Knowing me the funk, which I have learned to call general crabbiness, would last about a day. Then things would pick up. I would start to get cheerful. I might even treat myself to a little something, a celebratory doughnut. A cookie. A cheer-me-up mocha frappuccino.
That at least was how I knew to deal with what was going on in my head in the past.
Eat first, ask questions after the second or third course. Possibly over dessert. Or never.
Just eating made me feel better, and since I was convinced there was no way I could handle my emotions themselves let alone, God forbid, the problems that were causing them, I had learned to cope using chocolate syrup. Pizza. Beer. Cake. Lots of cake. Sometimes with ice cream.
Since I had been spackling in my problems with food all my life I had become an expert at ignoring them, and the ensuing melancholy that accompanied them.
I had become so good at it I didn't even recognize, couldn't name, didn't really have a word for (at least not one that I would or even could say aloud) what I was dealing with. This is how it worked:
A problem occurred.
This caused an emotionally painful sensation.
I, Believing with my whole heart and soul that I was completely destructible, utterly incapable, and lacking in any brand of emotional fortitude, would begin to feel helpless. Frustrated. Disappointed with myself and the whole situation.
I would then begin the long process of trying to talk myself out of feeling anything at all. It was irrational to feel anxious about whatever the problem was.
It was furthermore silly of me to get so frustrated over such a small thing.
On this I would come to the conclusion that I was acting ridiculous. The problem would resolve itself or not. Feeling rotten over it would not help. I should buck up. I should pick myself up by the seat of my pants. I should stand tall. Pull myself together. Stop acting like such a pansy. Stop Feeling Whatever I Was Feeling Because it Wasn't Helping. It Was Not Reasonable. It Defied Logic to Feel That Way.
Because feelings of course, ought to be reasonable, rational and logical. Just being feelings is never enough.
And then I would cheer right up. For five minutes. And then I would feel lousy again. And ashamed of feeling lousy. And guilty for giving in to the melancholy. And disappointed...
And very soon happier for the bit of chocolate I'd sampled at the store. In fact what would really make me feel better would be a much larger piece of chocolate. Cake. With ice cream. Maybe I would call a friend to go with me and the resulting guilt would be lessened for the fact that I had not just eaten enough for a small South American farm village by Myself.
And now another problem had arisen, but at least the initial one was further away and less prominent and all those scary emotions that I just KNEW I wasn't capable of dealing with were a lot quieter.
So the simple version:
Feel lousy about the problem.
Pass judgment on myself for feeling the unpreventable, inevitable, natural (however rational or not) emotions that had arisen out of the problem.
Feel lousier about the problem AND about myself.
Slip into an incurable funk.
Call someone to share in the misery and the cure: something with more calories than Michael Phelps eats in a week.
30 plus years of dealing with my problems (yes, I even learned how to call them challenges or opportunities, but the new name did not change the prescribed cure) this way had made me not only unable to cope with my emotions in any other way, but utterly unable to even Identify them. Some of the uglier ones, the ones I felt were my irrational self behaving irrationally, the ones I was time and time again telling myself were wrong, those I wouldn't even admit, not even to myself, that I would ever feel: you're not supposed to be ashamed of yourself, that's an old fashioned notion; it's wrong to feel guilty, guilt is for Catholics; anxiety is irrational and reserved for neurotic characters in Woody Allen movies; fear is for pansies; loneliness is for people who aren't self sufficient and independent.
When I finally started reading about some of the main instigators in emotional eating - fear, anxiety, depression, loneliness, shame, guilt, helplessness, disappointment - I realized I had got so good at ignoring them, talking myself out of them and finally frosting them over with cake and ice cream that I Couldn't Even Put a Name To Them.
I felt bad. I ate. That was all I knew.
One of the books I read asked me to remember a time I felt ashamed. I had to go all the way back to when I was seven or eight. Then I remembered what it felt like. Then I could identify times all throughout my life when I'd felt that way. I finally realized that shame, despite all the rationalization, all the judgments I'd passed on myself for feeling something unreasonable, had Nonetheless taken up considerable time, space and energy throughout my life.
The book went on to pose the question whether, in all those times I'd felt that way, had I worried that, if I admitted to feeling that way, I might somehow see myself as less strong, less courageous. More fragile.
Yes. I had to admit, I sometimes thought my emotions would leap out of their locked up, chocolate covered high security cabinet and strangle me. Choke me right to death. Yes, I thought I was not strong enough to deal with something as big and powerful as shame. Or guilt. Or anxiety. Fear, disappointment. Helplessness, loneliness.
The book posed another question:
Had all my efforts at judgment, rationalization and self soothing in the form of food ever made the problem Or the emotion go away?
So I Had actually eventually coped. Had it killed me as I'd thought it might? Had those things leapt out and strangled me?
No. I had to admit. They hadn't.
In the end, all the reasoning, rationalizing and finally eating had just gotten in the way of what I had ended up doing anyway: coping.
They had given me a reprieve, but not let me off the hook.
So now, when I find myself saying, "I shouldn't feel disappointed just because...." I realize that regardless of whether I should, I am.
Whenever I find myself manically reaching for morsels of things around the house, trawling the cupboards for something less bloody healthy, opening the freezer just one more time to see if any ice cream has magically appeared there, I take a break. I try to identify what crack I am trying to spackle shut. Sometimes I have to visualize another time when I've felt this way and try to put a name on the thing.
I identify the sensation.
Then I wonder what might be causing me to feel that way.
I identify the problem causing the sensation.
Then I make phone calls. I get on google. I go to the library. Or maybe I just need soothing and cheering up. And then I go see Gramma.
Mostly I remember to have faith. I am not going to die of disappointment. There's been plenty of that in my life and in 36 years it hasn't killed me.
I'm not going to die from feeling helpless, and shame and guilt, no matter how old fashioned or how non-evangelical do not bite.
In fact, these are normal, natural things I am perfectly able to cope with. Have, in the end, always coped with, no matter how I've staved it off with ham and smoked gouda.
My emotions have a job to do. They let me know when there's a problem. They say something about the nature of the problem. They help motivate me to solve the problem.
They are not irrational. They merely are.
They do not require spackling.
They do require a little faith that I will be able to do no more than what, in the end, I've always come around to doing: cope.
Whole Health Renovation Specialist
"You will be quite amazed to see what you can do when you dont know you can't. You will be downright speechless at what you can do when you know you can." -Me