Letting it all hang out

One of my coworkers at the bakery (who shall remain unnamed, for her dignity and my own) told me that for Easter, I should just enjoy my visit with my friend, relax, and "let my titties hang out."

After I got done laughing--I'm creative, but never in a million years could I have come up with that one!--I told her that, indeed, I was looking forward to doing just that. What's really struck me is just how much I've been doing that in the past few months. No, I still wear a bra (well, most of the time), but I've been trying to "let things hang out," so to speak, on more of an emotional level. Expressing emotion has never been a skill of mine. I can handle anxiety and, to a lesser extent, frustration, but anything deeper just gets blocked between my brain and my mouth. It's why I can't act- I can experience the emotion, I can have empathy, I can even read what other people are feeling, but I can't parrot it back. I just...shut down. For most of my life, it never even occurred to me to share my feelings. True, I had some spectacular meltdowns, but some of those were as much due to the fact that I didn't know how to put my intense feelings into words as they were an expression of emotion in their own right.

Even years before the eating disorder, it never occurred to me to ask for support. I was always happy for someone to lend an ear to hear me piss and moan, but I never said anything like "I need you to..." whatever. I was happy to play psychotherapist to my friends, and listen and reflect back and provide advice and opinions, but I never sought them out for the same purpose. Some of the thinking was that I didn't want to be a burden- if they were having problems, then the last thing they needed was someone unloading onto their shoulders. But much of the reason I didn't share had to do with the fact that I tend to just shut down emotionally under stress.

I'm a private person (despite the rather public blog), and to some extent, sharing to the Whole Wide World isn't super appealing. And yet I've come to realize over the years that my readers are so supportive and understanding, that I owe it to you to at least take the risk and start sharing more. Some of it has been focusing on more personal and emotional issues rather than focusing on the science-y parts. Other parts have been sharing on Twitter (click here to read/ignore my updates) when I'm having major bad body image, when I'm feeling urges to restrict or otherwise act contrary to recovery. I've been trying to share more with TNT--I know! Sharing your feelings with a therapist! Who'd have thunk?!?--and even my parents and close real-life friends. It's a skill for me, and the more I practice, the better I get at it.

The irony is that I'm getting lots of support by letting it all hang out. Too bad bras don't work that way...

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Cathy (UK) said...

From where I come from in the UK there are a lot of strange colloquialisms (which I have always found fascinating...), so I can add another to my mental collection: "let your titties hang out".

Taking that phrase literally, I actually wish I had a bit more 'titty' to hang out! I have gained > 30 pounds during my recovery from anorexia nervosa (AN), but not enough of it has landed on my chest. I do come from a bottom heavy family of females however...

Seriously though, I know exactly what you are talking about with regard to emotional constriction. Like you I have recently-ish started to reveal thoughts and feelings through the internet, but I am otherwise a very private person who spent many years trying to act 'normally', despite having AN and co-morbid difficulties.

To this day I rarely express/share my deepest emotions face-to-face with anyone, or even over the telephone. When I am very stressed I withdraw into my own world, become very ritualistic and hope that my feelings will pass.

I was somewhat late in recognising both my own feelings and the feelings of others - unless those feelings were obvious. As a young child I didn't understand facial expressions and was late to talk. I'm not very skilled at 'theory of mind', but I am happy to listen to friends' problems and try to give the response they are probably seeking. However, I often don't know whether they want constructive, logical advice (which I'm good at), or whether they want me to agree with them, to give them a hug, or just to listen. And so I tend to offer what I feel is constructive, logical advice.

I am really pleased that expressing your emotions is helping you Carrie. I always enjoy your posts, whether they be about nerdy science stuff, or your struggles with your ED.

Finding Melissa said...

I guess one of the things I'm learning is that if you share your feelings more, there are more opportunities to realise that you're not alone with them - and for others to realise they're not alone with theirs! More chances for the warmth of connection.

After editing my feelings for years, the idea of "letting it all hang out" is both appealing - and alien - to me, and suggests an ease with your experiences and emotions that I hope to one day acheive.

I guess gradually opening out is the first step in this kind of self acceptance and relaxing of the walls between self - and others....and, I have loved the honesty in your posts and felt privileged to hear some of what you have been working through.

Please keep sharing. xx

Libby said...

I agree with Melissa, and it's something I'm learning in couples therapy, too... showing more emotion gives the people around you permission to do the same. So it's not only helpful to you, it's helpful to them, too.

