn to face the emotion as it is happening, recognize it and accept it without judgement. Look at it with a bit of detachment.
Hopefully this will be successful. Because it’s not like I’m aware of all the moments I push my emotions into their boxes. But we shall see. Perhaps with more practice, one recognizes them more often.