e(Motion)al Sickness

Do you ever feel like your body is too small to hold all your emotions? You know, those times when your chest burns from trying to contain joy and sorrow at the same instant, and you’re already dizzy from a life that loves to square dance and swing its partners ’round and ’round and ’round?

Just two days ago, I learned that my father-in-law is officially cancer-free. He. Beat. Cancer. Hours later, I heard that my friend’s pregnancy ended far too soon. Her. Baby. Is. Gone.

First elation, then grief.

Three days ago, I landed a crucial, career-boosting meeting only to get home and find that the long-awaited offer on our house had been withdrawn.

Success, followed by disappointment.

But five days ago, I really had perspective on this duality. I was standing in D.C.’s Newseum, poring over an exhibit of Pulitzer Prize-winning photographs. It was the most moving collection I’ve ever seen, and it left me leaking both laughter and tears, feeling like I needed to lie down. Lie down? All I did was look at glossy re-creations of what other people actually lived through.

There were children playing right beside children dying of starvation; unconditional love showcased next to proof of humanity’s incurable darkness. But it wasn’t just the harsh images that rocked me; it was seeing so much anguish and jubilation all jumbled together, and realizing that there really is no separating the two.

Bittersweet isn’t a flavor, it’s a reality.


Yes, my heart was ripped out, but then it was tenderly stitched in again. Then I shuffled down three feet to a new photo, and the knife came back for more blood.

What is this life? How can we fly so high and then fall so fast, over and over, without constant e(motion)al sickness?

This morning, I signed on to Twitter to post the fortune from my Chinese takeout last night. Trivial, quirky, good for a laugh.

Before I could share, I learned about #IAmJada. Rape, humiliation, rising from the ashes.

The human experience amounts to a shining junk heap of love and loss piled senselessly together. There’s no organizing it, no making sense of it, no way to pull out the treasures without brushing against something dirty. So I posted my silly little picture, and seconds later I wrote a message about this morning’s harshest news, and then I went back to work.

61 responses to “e(Motion)al Sickness

  1. This resonates with me today, thank you for your words. I often feel like my body is too small to hold all of my emotions. Glad I’m not alone in that!

    Curious– do you know your Myers Briggs personality type?

    • INFP all the way! There have been times when I’m actually embarrassed by how much I feel for people who I’ve never met, or anguished over tragedies that didn’t really touch my life at all.

      I used to think I needed to feel less, that it was almost rude, somehow, to sit crying over concepts that are other people’s facts. But J told me the reason people love me is precisely because I feel so deeply… in the end, I can’t help thinking more compassion isn’t a bad thing for the world.

    • I have felt more intense emotions in the months since meeting you and our other blog sisters than I had in years. That many smart, passionate women, that many future dreams and past heartbreaks… it feels like our little circle exhibits life, condensed. The sheer amount of living that we do boggles my mind, and to then expand it outward to the whole of the world, all living their own intensely meaningful lives… my head spins.

      • This is why I unplug occasionally. It’s the only way I’ve found to not get completely overwhelmed. There are so many feels out there, and sometimes, I just can’t do it.

        • You and I are alike in this way. It means I’m not always there for the people I care about right when they want to find me, but what good am I to them anyway if I’m always tapped out?

          This is also why I rarely check the news. I want to know the broad strokes of what’s happening in the world, but I can’t take the horrible details the media pushes When there’s nothing I can do to really help, I’d rather not know… I do realize it’s a privilege to have that choice.

          • So much alike. I tend to tell people I’m stepping away. I make it pretty clear. I’ll be there for them, in the ways that I can, but with all my own issues, I’ve got to focus on my emotional well-being.

            It’s sort of like parenting. To be the best mom I can be, I have to take care of myself. It works the same way with friendships.

            And I try to stay up with the news, but sometimes that is too much as well.

  2. Yes…I do feel other people’s joys and pains. To the point that at times I have to step back a couple of steps. Places like the Holocaust Museum in D.C. did that to me. The horrors that those people lived in against the incredible number of rescuers. The incredible number of people killed against the survivors who went on to live good lives. That’s extreme, of course, but all of our lives are full of those moments.

