Wednesday, November 17, 2004

to feel again

I’m learning to feel again.

I’ve been pondering a revelation that occurred to me while sitting in a room at the doctor’s office. I had been given the preliminary workup by the nurse, (weight, blood pressure, temperature, etc.), and I remember being perturbed by her questioning why I was there to be seen by the doctor. I said that the doctor wanted to see me, so she should just call it a follow-up visit. It irritated me that I was sitting there not really knowing why I was sitting there.

When the nurse had taken my blood pressure, I asked for the result. It was 122/83, which was really great for me! I was surprised because I felt like it would be higher. (I know you can’t feel BP, but I was just sure it was too high.) Then I had an even bigger surprise. When she read my temp, it was 100.4! She asked, “Are you not feeling well?” That’s when it hit me—I don’t know how I feel!

Between the 45-minute wait on the doctor to appear, I began contemplating. “How do I feel?” Of course, the more I thought about it, the worse I felt. Another contemplation I had was that the walls of those rooms were very thin; I could hear two or three conversations at once. This was very annoying to me, like hearing a radio and two CD players all on at once. It made me think that perhaps my brain has weaker filters than most people. I get brain fatigue from the overload of external stimuli. Perhaps that explains my need to journal my thoughts so I can hear myself think more clearly.

What if my neurons and neurotransmitters are so sensitive that they pick up on others’ emotions? If I am being bombarded daily with hundreds of “vibes” of those around me, wouldn’t that shut out my own ability to sense and feel my own emotions?

I’ve always known my physical sense of feeling is dulled or muted – I don’t feel cold until I have an icy nose or start shivering, I don’t feel hot until I’m dripping with sweat. I don’t feel full until I’m very uncomfortable. I realize too that I don’t feel angry until I’m very angry, which is why I started the “Anger Journal” to help me express my emotions in a healthy way, before it spills out in a volcanic eruption.

If there is such a thing as emotional memory (a storage bank of every emotion I’ve ever felt) that operates on a separate system than intellectual memory, I would guess that the majority of emotional records that are stored for my retrieval are negative. I can retrieve precious few positive emotional memories—tiny moments of near euphoria, sheer bliss, or unspeakable joy. The bank seems to be filled to capacity with sadness, fear, and anger.

Perhaps that’s what the Holy Spirit does in those gut-wrenching sessions of prayer. The Great Counselor must be delving into the corners and crevices of my heart/mind/soul. He may be opening up the safety deposit boxes of my emotional memory bank and cleaning out my cluttered emotional storage and retrieval system. Could it be that is what the Bible means by “renewing your mind”?

It is a painful process. It is cathartic, and somewhat relieving to be emptied out and cleansed of such poisons: malice, bitterness, etc.. But it sets off all the alarms and sirens of my security system.

It hurts to feel again. It is a sure sign of my recovery from depression. As the ice melts away from my heart, the pain sensors tingle and burn. I can’t decide if I am dying or being reborn.

In Alaska, the winter is long and cold and dark. There is no spring season—only a few short weeks of slush and brown sludge. They call it “Break-Up,” and it is as painful as it sounds. Rivers flood, roads crack and crumble, drains and ditches overflow, and sidewalks are covered in treacherous icy slush. The cause of all of this “pain” is the warm, gentle sun! Slowly, gradually, in an unobtrusive way, the sun appears earlier and stays longer, quietly melting away the winter ice.

I find it ironic that my emotional winter lasted longer than a year, all through the summer, and is now turning into “Spring Break-Up” just as winter approaches. As the sun sets earlier each day, and the brightness of the moon shines on me, the Lord is whispering to me: “Your sun will never set again, and your moon will wane no more; the Lord will be your Everlasting Light, and your days of SORROW will end!” (Isaiah 60:19,20)