Discovering emotional galaxies


Our brains and bodies are such an intricate, always changing mystery; each individual consisting of their own personal universe – much of it yet to be explored or understood.  And like the actual universe we live in, our own internal universes are always growing, changing, and building on what was and what is coming.  I recently listened to a Radiolab podcast that surmised the center of the universe we live in is always changing as well, as it continues to grow and change, there becomes a new center.  They are discovering it is like a living being, which is crazy astounding to me and I won’t get into all that now, but maybe someday I will nerd out real hard and spill my thoughts about the universe.  Muriel Rukeyser claims “The universe is made of stories, not atoms.”  Which I particularly like, being a story-teller myself.  I feel like the same  uncertainty which applies to the unbridled, ever-expansive universe, is particularly true when it comes to the expansive and uncharted galaxies of our feelings and emotions.  Not only do other people misinterpret our feelings and emotions, but if we’re honest, we do too – which is totally weird, because they’re our feelings.

I’ve been reading a good deal of Dr. Brene Brown’s work on shame and vulnerability, ok… truth is I have read nearly all her books – and the research she has done on how we respond and react to life and each other is insanely profound.  There’s so much I have to learn about the galaxy that is my own brain and the expansive star system of my heart.  I have willingly become an amateur astronaut to the unknown and misunderstood orbits of the planets within myself.  With Dr. Brown as my “Houston”, among many other authors, teachers, faith & life lessons I believe I am beginning to get a map of how this all works – or at least begin to chart one small corner of the map of my own emotional galaxy.

An Observation:

Last weekend I took my son to an indoor trampoline place for his 7th Birthday Party (early).  This place is nuts, dozens of trampolines, obstacle courses, and foam pits.  It was a lovely cacophony of sweaty children and adults flying through the air and testing their gravitational limits.  We had a blast.  At a certain point I noticed a woman in a foam pit frantically throwing foam cubes and shouting.  I approached the edge and another woman was standing there watching her, so I asked what was wrong.  The woman standing on the edge replied that the lady in the foam pit had lost her glasses.  It was clear the woman in the pit was panicked and upset – and no one was helping her.  The pit was probably 4 feet deep and the length and width of two swimming pools filled with large foam cubes.  Finding her glasses seemed unlikely, but I jumped in anyway.  I approached her, touched her shoulder and asked what her glasses looked like.  She screamed at me “I handed the glasses to my daughter to hold, but then she jumped in, dropped them and now they’re lost!  They are my only pair!  I have to find them!”  I gently asked again what they looked like and then reassured her I was going to help her find them.  “They’re brown!!!  I’m claustrophobic!!!”  And at that she quickly wiggled her way out of the foam pit, didn’t look back and stormed off stomping her feet, brushing past sweaty, unsuspecting bouncers  Her daughter returned to the pit and jumped in with me to search for the glasses.  Many people stood on the edge watching us.  Eventually I found them – somehow I knew I would.  I wiggled out of the pit, so did the woman’s daughter.  I handed the glasses over and that was that.

My boyfriend, Tim approached me, asking what had happened and I explained the situation.  “Why did she storm off so angry?” he wanted to know.  “She said she was claustrophobic.” I explained.  “Oh, man.”  he said.

Ten minutes or so later this woman (now wearing her brown glasses) ran up to me and thanked me over and over for jumping in the pit and helping her find her glasses.  We embraced, and then with hands still on each other’s shoulders, looked into each other’s eyes and just smiled.  “Of course.” I said.  And that was that.  I returned to bouncing with my kids and friends and she returned to her family.  But since, I haven’t been able to stop thinking about what happened and how it effected me.

First….I think anger can be a poser.  What looked and sounded like anger (the woman screaming at me and storming off stomping her feet) was ultimately fear.  She was afraid of two things: 1. having lost her only pair of glasses, and 2. she was claustrophobic – which is the fear of having no escape or being trapped in a small or tight space. It often results in a severe panic attack.  I have suffered from panic attacks myself and been around others who have had them, so I am familiar with their nature and how they make people behave.  It is not rational and it is not pretty.  In this case what was really fear appeared to be anger.