    • My feelings on places like the Holocaust Museum are so convoluted. We have to remember, because it was real, it happened, it shaped humanity as a whole.

      But to stare the pure evil that our species is capable of directly in the eyes is a heavy undertaking for a Saturday afternoon. It always feels flippant to return to normal life after you exit… what are you meant to do after seeing those piles of shoes, after reading about those sacrifices? Grab a coffee at Starbucks?

      • I get what you are saying. I went when I was working for a bus tour company and we went to the Smithsonian, and followed it up with the Holocaust Museum. I took my oldest daughter, who had a thing about WW 2 (we homeschooled and she did a whole project on it) and her friend along on the trip. Her friend was in the habit of saying, “Heil Hitler” just for the fun of it. After she went through the museum, she said she never really knew how bad it was. And she never said it again. (They were probably 14 years old.)

        I am glad I went. But I do not need to ever go again. The pain is in my heart forever. I can’t get my head around that kind of horror. Yet, it hasn’t stopped yet. There are forever these kinds of atrocities against humanity. Bullies at school and bullies in high places. It has been going on as long as there have been bullies and people who are bullied.

        You and I are INFP types. These things stick in our spirits and you will never find us leaving a museum like that trying to brush it off with a coffee. But we also seldom forget and we try to make sense out of it.

        • “Bullies at school and bullies in high places.” This is one of the best summaries of the world’s troubles that I’ve ever read. Just exquisitely on point.

          And yes… we do share that trait – you express so well how things get caught in my spirit and hang there. I feel like finding the balance between knowledge and innocence is a journey that lasts a lifetime.

      • My dad lost a good number of his family in the camps, those that were unable to join him and his family when they made the trip to Lady Liberty during the first decade of the century.
        He never talked about it much, but I remember the look on his face when I knew he was thinking about them. At the end of his service time during WWII, he was actually asked to go to Nuremburg as part of the legal team, but was excused for the highly personal connection he had to the story.
        And when I see the face of our son’s mother-in-law, I see the terrors of Pol Pot and what they still do to this strong, gracious woman, crawling through the Killing Fields with her husband and three children, leaving behind the fourth… who was shot in the head right before her eyes..
        My father-in-law, being taken off the Rez to be schooled “properly” and “assimilated”. Like they were doing him a favor.
        Looks of sheer exuberance and the love of life never seem to last so long or seem so ingrained.
        I always saw a hint of that look on Dad’s face even in during the best of times.

        • Have you ever read Maus? It’s a series of two graphic novels about a son interviewing his father on living through the Holocaust… I wonder what you would think.

          The thing that stuck with me about it was how that history colored everything. The son always felt conflicted about being annoyed with his dad even when he had a right to, because “the war made him that way…”

          In any case, I’m glad these good people have/had you in their lives.

          • Only ever met one of my father’s elders. His Uncle David. Old man had to be dragged kicking and screaming to my Bar Mitzvah.
            He gets to the temple. Men are not wearing yarmulkes, the women are not wearing shawls over their heads AND are sitting with the men, and then.. to top it all off… they actually let ME read from the Torah, the Five Books of Moses.
            Midway through the silent prayers, Uncle David leans over to my Uncle Harry, and in a stage whisper that would have made Walter Matthau proud, cuts loose with –
            “Harrrrrrrrrrumph. I hear they can eat meat on Fridays now.”
            The Rabbi was stifling the biggest laugh of anyone.

  3. Mother of all things holy, it’s like you tap into my brain and write me. I sort of want to lick chocolate off you. In a figurative sense. Maybe.

    This is so beautiful. You gave me Jennie chills again. Love you madly.

    • How I love your innuendo-laden comments. Especially when they’re not innuendo at all, but full-frontal come-ons! (In a figurative sense. Maybe.)

