I finally got to register for my vaccination a few weeks ago and, as I did so, I also registered a strange new feeling – emotion. Tears sprang to my eyes as I imagined what it might feel like to be vaccinated, to feel some kind of beginning-of-the-end to this whole pandemic. I realised, with that unexpected surge of feeling, that I haven’t actually registered very much at all on the emotional scale this past year.
Like many people, I have had to deal with lots of emotional highs and lows during the pandemic. There were sorrowful moments (my mum died) and joyful moments (I got a book deal), and yet all of these experiences were marked by a strange inability to feel.
Bearing witness is a huge part of processing our emotions. If we can’t bear witness to major events and rites of passage in our lives, sometimes they can feel unreal, almost as if they haven’t really happened. It comes back to that old philosophical conundrum – if a tree falls in a wood and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound?
For me, it feels as if I have pressed pause on my emotions, powered down my feelings and put them into the hyper sleep chamber until it is safe to let them out again, whenever that might be. And it’s not just me. One friend told me that since their father died (abroad), sometimes the realisation that he is dead takes them by surprise.
Another friend, who also lost a parent recently, told me that they have yet to cry. It’s like we’re all lumbering around, pregnant with our big bubbles of feelings, just waiting for our emotional waters to break.
I’m not generally a very expressive person. I’m that particular variety of Irish person who would rather let their emotions eat them alive from the inside out than actually express a feeling. I leave hair salons with bad haircuts saying, “Thanks, I love it, here’s your tip!” I have terrible meals in restaurants and say nothing about it. Better to just keep it all inside, I think. But I have learned through bitter experience that burying your feelings can be like negotiating emotional landmines.
By the end of the class I felt like someone had opened the top of my skull and all of my feelings were flying out through this newly discovered sunroof
I once signed up for a yoga workshop and asked a friend to come along for moral support. She refused, saying yoga made her cry. I had never heard such rubbish in my life and I told her so, scoffing at her melodramatic womanly ways.
I went to the yoga workshop alone, and by the end of the class I felt like someone had opened the top of my skull and all of my feelings were flying out through this newly discovered sunroof. I stepped out of the yoga studio and promptly burst into tears.
I cried all the way home. I cried all the way through my post-yoga shower. I cried for a solid hour. It was like someone had opened the Ghostbusters ghost prison and liberated every last spectre.
Obviously, I complained to the yoga teacher. I can live with a bad meal, a bad haircut even, but I can’t be having emotions slip out willy-nilly like that. He just laughed and told me that crying was a natural response to the release of emotions that came with hip-opening yoga poses.
If you’re a represser, like me, there can be a surprising amount of emotions stored in the hips. Years’ worth, it seemed, in my case. Naturally, I had to apologise to my friend who had told me that yoga makes you cry. I believe this is called instant karma.
Most of us couldn’t even finish reading a book this year, let alone process our feelings. It’s hard to register our emotions, even the small, everyday ones, when there is a giant existential nightmare hovering over everything. And that might be why I haven’t engaged much with either the good or the bad things that have happened in the past year.
But packing our feelings away instead of engaging with them is never a great way to deal with them. It’s like wearing a pair of Spanx – the fat/emotion will always work its way up and over the waistband, and usually at the most inopportune moment.
Emotions can just keep coming, like the “storage full” message on my iPhone, they will never actually be cleared. All we can hope to do is clear enough space for the next messy emotion waiting to come along.
Life is joy. Life is sorrow. Life is pain. Emotion is unavoidable. For those like me, who have found it difficult to feel anything through all of this, it’s worth bearing in mind that joy is coming again. Pain is coming too. Tears are inevitable. But to be able to feel the joy once more, to feel the pain too, to let the tears flow will be progress because it means that we will have returned to a level of normality where we feel safe enough to engage with our emotions again.
My teary response to the vaccination registration was a timely reminder that I have quite a few emotions on ice in the cold store and that it might be a good idea to bring a packet of tissues with me to the vaccination centre… just in case I get something in my eye.