Hide and Seek

I tend to wear my heart on my sleeve. I feel my emotions pretty strongly and have never been good at hiding how I’m feeling. Even if I don’t speak it, my facial expressions and body language often give me away.

One time in college, while hanging out with a group of friends, one of them said something that apparently upset me. I didn’t respond, but another friend came up to me later on and asked if I was OK. As she described it, “you looked like she had just killed your puppy.” I can only imagine my expression, and I had never even owned a puppy back then.

It’s probably a good thing I don’t like poker very much.

Emotions are a fascinating thing. They can be triggered by just about anything- a major event or a minor occurrence, a conversation or a passing comment, a nagging worry or a fleeting thought. Two different people can say the same exact thing to us, but we receive the words entirely differently in terms of how we feel. With the same words, one person can evoke our appreciation while the other evokes our aggravation. Everybody is different in the way our emotions are triggered, as well as in the way we handle them.

I typically think of myself as a logical person, at least most of the time. I’ve written before about how numbers are comforting to me because they represent something concrete and definable. They make sense to me.

And then, on the other hand, there are emotions, which are almost the exact opposite.

How do you measure happiness? Sadness? Anger? Frustration? Perhaps on a scale of 1-10 (notice, again, the usefulness of numbers). We use scales like this to quantify the unquantifiable in a relatable way, but being an “8" amount of happy is still a very subjective thing. A “10” on the anger scale of a relatively calm person may only be a “4” on the scale of a person with more of a temper.

In terms of mental health diagnoses, how can a person with an anxiety disorder like OCD convey just how anxious they feel? What if a scale of 1-10 isn’t enough to contain the overwhelming feeling of their anxiety? What if my anxiety feels like a "12," like it's pushing past my threshold to cope with it?

I’ve been trying really hard lately to figure this out for myself. I’ve been working on self-expression in several aspects, this blog being one of them. In exploring this part of myself, I’ve come to realize that as much as I think I rely on logic, my emotions play a large role in the way I communicate.

When a concept makes sense to me but not to somebody else, I try to help them understand it better. This probably explains why for the last 10 years, teaching has been my profession. However, I’ve found that I have very strong feelings about my own personal logic behind the way I do things, and when that gets called into question, I feel very strongly that I need to defend myself.

For someone to question the nature of my intentions is essentially to set off an inner battle between my logical and my emotional self. In these instances, I go into what I equate as being my own personal “fight or flight” response. This usually starts out with me calmly stating logical points, but the longer these go misunderstood, my frustration and anxiety build into a heightened emotional state that detracts from what might otherwise be a perfectly valid argument.

Several family members can attest to the fact that I’ve got “fight” in me; I’ve either fiercely come to their defense or fiercely opposed them at some point or another. Because my response is so strong, I normally try very hard to reserve this for the people closest to me. While I’m proud to defend those I care about, defending myself only adds to the intensity, and I don't particularly love the intensity behind many of these conflicts.

I feel like what I just described is a fairly standard example of “fight or flight,” but I also feel that there’s more to it than that. See, in the instances above (aka when I’m angry and defensive), I’m not particularly shy about voicing my perspective. There are other times when I feel just as strongly about other things, but those things don’t elicit the same defensive reaction from me, like when I’m feeling sad.

It’s fair to say that both cases represent states of vulnerability. The difference is that in moments of sadness, I don’t particularly feel that the term “fight or flight” is entirely accurate. Instead, I feel it’s something different, something I would describe as “hide and seek.”

In moments of anger, I try to balance logic and emotion. In moments of sadness, the logic practically disappears like it’s in hiding. In both cases I usually feel misunderstood, but the reaction in my brain is very, very different. My anger tends to reflect more outwardly, while my sadness reflects itself inwards.

That’s not to say I’m always open with my anger- I do try to protect others from it because frankly, I don’t like that side of me and I fear that it will drive them away. To clarify, I would never physically hurt somebody and I don’t see myself as an intimidating person. In fact, I find it upsetting when others are intimidated by me when I truly do mean well. That still doesn’t change the fact that passionate expressions of anger from someone of my stature (6 foot 2 inches tall, broad-shouldered, and well over 200 pounds at the moment) can be interpreted as "intimidating."

Nonetheless, as much as I try to hide it, expressing my anger still comes much more easily than expressing sadness. I’m much more up front about my anger and seek ways to express it, either by defending my point of view or through other methods like exercising or listening to rock music. With sadness, I retreat and become very quiet. Many times what I actually want is to be reached out to, even though I may deflect initial questions and seem disinterested or dismissive. What I’m really feeling is, “I’m lost. Please come find me.”

It sounds silly to me when I explain it that way, but for whatever reason, this is what happens inside my mind. I share this because I believe communication is extremely important, especially when trying to help others understand our emotions. They require the attention of others, but more importantly, the attention of ourselves. They require words and expressions of sound, color and movement that are not quite quantifiable by numbers.

I believe that in order to understand our feelings, we must find ways to express them, even if it’s just for ourselves. Identify what you feel, how you react, and what you need in those moments. And trust me, you may not be able to figure out what you need right away- this takes time.

Take time to yourself if you need it. Ask for support from others if you need it. Color, draw, write, paint, sing, dance, run, lift, cook, clean, sleep if you need it. But certainly don’t give up on trying to figure out what you need.

The answers are there, even if they’re deep in hiding.

Seek them.

What do you need most when you’re feeling happy, sad, angry or frustrated?
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