      I think all the SWs know this reality all too well – it was all of you I had in mind when writing this. Love you deeply – but you already knew. πŸ™‚

  4. The good and the bad, the ups and the downs. Round and round we go… We don’t get emotional sickness because the revolving never stops, we never stand still long enough for our bodies and minds to realize that we’ve just been tossed back and forth…
    Though, perhaps, sometimes we do get sick. The aches take over and all we see is pain. The jubilations take over and all we see is love. For fleeting moments we are wholly one emotion, and as such, we are sick, overrun, frozen… until life sends us spiraling in the opposite direction again.

    • So, if you had a choice, would you ride the roller coaster or the bullet train for life? All highs and lows and wild curves, or all straight lines?

        • I could have predicted that answer for you, Jennie! DJMatt is a high-low wild curve kind of guy if there ever was one! He manages to hang on, through all of it.

          • Hey! Shouldn’t you be sleeping or something?
            And nobody ever expects the djmatt high-low wild curve… What? That’s a saying.

          • I *should* be sleeping, but I haven’t read any blogs in a month. I needed to get caught up. And Jennie was my first stop, because she’s my Blog Wife.

            But I’m headed your way, high-low wild curve! Be warned!

          • Wife? Singular? I thought you had a whole slew of blog wives? They should all be ahead of the kingdom for catching up purposes.

          • Well, yes, technically, we’re ALL sisterwives. And yes – it is important that we read each other’s blogs to keep the feeling of unity that makes this collective a very specific kind of blog collective.

            HOWEVER- Jennie is my MAIN blog wife. I actually kinda started the sisterwife concept when I fell in blog love with her, right here on this blog, last December. I proposed to her in front of all of WordPress!

            That being said, nothing should be ahead of the kingdom, as far as I’m concerned. If I were inclined to have a “blog husband” (I’m not), but if I were, I’d propose to you. I

            hope the Queen doesn’t take issue with that. It’s completely appropriate and honorable!

          • I can’t imagine she would take issue with that at all. And, I’m flattered. Or, my words are flattered. Or, my online persona is flattered. Okay, now I’m confused…

          • Little Dude’s fault. I’m pretty sure the Little Prince is the cause of and solution to all of my problems… I know Homer Simpson would say that is beer, but… That’s just becuase he’s never me the Little Prince.

  5. It’s true, especially when you’re someone who feels deeply. I love this, Jennie, but I’m also sad for your friend and for the offer being withdrawn. ❀

    • Thank you for thinking of us. The sad things are still sad, and no amount of balancing them with good things will ever change that. Hard things deserve to be recognized and honored.

      For some reason, your comment made me picture all the events life can throw at us like little pots of paint in every color… they’re chucked at the canvas and some run off, and some block out previous colors, and some blend into an exquisitely beautiful new shade…

  6. Your post really resonated with me…as did your comment about what to do after visiting places of extreme sadness. I remember going to ground zero and then thinking WTF can I really go shopping after this? I’ve learned that my emotions and responses, both happy and sad, come and go… and instead of feeling guilty about a shoe sale in the face of such tragedy, the responses to that tragedy come back in time. It’s a natural ebb and flow and I try to just go with it now.

    • I’m so glad to hear you say this, because this is where I landed. Part of me wanted to cancel my plans for the day, hole up inside that exhibit, and mourn the shattered lives. But another part of me wanted to go out to lunch with my family and buy pastries at the French bakery to take home for dessert. Of course I did the second, and it was lovely.

      In the end, I believe life is for the living. Even the people who survive great violence continue on and have more children, grow more gardens, build more houses. We’re all just moving forward in the ways that make sense to each of us, and letting the darkness overwhelm us serves absolutely no one.

    • Amy! What’s up with your hormones? (I may be out of the loop…)

      Thank you for reading, and for telling me you get it, too. I wonder if this isn’t part of growing up… learning that it’s never black and white, but always grey… but grey can be beautiful?

      • Oh, just changes ahead! You’re not out of the loop.

        I prefer grey, actually. Sometimes that can be hard because the joy doesn’t feel as joyous as it should, and vice versa. Sometimes it feels like an emotional limbo.

