My nine-year-old dog died recently.
It was sudden and unexpected, as he was not suffering from any illness. I gulped the morose silences and pushed myself to go about the usual routine, avoiding glances toward his empty bed and the limp leash. I attempted dissociation in all ways possible.
After a month it hit me: Overlooking my feelings consistently had made me inexpressive. My gnawing loss had imprisoned me within myself. Unable to communicate, I was trapped like the lone fish running in circles in a fishbowl.
Stoicism ought to have an asterisk attached. In the garb of professionalism, or in an attempt of projecting our strong, independent selves, we forget how to express. But nothing ever goes away unless we deal with it. Stealthily, our ghosts resurface sooner or later. Deeply meshed in the routine, we choke as this lump of grief gets stuck and frays the fabric of our being. The stiff upper lip is crippling in invisible ways.
Imagine having a plate full of sumptuous food and you are unable to enjoy it. Filling the stomach mechanically only deprives the satisfaction of enjoying the flavours. Like chewing food to relish flavours slowly, embracing all our emotions can bring us similar comfort. It is the satisfaction of a life being lived fully with acceptance, savouring every moment.
What stops us from embracing our own emotions? Our fears about being overwhelmed. What if we drown in them and are unable to resurface? Metaphorically speaking, we should try to make ourselves our own life jackets. Our emotions instigate our will to survive; we swim through the sea of troubles pushing our arms and legs through only when we can feel the need. When we suppress this survival mechanism to emote, we become heavy, lifeless and therefore sink. It is our fear of the emotions that can drown us rather than the emotions themselves.
Much of this has to do with us being pop-culturally fed about what it means, and takes, to be happy. It is not possible to be happy all the time unless, of course, one is on drugs! It is not even advisable to attempt being happy all of the time. How can one be always happy? The Joker is a caricature because it is unreal. Many mimic “happy” just to be seen as normal and be accepted socially.
Also, much of this forced positivity is an escape mechanism. To ignore the painful and focus only on the “positive” is not entirely constructive. A solution can be found only when the problem is acknowledged; ignoring our sentiments will lead to them being clogged within us. This disconnect from our own self disconnects us from others too, and eventually, a glass wall may loom large over all of our relationships. Losing empathy is losing humanism.
Recognising the emotion and allowing it to brew is necessary. As tea sifts through the strainer after brewing, leaving behind the lumpy leaves, its essence is found in the rich color and flavor of the tea. Nothing is lost. Nothing is clogged. And yet its beloved expression is made in the changed form. Finding an outlet for our emotions, in whatever way we find it the most comfortable, relieves us. It does not mean expressing grief or happiness forcefully or constantly in extremes, but like a gentle stream flowing effortlessly.
The love my dog gave me was unconditional and it cannot be replaced. And with this acknowledgement, I started grieving the loss I had escaped earlier. It is not like human love—this love between dogs and human; it does not expect anything in return. It is absolute. This love does not measure, test, compare or try to change the other. Like the air we breathe, it is just there. Tears relieved me in a way escaping the situation never could have.
To lead a full life, one needs to know sadness to feel happiness. There is a whole gamut of emotions to be felt. It is what is called being alive! Once we accept this, we will stop being scared of sadness, or any other emotion. Feeling it is an important part of being alive. Embracing whatever we feel is the beginning of a fulfilling life.
Author: Shrutika Mathur
Editor: Travis May