“I don’t understand why we don’t consider emotional health as important as mental health!” Maggie would say to me. “Honestly, it is just as important – if not more so. If people were able to talk about their emotions they would perhaps be less inclined to experience better mental health. Don’t you think? When I ask you how you feeling, what would you say?”
“I’d say I feel fine.” I replied.
“There you go. Fine is not an emotion.”
Right. Fine is not an emotion. So, how did I feel? What are the words from which I could draw: happy, sad, angry, depressed, anxious… I felt none of those. At least, I didn’t think I felt any of those. So seriously how did I feel?
“How are you?” So often we ask one another this exact question. And what is the reply? Fine? Not bad. I’ve been better. And do we listen for the response? I’ve come to think that how are you is really code for hey – I acknowledge you are here, but I really have to go.
What would happen if someone really gave a true answer? “I’m sad.” If they answered, that would require the person who asked the question to stop and engage in a conversation. And that isn’t always the desired outcome when one is rushing off to work, or rushing to get home to cook dinner, or when one is exhausted from running around doing errands.
Furthermore, how would we handle the answer if it came at us? “I’m sad.” Then what? I think the inevitable response would be, “why?” And if that came – then hold onto your hat for the story.
It seems to me then – we ought not to ask the question if one is not prepared for the answer.
Or maybe when asked the question, the response ought to be, “Do you really want to know?”. That may just seem like an odd response though. It could be considered highly indignant, almost rude, like you are insinuating that the person who asked didn’t really care. That may be true – but how rude to challenge one’s integrity.
Ask me how I am. Go ahead. I’ll tell you. I am frightened. Yes. That is an emotion. I am lost. No that’s not an emotion – but I feel that way. I guess the reason I am frightened is because I am lost. I sometimes feel that I have no direction, no purpose. I don’t know what tomorrow will hold. None of us do – but it seems cancer sharpens the word tomorrow to cut just a bit deeper into the darkness of the unknown. Make plans for next year? Ha! I cannot. I guess that’s what older people mean when they speak about tomorrow, next week, or next year with such uncertainty. I’m frightened I have lost my purpose. Yes, my son still needs me to be around for him. He needs to be loved, hugged, cuddled, and cooked for. The other two – well – they have found lives of their own. I know they love me, as does my husband, but they don’t need me. I’m a Mom – but the meaning has changed. I’m a wife – but the meaning has changed. I am not a teacher – at least not a classroom teacher. I am not a daughter. I am not many things. Yeah – I’m frightened and a bit sad. I think that’s part of cancer . There are many losses and grieving those losses is translated in so many ways.
Ask me how I am. I am thankful. No, that’s not an emotion. Being thankful makes me feel joy. Yes. I am also happy. I am glad. I have so much to be thankful for and focusing on that makes me happy. I guess this is a choice – to think about what I have to be thankful for. My Dad always said, “remember the good times, Stacey and count your blessings.” He smiled a lot in his golden years. So – being happy is a choice?
Cancer. The word is hotbed of emotions – most bad ones. It calls us to take arm against an enemy (fear?), the fight a good fight (rage?), to think of the future (anticipation?), and maybe it calls us to be thankful (joy?). And that’s just the beginning. How many other words can evoke so many emotions. I guess any chronic illness would do the same.
What happens, though, when we lock our emotions inside us? What happens if we don’t talk about how we are feeling? To not express joy, anger, fear… is to deny ourselves of our own humanity. To stuff emotions causes stress and anxiety – leading to mental health issues. Can we be poisoned by our own emotions? We all need to be able to express how we are feeling. And equally important, we all need to have someone who will not only ask the question, “How are you?”, but will also listen for the answer. Maggie would call this person a “loving listener”. We don’t need to solve the emotion. There is nothing to solve. We don’t need to offer solutions, simply empower the person to find their own solutions.
Three words: how are you
They are the key that could unleash the power of emotional health which could very well lead to emotional health and good mental healing.
If someone were to ask you, “How are you feeling today?” what / how would you answer?