        • I have trouble living in grey. My dad likes it there, but my mom’s all shifting colors… I think I got a little of both, because sometimes I long for things to just be calmer… but as soon as they are, I miss feeling totally alive.

  7. Jennie, your comment about the β€œsheer amount of living that we do” struck a chord with me. So often, especially lately, I become discouraged by the onslaught of emotions I’m dealing with. I have been looking at it as a bad or negative thing – something I have to experience because I have no choice – with the goal of getting past it as quickly as possible. However, the bad is a part of life – and if I never knew pain, then how could I know joy and contentment? I think I need to start looking at my emotions and experiences as a whole – instead of becoming overwhelmed with what I’m feeling at any given moment. To remember that I HAVE done a lot of living and still have much more to do.

    • Me too, lady. Me, too. Did you ever watch Buffy? It’s like being Spike and throwing a blanket over youtself to go out in the sun, hoping you can rush to the next safe haven with minimal burns.

      Sometimes (not always) I feel better if I sit with the bad/negative feelings, really absorb them, and tell myself that (just as you said), feeling this way is proof that I’m alive. People who never feel overwhelmed either aren’t really living or have utterly boring mental lives.

      • A “Buffy” freak!!!!!
        Shoulda known.
        Would reminisce some more about that, but the Gentlemen are waiting for me to make them lunch.
        But very quickly – while they’re not looking – it seems so may of us would almost feel empty without those troublesome moments and thoughts and feelings, like they really do make us feel alive.
        Because they do.
        I walked into a Depression Group for the first time, new faces, no names yet, and the first thing I said was “Hi, I’m Harris. I don’t suffer from Depression – I embrace it.”
        There were a few people who smiled knowlngly when I said that, and they were the ones I was able to relate to the best.

        Gotta go.
        They’re coming into the kitchen and they don’t look happy.

  8. Jennie – thank you for so beautifully verbalizing so many of the thoughts I myself have had this week. I feel like, especially this week, I’ve been holding sorrow and anxiety in one hand, and incandescent happiness in the other. They flip-flop like shiny fish in the net of my humanity. They both exist there seamlessly next to each other, the yin and yang of it all. thank you for writing this. I needed someone to express what I’ve been thinking, and you did. ❀

    • What an amazingly eloquent comment this was – I think some would call it “prose-etry.” I picture the sorrow and anxiety as a moving black scribble, and the incandescent happiness as a gently wafting cloud lit from within.

  9. Hey Jennie –
    Over a year ago my best friend beat cancer. A six-inch brain tumor had been removed some months earlier, he went through six weeks of five-times-a-week radiation and chemo.
    The doctor who removed the tumor said he had done twenty-nine such surgeries and only two patients had ever beaten the cancer.
    My buddy had decided he was going to be the third, and he was.
    They had to clean up a bit of an infection that developed a while after the surgery, and the doctor said what he saw confirmed the tests:
    the cancer was gone.
    The next day, the next morning, a blood clot travelled from Jeff’s leg to his lungs and we lost him.
    My reaction was what I have come to refer to as “Emotional Bankruptcy”.
    In the legal sense, Bankruptcy doesn’t mean you’re broke, it just means you don’t have the readily available liquid assets to meet certain obligations.
    Donald Trump has filed for bankruptcy in the past.
    In the emotional sense, I just felt like all my feelings – whatever they were, however they affected me, good or bad or devastating – were all “invested”, so to speak, and I had no more I could spare.
    I couldn’t even feel numb, if that makes sense.
    And during the year-and-then-some since that loss, it just hits me harder with time.
    Every so often, though, my heart and my soul and my spirit are just plain overextended.

    • Not fair. Not fair. I don’t care what my grandmother said about life not being fair in the first place… I feel like that much struggle and bravery should win some time for joy.

      And I do know what you mean about numbness. When my wonderful uncle died, I went outside and ate a bowl of peach ice cream. What else was I gonna do?

      This death was so recent, and truly good friends are hard to come by. I am sending you so many mental hugs… thanks for sharing this story.

