Dealing With Feelings

  • As the song goes, "Feelings, whoa whoa whoa feelings." I'm not sure who sang that cheesy rendition, yet I'm certain of one thing: feelings come and go, yet are constant in our lives. I had an ex-boss, Laura, who tried to comfort me by saying, "We have the same feelings we had at seven years old." Indeed, our feelings don't change and no new ones have been invented.

    In this blog entry, I want to tackle the topic of dealing with feelings. One thing that greatly aided me in the early years of my recovery was to keep a journal documenting the events in my life and how I felt about what was going on.

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    Five years ago, when I started writing the memoir, I lifted off the top of the chest that doubles as coffee table. I "opened the lid" on three years' worth of journals I kept in loose leaf binders, to mine my writing for material I could use in the book. Only an evocative detail here or there I included, yet the real value in unearthing the journals was far-reaching.

    In black-and-white, I had proof of how the schizophrenia affected me. For four years, I was on 5 mg Stelazine until Dr. Santiago lowered it to 2 mg and then instituted the drug holiday. This was by no means a maintenance dose, yet I prided myself on the low dose. In retrospect, reading the journal entries, I realized I was at the mercy of my moods.

    I wasn't until five years ago-in 2003-when Dr. Altman raised the Stelazine to 10 mg that I stopped having seasonal affective disorder (SAD). For 16 years, I lived with a disabling symptom. Starting in late fall and continuing until the first day of spring, I would be in tears every night for two hours. Who would want to marry a sobbing mess of a woman?

    Re-reading the journals I kept was an eye-opener. Even now I wonder that I had been able to do all I did at such a low dose. Raising the Stelazine to 10 mgs balanced out my moods. The SAD was stopped cold.

    I asked Dr. Altman two weeks ago to define what a mood is, and he said, "It's a state of feeling." I know that had I not kept those journals, I wouldn't be able to contain the feelings that trampled on me. Until the dose change, I had no idea that schizophrenia affects mood, or that it wasn't solely a thought disorder.

    Ah ha-a light went off! It's no coincidence that at the same time I revisited the past. In the end, I recycled the reams of loose leaf paper and tossed the binders in the trash. Round about then, I went home to assess the other journals I'd started keeping in hardbound books after I came home from the hospital in the summer of 1992. From August of that year until 2005, I'd been writing prolifically, and had at least 100 journals stored in my parents basement.

    "Out, out," I told Mom, who trashed them, too.

    Nowadays, I write in 3-subject spiral notebooks, and keep on hand only two or three of the most recent. I hope I haven't deterred you-keeping a journal-literally, a journey of days-is a great way not only to reconcile your feelings and tackle problems, but to find your voice.

  • For women, I recommend, if it's still in print, Marlene Schiwy's book, A Voice of Her Own: Women and the Journal Writing Journey. It may be available in a public library if it's out of print, or your local library could try to order it from a lender outside the system on what's called interlibrary loan.

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    Today, my notebooks remain the workhorses of mood management. I use them as a tool to get a handle on what I'm feeling. More than that, I write notes in the margins about blog topics, and keep tabs on my finances, tallying up figures or writing down purchases on-deck.

    Back in the 1990s, I needed the journals more than I do now. That is, they were my sole writing activity, and I wrote in them every day. It served me well in those years I worked in business and felt displaced from my true calling. I didn't know what that calling was, but I knew what I didn't want: to spend the rest of my life warming a chair in a cubicle.

    Right now, as I jot this blog entry down, I take my temperature: feelings are cloudy with a chance of rain. In the latest incarnation of my journal, I often reiterate messages, like notes to myself that are generic yet spur me on in times of distress:

    "I feel as I do, and that's okay."

    "It's going to be fine."

    "I can handle it."

    The act of journaling is a self-fulfilling prophecy.

    Now, I have no intention of being a high-profile magazine editor. The schizophrenia took that and other things away from me.

    Always, I'm a realist-and so I use the journal to make peace with the diagnosis. I tell myself often, "I have schizophrenia. That is what life handed me," as a way to cope.

    Also, I repeat another mantra, "It's never going to be perfect, and there's always going to be stuff." In the course of one journal writing session, I could write these words over and over.

    Dealing with the stuff of life-by getting a handle on our feelings-is the healthiest way to recover.

    I want you to know I read everyone's SharePosts regularly, and you are an inspiration to me. I hope you receive as much as you give.

    Now excuse me, I must get ready for work. I can't get that cheesy song about feelings out of my head.

Published On: August 28, 2008