A good friend, and a person who inspires me to be better, just told me something life-altering. In just a simple phrase, to me this was a "mind-blown", mic-drop kind of moment.
We were talking about feelings - not surprisingly, given that one of us is a professional counselor and the other a social worker. With my blinders up and my emotions stuffed way down, I started out semi-scoffing when my friend suggested that I need to discharge my emotions. My not so well thought-out or professional response: "I don't like it. It's stupid."
In discussing my most recent emotional episode (i.e. crying at the trigger of a broken windshield wiper), I thanked my social worker friend for talking me through my "breakdown." She then told me stories of times when her own emotional catharsis not only found her some relief but actually helped her function more effectively and get a better handle on life. It was then that she challenged the word that many of us go to when describing our moments of humanity (not moments of weakness): breakdown.
Heavy with a negative connotation, this concept of a breakdown leaves most of us with a mental picture of a blubbering, sobbing mess of a person losing their grip. In reality, a better word for this very emotional, very normal, and very human response to life, is breakthrough.
Emotions are like Tetris pieces. If we're aware of them, sit with them for a moment, and figure out where to put them, we keep moving forward. Emotions never stop coming, but if we're paying attention, we move with our emotions as they fall into place. What is unnatural is when we build up our barriers, cushioning our conscience from uncomfortable feelings. When we rush through these moments, instead of taking time to figure out where to discharge our feelings, our emotional tetris game gets messy. The pieces no longer fit, and the tension builds up, leaving an overwhelmingly small amount of space to move.
Picture this, you're rushing through your game of Tetris, and the pieces start to clutter into incomplete rows. You're running out of space to fit the pieces, and the anxiety closes in on you. Our emotions are like that. If we continue to let them build up inside of ourselves, forming walls of resistance to being vulnerable, we lose the space we sometimes need to think clearly through tough situations and get creative when we need to figure out our next step. I have used the box analogy with clients which paints a similar picture. You draw a box, and in that box, you write down all of your thoughts and feelings and stressors. Before too long, that box is looking jam-packed; and with little room to breathe already, tack on a new stressor, even something seemingly small, and your box breaks - you break. But you're not breaking down. You're breaking through those barriers we tell ourselves we have to build up. In trying to protect ourselves from some invisible shame we think the rest of the world sees, we dig that shame deeper and forget the fundamental truth - that emotions make us human.
The next time you've got that lump in your throat, and you're trying so hard to hold back the tears, just let the floodgates open. Release those restrictions you put on yourself because they are not serving you. They are not serving anyone. We will struggle to accept the humanity of others if we cannot accept our own. The game of life is not one that you can win. You just keep playing it because it's meaningful and there are a lot of great opportunities along the way.
To my friend and colleague who let me sit with my emotional pieces and let me figure out where to put them, thank you. Thank you for your patience and kindness and humanness. Thank you for that reminder that coping doesn't happen in the absence of emotions. It happens in the release and expression of emotions.
And to those looking for a good way to pass the time after a good cry, I highly recommend playing Tetris. Did you know that tetris is often referred to as "the greatest computer game of all time" and it's a game that you can never actually win (the pieces will always fall and you will always be tasked with where to put them).