Pressure Cooker

My husband and I have marriage counseling on Wednesday nights.    Things are not dire between us: we are not on the brink of divorce or fighting all the time, we are just trying to make our marriage more healthy.  It is a lot of work.

I can count on one hand the number of sessions in which I have not cried.  I have an overabundance of feelings about everything.  My husband, who is more stoic and rational, is the opposite.  I sometimes quip that if I could give him half of my emotions and sensitivity we would be much more balanced.

I don’t feel comfortable letting all of my emotion out in front of my husband or our therapist.  I don’t feel comfortable breaking down in front of pretty much anyone.  I hold it in: try to “keep my chin up” and not expose the full extent of my distress.  Crying in front of people is an incredibly vulnerable experience.  But the tears come anyway.  I look away and try to hide my face from my them.  I stare at the carpet, the wall, the printer’s power light fading from on to off.  I can’t look at them – can’t make eye contact.  I long to run out and let the sobs come, the heartbreak that is overwhelming me and drowning me making it almost impossible to focus and be present.

This Wednesday was no different.  At the end of the session I was just trying to keep it together.  I refused to let all of the tears come, afraid of the flood that would ensue.  So they stayed there: whirling and churning and pressing against the surface.  Not even when I was alone going to bed did they come.  Thursday morning immediately began with the rush to get ready for the day: for appointments and the babysitter and more appointments and dropping off at school.  Derealization, numbness, and forgetfulness settled in.  My body and mind were saying “Stop! The pressure cooker of your emotions is about to blow!  Let it out!”.  But there wasn’t time nor space.  There was only the survival mode for which the business of the day called.

The smallest upset brought a few tears and I quickly shoved them down by sheer will.  It was exhausting to do this over and over again throughout the day.  It could only last so long: I cried almost all of the way home from a friend’s house at the end of the day.  I was ashamed of my tears.  I was ashamed how stressed and on edge I was – especially with the kids when visiting my friend.  The pressure cooker had exploded and nothing bad had happened: it was good.  But I was still ashamed.  I was irritable and had a headache in the evening.

We probably all have days like this.  In the darkest of times: many in a row.  I wish I had a surefire way to prevent the pressure cooker from blowing, but I don’t.  Life doesn’t always give us the space for intense emotion.  It takes so much energy for me to intentionally seek what I need when the overflow is about to drown me.  My default is to try to just keep it together for as long as I can.  Obviously, that is not the most wise option.

I’m slowly decompressing and processing.  Trying to write, trying to take care of myself, trying to stay present and not get lost in derealization.  My mind has an uncanny ability to go into shutdown mode from which it is difficult to escape.  There is the constant ache that ebbs and flows: sometimes the tide is high and I’m almost drowning and other times it retreats and I can breathe more easily.

I hope that when you have days (or weeks, or years) like this you can find some way to get what you need: solitude, someone to hold you, a listening ear, a good night’s sleep, doing something you love, using coping skills you have in your “arsenal” – anything that helps.  I hope you are able to see that there is nothing shameful about emotion and hiding only makes things worse.  I hope that you have a safe place (or person) where you can let go and let the flood come.   My heart goes out to you if you struggle with this.  You are not alone.


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