      • Jennie –
        I swear I can feel those hugs.
        Sometimes you can have someone right there with you, and they put their arms around you and you can just tell they’re going through the motions.
        Guys like us, the ones we keep hearing are “sick” or “troubled” or “mentally ill” (oooooohhhhhh, that sounds dangerous) seem to have a built-in empathy and compassion that all those normal, sane, well-balanced puddwhackers will never understand.
        I remember a friend of mine, a Viet Nam vet, who once told me he could tell just by the look on someone’s face all these years later if they were ‘in country”.
        We can sense things in our words.
        Yesterday I had to check my wife Liz into a crisis center: her BPD was getting a bit intense. It’s like I say, she can hear the sirens before the bombs start to fall, and she knew something was coming up. Something big and ugly. She wanted to be someplace she could feel safe from herself and didn’t want me to be the “collateral damage” (a phrase she never used before this Israeli / Palestinian / Gaza hoopla).
        Even my Big Damn Doggie isn’t helping as much as usual, having to take care of me while I can’t take care of Liz.
        Talk about bankrupt.
        But I do believe I can feel those hugs, and they mean the world to me.
        You understand, and I always have a soft spot in my heart for gentle souls like you.
        Thanks for your reply and encouraging words.


        • Jack Kerouac was onto something with his bit about, “The only ones for me are the mad ones…” There will never not be a connection between feeling deeply, having great compassion, and being a little bit “troubled.”

          I am so sorry to hear about what you and your wife are dealing with right now. Do you know how long she will need to be away?

          • It’s voluntary, up to her.
            She spent most of Sunday in prayer, asking Him for help, asking why He was helping her with the BPD uproar…
            … and she received the answer she needed.
            She decided it was something to be done.
            Historically, they do a week at the most.
            My concern is about the follow-up by Kaiser, the Sam’s Club of HMOs, who do not offer much in the way of individual psychotherapy.
            But they sure love their classes, which are instructive, not therapeutic.
            I’ve already been in contact with her therapist about that.
            Their flagrant disregard of the value of individual psychotherapy sessions (gotta be cost effective, right?) was the reason I left Kaiser. For three years, the best they could offer me was one appointment every four to six weeks.
            Unless I was suicidal, which I have never been, in which case they had to cover their ass.
            So… I figure she might feel comfortable coming home by the end of the week, maybe next Monday.

            Whatever she feels she needs.

            Thanks for the thoughts and concerns and the reference to St. Jack.

          • I wish you both all the best. This too shall pass, but it sounds like you both already know that. Glad you have each other. πŸ™‚

  10. Oh Jennie, that’s a lot of emotion going on at once which like you say, it’s just the way it is. There are also many moments of feeling just so. Not happy and not sad, just being. Steady. Level. But then we get bored and almost prefer any emotion to just existing.

    So sorry about your friend and her terrible loss. Happy for your FIL. πŸ‘. Great points you make here (as always) that we can all relate to.

    Buena Suerte con la venta de la casa 🏠 πŸ˜‰

    • Oh yeah, the grass is always greener. Moooo! I vacillate between wanting peace and excitement every few weeks (OK, sometimes days).

      I think the real thing I need to learn from all this is HOW did you make that thumbs-up sign in your comment?? πŸ˜‰

  11. Jennie, life is nothing if not bittersweet. Sometimes the flip side of that roller coaster is emotional paralysis… It’s why I don’t make for a very good blogger half the time, because I just have to disconnect. And we’re so inundated these days with news everywhere we look, that’s harder than it ought to be!

    • You’re so right. I’ve mostly stopped keeping up with the news, because it’s too much to hold in my head. I know this sounds flaky and unaware, but I really wish there were a news station that showed as much good news as bad, to remind us all that we can be wonderful.

  12. This is what happens when I can’t read blogs for a while. I miss posts like THIS.
    I’m my own roller coaster and I have a hard time hanging on. I’ll get on Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride; I’ll BE Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, but can I cheat it a little and put a few straight lines in there, just so I can not throw up?

    Feeling everything so hard takes its toll, but the good outweighs the bad. Besides, some of us don’t have a choice. That’s how we roll.

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