And for the record, I love that phrase... "let your titties hang out..." Just have to be a little careful around whom I use it!

Abby said...

Totally agree on the emotional abstinence, if you will. (The only way I ever really express emotion is through writing.) Anyway, I always figure that other people have their own problems, so why should I add another one? I'm so much better at helping "fix" those other problems, but don't allow anyone to support me in my own.

As has been mentioned though, the more honest you are, the more you realize that you're NOT the only one with those issues. You're really just one of the only ones who talks openly about it, allowing others to support you along the way. It's kind of making yourself vulnerable, but really...there's not much left to lose.

Because I've been more willing to be honest through my writing, I have gained a few readers that show me such support...it helps me to be a bit more honest in "real" life.

Mamie said...

I agree. I know that sharing must be important for me, because I just keep reaching out. Unconsciously sometimes, but it happens over and over again. I read blogs. Find books. Write emails. And it's just so comforting, because you think you live in your own personalised little crazy messed-up world, and then all of a sudden you find all these people who have been there/are there themselves and who can either give you advice, support or understand. And supporting others is also such an amazing way that helps you heal, too:)

elk said...

I really clicked with this: "It never occured to me to ask for support". Even as a small child, if I had a problem it never occured to me to ask for support. Not that there wasn't anyone there - my family are in regards to that sort of thing - it just never occured to me to ask. Or if it did then I didn't want to burden them.
It wasn't until I was 22 that I realised it's ok to fall apart in public - but even then I couldn't vocalise the reasons. I distinctly remember using the phrase "I don't know" a lot, over the phone, in tears, alongside "dishevelled" and "unravelled", before dropping out of uni and moving back in with family for a year. Even then I could explain to people what happened. I'm fairly good at reading other people, and offering them support, but in expressing myself or asking I just end up retreating.
I visit your blog now and then, and I like these personal posts. This one especially.
I wish you luck in letting your titties hang out :)

Anonymous said...

I enjoy your blog and, while I am a regular reader of about 5 or so blogs, I feel priviliged, and sometimes a little guilty, to be able to read them. I certainly don't think you owe us readers - well OK, I'll speak for myself- a thing. I am surprised though, to read that you have trouble sharing, because although I read others' blogs, I cannot for the life of me imagine putting such private things out there on the WORLD WIDE WEB, for chrissakes, for all to see! You are very courageous.

C said...

Thought-provoking post. I'm a lurker on your blog, I like reading it as I relate to it even though I don't have an ED, I have a lot of anxiety and that manifests itself as social phobia and avoidance.

It's interesting you bottle things up, my sister is the same, she self-harmed when she was under stress and never talked about her feelings. We as a family didn't know she was self-harming until she had a nervous breakdown at 19 (having started with scratching at 8). I was the opposite, I always talked about my problems so people always knew about them, it was hard to hide my feelings, I can't help but show them. Except when I was bullied at school and I learnt to put up a facade just to get through the day.

I have read 'The Highly Sensitive Person' and I think Elaine Aron was spot-on when she described the reactive and non-reactive (can't remember the exact terms) sensitive person - she could have been describing my sister and me.

malpaz said...

this is a great post. haha i like the tittie hang out phrase too.

i dont cry- like ever, i dont show any kind of emotion past laughing at a joke and basic small talk. i am very opinionated, but not on anything that really matters to me. i wont tell people how or what im feeling. i am very to-myself as well. i need to change this. i think there are like 4 people including my family who have ever seen me cry. about sadness, pain anything i wont do it. i cant even MAKE myself do it, like a death, i dont cry. i feel pain and suffering for the person and family, but i dont show anything.

wow- i never realized all this till i read your post. glad i did!

James Clayton said...

I agree with everyone. From my own personal experience, the more I open up and let go, the more I - and others - benefit and manage to beat back the negative influence of eating disorders.

I know that without talking to people face-to-face or communicating through the internet I'd be crippled. Holding things in only increases the hurt. Anorexia and bulimia hate honesty and openness and thrive on silence.

Humans are made to talk, engage with each other, express feelings and share. It might be scary to speak up, but getting it off your chest feels so much better.

That's my perspective anyway, but I know that it won't be true for everyone. Let it all hang out and share on!

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I'm a science writer, a jewelry design artist, a bookworm, a complete geek, and mom to a wonderful kitty. I am also recovering from a decade-plus battle with anorexia nervosa. I believe that complete recovery is possible, and that the first step along that path is full nutrition.

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