By Derek Leung, NIF Blog Ambassador
Many times in life, when we are faced with overwhelming feelings, we wonder why our bodies are making us feel this way. In part, this is due to our natural response to external stressors, also known as the fight or flight response. The response uses our emotions to tell us that something isn’t right.
Ever since I was young, I’ve always been a very emotional person. Over the years, I’ve learned to hide my emotions.
I’ve had feelings for this girl for the last two years. Before her, I had been in a ‘relationship’ that started from an amazing friendship and ended very, very badly: even after six years, I still have nightmares about her. I tried to tell myself that I didn’t like this girl, that I was too busy with school and curling to even consider a relationship, and that I didn’t want a repeat of my previous relationship. It worked for two years.
This summer, I worked long hours in the bush. I had a lot of time to read, write, and think. But of all three things, I could not control what I thought. The feelings that I had buried for two years resurfaced, amplified over the years of lying to myself. The once-beautiful emotions overflowed with dread.
I could no longer deny it. Not to myself; not to her. Even though I had seen all of the signs that the feelings weren’t mutual.
There is a stigma that people should be ‘strong’ and not express their feelings. I used to be part of this stigma. By denying or not expressing your feelings, you can temporarily override this response. However, your body might turn up the volume through amplifying the emotions that are associated with the response. If they are repeatedly suppressed, these emotions can build to become daunting and unbearable, until they break us.
This is exactly what happened to me. Not only was I pushed over the edge with intensified feelings, but the aftermath—knowing that I had devoted two years to denial instead of acceptance, increasing the emotional stakes just to find the same answer—left me in a well of heartbreak that could have partially been prevented.
Mental health awareness encourages people to talk about how they feel and encourages the idea that it’s okay to not be okay. Telling yourself that life is ‘fine’ is another way to be nondescript about what is really happening. Part of the reason why it took me six years to get over my last relationship was because I pretended that everything was okay, and I remember explicitly telling myself that I didn’t need friends. So this time, when people asked how I was doing, I tried to tell the truth. When I wasn’t okay, I reached out to some of my closest friends.
But accepting these emotions—sadness, heartbreak, anguish—doesn’t mean that I am only feeling broken. I started to remember the parts of life that I had always loved: walking down the sheet in solitude during curling practice, the exhilaration of biking, and sharing special moments with friends. She still comes across my mind often and the emotional pain returns frequently, but those feelings don’t stop me from enjoying the other parts of my life. Ultimately, your feelings are a choice—you define what makes you happy.
Lastly, all things take time. Like physical injuries, rushing yourself will prevent a full recovery. Even feelings take time to emerge and they can’t be forced. Sadness struck me several hours after she admitted that the feelings weren’t mutual, and heartbreak will stay for longer, but I know that I’ll be okay with time.
Listen to your heart. You can choose your emotions. Give it time.