Mastering Emotional Volatility

Guidance is as irritating to youth as taxes are to working adults with no dependents. “Don’t tell me what to do with my life!” is now our “Why does the Government get to decide what I do with my money?”. I feel it, but still feel qualified to give my two cents.

For reasons only known to me and my closest confidants, I was an emotionally volatile child and teenager. My Grandma, having grown up staunchly religious in the rural South during segregation, used to tell me to “Practice my Poker Face”. She prided herself on the self-imposed family mantra “I am in control of my happiness, not other people or things”. Similarly, my Mother would have me repeat self-help statements in the mirror, or watch myself cry. I often indulged in the latter, whether or not it incited her famous anger. Neither practice was healthy, but at least the crying was temporary and physically satisfying.

As an adult, indulging my emotional volatility is a guilty pleasure. I tell myself with liberal college-educated conviction that my emotions are valid, untouchable, and always right, spending entire moments staring blankly, thoughts racing, quietly self-destructing. I tell myself this is therapeutic. I tell myself I deserve fast food for the third time this week. I tell myself an entire pint of Häagen-Dazs is a luxury that will make me feel better. At the bottom of the pint and the disposal of the half eaten Big Mac, I eventually climb out of the hole and spend the rest of the day fragile, vulnerable, and soft. I watch movies or TV until I feel balanced, or do a full face of makeup for the confidence boost and head out to do errands. At the end of the day, I tell myself I am only able to handle things the ways I know how, and yes, I am only 24.

I challenge myself every day to handle my anxiety, depression, mania, and PTSD with as much grace and care as I am able to employ. I know that riding in cars I am not driving makes my thoughts revolve around the inevitability of death. I know that dwelling on my inadequacies in love and career can trap me in a state of emotional helplessness. I know that there is a difference between finding happiness indulging the spice of life and the obsessive risk-taking that is mania. I notice that out of the six times I have had to engage with a cashier this week, I only made eye contact once, because she was a woman.

I engage these beliefs every time I take a step forward, and reevaluate their intensity every time I take a step back from the woman I want to be. This pragmatism is as much a defense tactic as the avoidance of eye contact in public, the aggression towards notions of shame, and the practiced, silent deep breathing in the back seat of Ubers on nights out with attractive strangers.

On many occasions during high school, the pressure of being poor, oldest sister, and dreams of achievement would spiral me into fits of stress which irritated my similarly overloaded Mother. I used to think her cruel when she would ask me, annoyed, what the problem was, and if I could control it. “No..BUT” would be cut off with a slap, metaphorically or physically depending on the tone and how hard her day had been.

The things which we cannot control are outside of our control for a reason. After years of declining medication for the “what ifs”, the anti-depressants I have consented to now have me feeling the most balanced I have since middle school. I have access to my Mother’s health insurance through the ACA, and she has that job because the family was able to support her to that point. I am seeing a therapist again, and he is well-trained. I am in and out of doctor’s appointments every week, and make sure I still meet my commitments at work. I come home and cook from scratch. I drink wine every night with dinner, sometimes with company, most times without. Going to sleep is like a lottery when you have a sleep disorder, but I still try to get at least 6 hours. I keep a Nordstrom wish list for the things I will have to wait to buy. I tell myself my health is worth the investment.

I am not a psychiatrist. I am not trained to diagnose or advise those with emotional and mental challenges. I can only relate the things that help me live better.

I know I will not survive relinquishing myself to emotional drowning. My life has not been easy, but when I have a problem, I know I have choices. What are the things that will help the problem that I can do today? If not today, when? What do I need that I do not have to help the problem? Is my support system able to help me with the resources I need? If I can’t do anything to help the problem, what will help me regain my peace so I can feel better?

Slowly, through patient, objective self-reflection, the insurmountable problem is now understood in actionable parts, and I am able to compartmentalize or act towards the solution. This works for everything – relationships, academic struggles, financial goals, career problems, etc. It isn’t an easy process to follow, but it has helped me climb out of places in which many of us are still stuck. And for that, I am grateful. Instead of swallowing hurt and pain with a poker face or force-fed mantra, the volatility that used to master me hums in the background while I continue to move forward towards healing.

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