I realised that I have problems regulating stress and my emotions, only sometime in the last couple of years. This reminds me of the time when I told an ex-colleague I may have chronic anxiety – she looked at me with her eyes wide open expressing her surprise that I didn’t know it earlier. In case you didn’t know too, most people don’t spend most of their lives worrying incessantly, neither do they have an impending sense of doom plaguing them. People tend to attribute behaviour with character, and character seems to be perceived as an inborn thing, so I thought being a worrier with my emotions flying all over the place and having a particularly short fuse was my character.
I think it was reading A General Theory of Love that made me learn the concept of emotional regulation. Due to a myriad of factors, some people may not develop the full capacity to regulate their emotions, so they suffer from emotional dysregulation. One of the tell-tale signs is that people like us are unable to calm ourselves down when we are upset, or we go from a zero to ten in response to a trigger. Just like how people develop diabetes from the body’s inability to regulate insulin, the nervous systems of people with emotional dysregulation are unable to regulate the flood of hormones that get triggered due to stressful factors.
What I hypothesise for myself is that I somehow managed to nurture the ability to repress that extreme response in inappropriate situations like work, as in I look unruffled or perhaps just mildly upset, but the meltdown and hormonal reactions take place internally within my psyche and body. After months and years of biting down these reactions, I developed chronic hormonal imbalances which lead to chronic illnesses, on top of burnout and breakdowns.
When one is used to being anxious and stressed all the time, we don’t actually notice it. So for years I was baffled why I kept burning out, kept falling sick, because consciously, I felt fine, thriving even. But unfortunately, age does catch up, the body gradually loses its ability to bounce back and one day, everything falls apart.
Now, I have become more attuned to my body and how it feels, so I have also become a lot more aware when my body is having a stress response. It has become both amusing and disturbing at the same time, because I am capable of observing the reaction and yet there is nothing I can do to stop it. I am more aware of emotional stress than physical and environmental stress, so sometimes it still surprises me when I suffer a relapse due to physical over-exertion. I notice my body is chronically tense and almost nothing except an intense massage can relieve it. It is not just my mind that is unable to relax, my body is in vigilant mode all the time even if I am doing nothing particularly stressful.
I am not very good at taking care of myself yet. I lack the awareness to know when is enough, especially because I was conditioned to believe nothing I do is enough or that I am not trying hard enough. So I tend to push myself to extremes, because I don’t know where is the range of moderation. I still don’t. It is a very slow trial and error, plus reconditioning process.
Sometimes I get really really tired of doing this. This is not something doctors know how to fix, if they take you seriously in the first place. They don’t consider the complex chain of hormonal reactions taking place in the body, they just want to treat the symptom and get over with it. I have been appalled by how doctors are fixated on what they have been taught 30 years ago and how they refuse to consider more recent developments in medical research. If I have migraines, chronic dry eyes, PMS and chronic mental health disorders, I have to see four different specialists, three of whom will simply give me painkillers.
(In case if you wonder why don’t I just take painkillers and get on with life, there was a period when I did take them regularly for my migraines and one day they stopped working, and then nothing else worked, except traditional chinese medicine, thankfully.)
So some days, I feel horribly trapped in this body. It doesn’t matter what other blessings I have in other areas of my life when I feel something stabbing the insides of my eye a few days a month if I am lucky, coupled with two weeks of low energy because of PMS, and everyday out-of-control stress reactions to a multitude of stimuli. Then I feel guilt for feeling this suffering because other people have it worse, and of course people seem to like to remind me of that though gratitude for my circumstances will not make my pain go away. I have internalised this accusation that I’m ungrateful, so I have developed an immense hatred for myself: I am so weak, I should try harder, I am a burden, my suffering is so insignificant.
All of this just makes me want to disappear. Since I am still lucid I do not want to cause suffering for people who care about me I cannot voluntarily end my own life, but to me it is sad that I cannot find other reasons to keep myself alive apart from the feelings of other people. I try to convince myself philosophically, that to know whether life is worth living or not requires me to be alive till the end, and that my current self cannot deprive my future self of the opportunities to know. That I can still be curious to see who I’ll become, even if I remain ambivalent to life for the rest of my life. I tell myself that even though the process is slow, I have become better at managing myself and my life. Some other days the injustice and absurdity of this world overwhelms me, and all my reasoning falls short. I tell myself perhaps the most I can do, is to bear witness, to the suffering of others and myself, to the unfolding, even if it is tragic.
I am contemplating whether to continue publishing this journal. I don’t want to whine at this corner of the internet while people are losing their lives and eyes in trying to protect the life they know. I am also thinking of going completely off social media, to reduce the amount of stimuli that will potentially trigger me. I guess if I can’t disappear off the face of the world, the very least I can do is to disappear off most of it. In parallel I am also curious to see if I can implement the ways of monastic life in my own home. It is not about following religion or rules set by a religious order, but rather making the intentional space for silence and contemplation. I am also wondering if reducing potential triggers as much as possible would give my body the time and space it needs to heal. I will feel guilty for not participating, but at this point I am not sure if my participation is a net positive to the world. I will probably still work on publishing book reviews, my research findings and the personal learning library.
I am not sure yet. I will miss the internet, and you – whoever have been reading my writing for this long. Thank you for making this world a less lonely place for me.
Subscribe to my tinyletter if you want to be updated, in the scenario I no longer post updates on social media.