Several years ago I had a counselor explain that nearly all people are either fear-driven or anger-driven by nature, and they do not match up as you might think.  Fear-driven individuals respond to troubling stimuli with anger, and anger-driven individuals respond to troubling stimuli with fear.  This PhD therapist explained that if one feels safe enough to approach an individual who appears to be very angry, try asking them what they are afraid of and see what happens.  This may sound terrifying and entirely impossible, as it did and still does to me.  But even if we cannot ask verbally, we can assume the anger is a front to some big, scary fears the person is dealing with subconsciously.  To verbally admit our fears is to venture into the unknown waters of vulnerability, and to most people vulnerability is more terrifying than lashing out in anger.  Displaying anger makes us feel in control and powerful; like we have everything under control and we can handle it.  It’s loud and aggressive, assertive and bold.  Fear makes us feel scared (duh) and vulnerable; we appear and feel weak and cowardly.  So naturally our subconscious (what I call my inner ninja) takes over, anger shows up to self-protect and tries to over-power our fears with a big show yelling:”Hell no I’m not scared!  That’s stupid poppycock for pussies!  I’m a strong-ass Muthereffer, I got this.  Watch me be big and awesome and whoop fear’s ass and anyone else who gets in my way!!!!  RRRAAWWWWRRRRR!!!!”

Cute, right?  God, no.

But the thing is….our subconscious mind, the self-protecting part, the part that we’re not entirely conscious of, the part we don’t completely have control of even though we think we do….that part of the mind is the one putting on the anger show, and we don’t usually realize what a monkey’s ass it’s made of us until later.  Because what’s really behind the wheel driving is fear, but the passenger, anger grabs the wheel thinking fear is going to screw it all up and make us look weak.

But what a concept!  Oh my gosh!  What if we could see that most visible anger is really fear-based, then what a different approach might we have with one another; with ourselves!?  There’s so much hate and anger and rage in the world, I believe if put under a psychological microscope would reveal underneath the hard, ugly shell of hate and anger and rage was a beautiful someone who is scared – scared to lose something, scared to not be treated as an equal, scared to die, scared to live vulnerably, scared to be hurt, scared to be rejected, scared to give up, scared to be seen for what they really are, scared that they’re a failure, scared of what others may think, scared to get taken advantage of, scared. Scared.  Scared.

But it isn’t just the world at large – it’s you and me and our families.  When you get angry with your children or employees or family members, what is the fuel?  Ask yourself “What am I afraid of?”  I think everyone’s initial knee-jerk reaction is “Psshh.  I’m not scared of nuthin’!”  Because we are trying to avoid the big sea of vulnerability.  Or we think psychoanalysis is mumbo-jumbo and yeah maybe some people need to analyze their feelings and shit, but not me….I’m good.  I don’t need to dig deep into myself.  It’s fine.  I’m fine.  All that therapist-ish is for people who’ve had huge traumatic things happen to them – but me?!  Nah, I’m good.  Look, I’ve made it this far and can obviously handle it all myself.  I’m strong and self-sufficient.  I read my Bible sometimes and go to church and do my yoga and all is well and fine and right and fine.  I can swallow my feelings, been doing it my whole life and maybe deal with them later, or they just get pooped out, right?  Like everything else I eat.  Huh?  What’s that?  My childhood?  Oh, I mean….it was fine.  But uh…did you watch the game yesterday?!  What?  How’s my family?  My job?  My marriage?  Am I afraid of anything?  Uh….look I told you – I’m fine.  It’s all good.  Nothing’s perfect, you know….but it’s all good.

Oh.  Is it though?

I want to live a whole-hearted life.  I want to be someone who is real.  There’s a lot of talk of authenticity these days and it’s kind of nauseating because it shows up on my feed as the caption to a flawless Instagram photo.  -vom-  Sure great it’s a nice photo – but that’s not real life ya’ll.  I don’t have anything against social media – it’s a nice, small glimpse into people’s lives – but only that; a very, very small glimpse.  I don’t assume I actually know what’s really going on with anyone I follow unless I keep in touch with them – in real life.  And here’s the deal.  I think everyone is cool with standing on the edge of someone’s life.  Taking in what they can see from that very, very limited perspective and making assumptions, or having opinions.  Because it’s comfortable.  Nothing, absolutely nothing is required of you.  But from experience there aren’t many who are willing to jump into the pit with you.

