A friend texted me the other day and asked how I was doing. As my fingers hovered over my phone, I struggled to come up with a reply. I initially typed, “I’m good!” However, before I could press send, I deleted the message. I tried typing “Oh, I’m fine,” before I backspaced. Next, “Just, you know, living life.” Delete. How could I appropriately articulate that nothing was bad, but things felt difficult? Or, some exciting things were happening, but everything still felt exhausting. Out of frustration at my lack of articulate language, I texted back, “I’m spinning, but I’m okay.”
For me “spinning” in this context means a couple of different things. First, I was physically going to so many different places that it felt like my body was in constant motion being pulled in many directions. For example, on my last day of the school year, I had to finish packing up my office to move to a different location for the next school year. In the middle of packing, I also had to attend several hours worth of meetings. Immediately following the work day, my family attended a retirement party for our beloved daycare provider. Then, we concluded the day with my son’s 7th birthday party celebration which was complete with many high-energy children who were fueled by juice and cupcakes. By the time I crawled into bed that night, my body felt like it was physically spinning.
The more complex interpretation of my “spinning” is in relation to my emotions. It is a similar experience to being motion sick. I have struggled with motion sickness for many years and when it strikes, I feel nauseous, shakey, and the world feels like it is in constant motion even when I am standing still. The only way I have found to recover from motion sickness is to lay down, close my eyes, and rest. Often, when I am experiencing a particularly emotionally-intense situation, I feel the churning of emotions inside my body. The perpetual motion of emotional highs and lows can make it feel like I am internally in constant motion. For the past couple of weeks, my emotional motion sickness has impacted me physically as well. My hands have randomly been shaking and I have suffered from waves of nauseousness. My intense emotions made the world feel unstable as I processed the rollercoaster of emotions from all the experiences.
The interesting thing about the past few weeks of spinning is that the experiences I was having were not all bad. I realized that even the intense emotions that centered on exciting milestones were still knocking me off kilter. For example, mixed into an especially busy week was my wedding anniversary. My husband and I reflected back on our wedding day and the adventures we have shared in the ten years since. Despite the particular busyness of the week, we made time to celebrate. It was truly a joy-filled day, but even the joy was an “intense emotion” and that contributed to the spinning that I already felt.
As I talked with my husband about my struggle with emotional and physical spinning from processing everything that had been going on over the past few weeks, work transitions, our anniversary, birthdays, kindergarten graduation, and several additional transitional celebrations, we came to an interesting realization. In the year of COVID restrictions, where our emotions have been heightened by the uncertainty surrounding everything, the majority of our intense emotions were negative and related to stress. We frequently struggled with anxiety as we navigated how to best keep our family safe, stable, and healthy. This past year seemed to have formed a habit, to have created a connection in the brain, that intense emotions mean more stress. Now, as we transition out of the season of uncertainty and experience events outside of restrictions, I find myself still dealing with intense emotions, however, now many of them are positive. Despite the shift from anxiety to joy, I have found it difficult to retrain my brain to remember that intense does not necessarily equal bad. In a similar way to breaking a bad habit, I have realized that I need to rewrite the script and remind myself that intense emotions can actually run the full spectrum of terrible to wonderful.
As I reflected, I wondered if this difficulty in navigating the spectrum of emotions added to my struggle with spinning. I was surprised to realize that feeling intense happiness could have contributed to me feeling nauseous. What an interesting impact this past COVID year has had on many aspects of processing life. However, the spinning was not just from my struggle to process everything, the truth is there were simply too many things happening at once, big transitions, difficult goodbyes, exciting milestones, and happy celebrations. And, as I have learned from years of battling motion sickness, the necessary next step is rest. As these busy few weeks come to a close, I look forward to finding ways to rest, slow down, and replant my feet on stable ground.
Jessica is a wife, mom, school social worker, and aspiring writer. She is co-author of the blog The Unexpected Ever Afters.