You Are Not Your Feelings
For the last decade, I’ve occasionally experienced extended bouts of depression — sometimes for weeks, sometimes for months. Emotionally, I just hit a wall and tumble into a whirlpool of negativity. First, I feel bad. Then, I feel mad at myself for feeling bad. Then, I get sad that I was mad at myself for feeling bad…you get it.
During these low times, I used to tell my closest family and friends that I “was” depressed. But, a suggestion from Eckhart Tolle’s book A NEW EARTH offered a life jacket to use during these emotional storms. To paraphrase, he explains that we often attach ourselves to our feelings, and weave them into our identity or ego. In reality, all of our feelings are transitory, coming and going like the tide. Even during my bouts of depression that lasted six months, there were good moments, feelings of gratitude, laughter, and sporadic joy. Tolle writes that we often describe ourselves as BEING something when we are really FEELING something temporarily. Many of us say we are depressed or sad when really we are “experiencing a depression “ or “experiencing a sadness”. By paying attention to our language surrounding feelings, we gain independence from them. The removal of our identity from the negative state we experience can give us enough room to analyze our situation or simply view it with curiosity.
No one wants to feel down, but sometimes it’s an opportunity to examine our lives. As long as we don’t brand ourselves by our emotions, we can look under the surface to course correct. Like a check engine light coming on, a feeling might be a gentle warning that our internal wiring is a bit mixed up. Perhaps we need to talk to a professional. Maybe we need to look at our diet or find a new challenge to stretch ourselves. Sometimes the winds of the universe just blow a random feeling our way for no reason, and by not attaching our being to the emotional cloud we stay a little closer to the light.
(N.B. I understand there is a distinction between clinical/chemical depression and “mood depression”. By the above suggestion, I am not dismissing that some people experience a chemical imbalance that needs to be dealt with by a medical professional. However, I do think this advice I stole from Tolle is useful to most people going through a darker time.)