I use the word pit to circle back to my story about the panicked woman at the trampoline place, but I also say pit because for a lot of people – our lives may feel a bit like a pit.  Especially if you’re grieving, healing, lost, broken, sad, angry, in transition, rejected or just in need of a job, or a car, or money, or a break, for God’s sake!  In my experience, most people stand on the edge of the pit and discuss the struggle they see you having.  Like the first woman I approached.  She told me the lady had lost her glasses and then she stepped back and just watched.

I don’t really do New Year’s resolutions, but I did decide this year I want to be a jumper.  See a need – fill a need.  Just do it.  So I did.  I jumped in.  It seemed entirely unlikely that we would find her glasses but I was determined to help anyway.  I believe one of the main reasons people don’t jump in the pit is because they’re afraid of sitting with the discomfort of another.  Or they’re unsure of what to do or how to handle it.  Or they’re just afraid in general.  Afraid of their own safety, their own reputation, afraid of messing up their makeup, whatever.  Which I get.  Someone in a panicked state is not logical or rational and it can be extremely uncomfortable to be with them, or even know how to assist.  Someone who is grieving is the same.  Also, those who are lost, broken, sad, angry, in transition, or just in need of a break.  To jump into the pit with these people is risky and carries a high probability that anything could happen; good or bad.  The people who jump are usually the ones who have already decided – what do I have to lose?  What do I have to be afraid of?

I know this.  I am in the pit.  Sifting through a lot.  And those who have jumped in with me, sat with me, cried with me, laughed with me, made me dinner, or just held me through some really shitty moments; you are my heroes.  Through my own difficult, personal experiences and those beautiful, brave friends who have sat with me through the discomforts, I have decided to be a jumper myself.  Because, really….what do I have to lose?

I am not swayed by your anxiety or your depression.  I can sit with the discomfort because I am familiar with it and know that we need one another in it’s midst, and I know it will not last forever.  This too shall pass.  You are neither burden nor bad news.  Your feelings have feelings.  You are and always will be beautiful and beloved no matter what you are going through, what has happened to you, or what you have lost.  No matter what feelings you are feeling, you are still you and this will not be how you feel forever.

I believe life can be both miraculously brilliant and blindingly miserable at the same time.  But to have people jump into the pit with me, (with you) can help soften the darker days.  To see people as afraid instead of angry changes my approach.  If I take a second to apply the question to the behavior I can ask “They look super angry, but what could they be afraid of?”  It makes room for the benefit of the doubt.  It makes room for grace and not judgement.  It makes room for me to jump into the pit and offer help and assure someone they’re not alone.  Because isn’t that what we’re all hoping for?  To know we aren’t alone?  To believe we are worthy of love?  We are worthy of someone jumping into the pit with us?  That we are worthy of belonging?  Because once someone jumps in with you – then you’re no longer alone.  You belong.

Unfortunately, it seems there will be people who only stand at the edge and just stare and tell others about your difficulties.  When your struggle seems less dramatic or attention-worthy they get bored and walk away – because what’s there to talk about?  But listen to me, do not waste your time or energy worrying about them, what they’re saying, why they aren’t jumping in with you, or helping or doing anything other than talking about you.  It’s not worth your emotional well-being.  Focus on you, your loved ones and your own personal journey to wholeness.  Those who are in the pit with you care – you can be assured because they jumped in.

Despite the on-lookers, make a choice to stay focused.  Choose to navigate the sea of vulnerability.

The irony is that we attempt to disown our difficult stories to appear more whole or more acceptable, but our wholeness, even our whole-heartedness depends on the integration of all of our experiences, including the falls. – Dr. Brene Brown from Rising Strong

Let’s stop masking our fears with hate and anger and judgement and gossip.  Be honest about what you’re afraid of.  Face the vulnerable places, set free the stories and feelings you’ve had locked up in there and give them voices and validation.  We can’t find our wholeness until we integrate it all: joys, successes, failures, losses, everything.  Don’t disown the hard stuff.  We need to stop carefully applying our anger & judgement make-up to conceal our fears and vulnerabilities.  There’s way too much anger, hatred and judgement polluting the atmosphere.  I’ve been choking on it for years and years and I’m tired of how sick it made me.

I’ve got my astronaut suit on and I’m exploring the universe of myself.  Why do I cry when I cry?  Why do I get angry when I get angry?  What am I afraid of and why?  How can I love more?  How can I serve more?  What holds me back?  How can I get past this?  What else can I do to release more love and more kindness and more positive vibes into my family, my community, to those who despise and dislike me, and ultimately into the world?  Just like the NASA explorers who did not give up researching whether there was ever water or life on Mars, I too will not give up searching the craters on my own soul, to try and understand their origins.  Explore your own galaxies.  Build your own map – make it a priority to discover the planets, comets, star systems and black holes of yourself; your feelings.  The only person you can change is yourself.  If you don’t even know where to start, peel off your pride and go see a therapist.  I have been seeing counselors for over 7 years – no shame here.  Read books.  Lots and lots of books.  Open your mind and assume that maybe you have a lot to learn.  That maybe, just maybe all your “ultimate truth principles and beliefs” might not be so ultimate.  “Sometimes your belief system is really your fears attached to rules.” – Shannon L. Adler   Don’t be afraid to learn something new.  Don’t be afraid to be wrong.  Don’t be afraid to step out of the box, or ask who built this box  anyway, or ask do I even want to be in a box?

Start by being honest with yourself.  Then see a therapist and be honest with them.  Then you can see who else is being honest, and if they are a safe place, ask them to jump in the pit with you and share your honesties together.  Integrate all of you; everything that has happened to you.  I believe the most important decision one can ever make is the decision to journey into their own whole-heartedness.  And that decision must happen every damn day.

Your vision will become clear only when you can look into your own heart.  Who looks outside dreams; who looks inside, awakes. – Carl Jung

These books have been massively helpful throughout my journey:

  • The Gifts of Imperfection – Dr. Brene Brown
  • Daring Greatly – Dr. Brene Brown
  • Rising Strong – Dr. Brene Brown
  • Help.  Thanks.  Wow. – Anne Lamott
  • Stitches – Anne Lamott
  • Loving What Is – Byron Katie
  • You Are A Badass – Jen Sincero
  • The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up – Marie Kondo

And here’s the Radiolab podcast about space that turned my brain into mush and planted a bunch of curious seeds.

*These are the books on my wish-list that I’d like to read, and ahem…tomorrow is my Birthday wink wink*

  • Big Magic – Elizabeth Gilbert
  • Small Victories – Anne Lamott
  • A Year of Yes – Shonda Rhimes
  • The Alchemist – Paulo Coelho
  • Healing Through the Dark Emotions – Miriam Greenspan
  • The Storytelling Animal – Jonathan Gottschall
  • Writing to Heal – James W. Pennebaker
  • The Dance of Connection -Harriet Lerner
  • Women and Shame – Dr. Brene Brown
  • I Thought it Was Just Me – Dr. Brene Brown
  • The Places That Scare You – Pema Chodron

I’m not a therapist or a counselor, but I can listen and if you need advice, ask and I would be open to trying to help.  I refuse to believe we go through shitty things just have merely survived them.  I think our stories can connect us, give us belonging, make us feel less alone.   Empathy is the antidote to shame.  You are not alone.  Share your story.  Let’s connect.




2 Replies to “Discovering emotional galaxies”

  1. Wow, Jessie!!! This was so good. Beyond deep. “See a need – fill a need.”
    (I loved Robots)
    But on a serious note…. this is amazing. Heart pain is such an ugly thing. Difficult to come to terms with. It hurts, its scary, yet it’s necessary. Looking up from the pit seeing how many a standing around looking at you is daunting. Especially when you see maybe 1 or 2 who are actually in the pit with you. Thank you for this. For what it’s worth, I’d gladly jump in your pit should you ever need a leg-up. ❤

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