Even since childhood I have often equated pain (emotional or otherwise) to be like electricity. Failing to provide an outlet for that force once it has entered my system generally results in short circuiting; an explosion of force down an unintended pathway as it tries to escape.
This morning I leaned in to kiss my partner goodbye as he left for work and stubbed my toe. You know the feeling you get when you know something gruesome has occurred to part of your body (in this case: a toenail) without looking -you can just feel it? Well, as pain started shooting through my foot I knew I wasn’t ready to look down and look at the damage quite yet. Even so, my first impression was to scream out in pain… but with my boyfriend standing less than 12 inches from my face (and it being 7 am in a crowded apartment building) I decided to hold it in.
That energy that should have been released out my mouth shot down my throat to the next available thing; my arm. I immediately punched the wall (twice, apparently the first time wasn’t quite enough to allow all of that energy to escape) and winced as he left, attempting to walk off the pain in my foot.
While my big toenail is split (right in time for sandal weather, drats!) it wasn’t until my hand started to swell up from punching the wall that I realized that maybe I should have just screamed. Denying myself a natural outlet for letting that energy out certainly backfired, and my attempt to help my boyfriend and neighbors by keeping my seemingly inevitable screaming at bay ultimately hurt me in the end.
In my experience, the turmoil experienced in mental health isn’t much different. Providing myself with an outlet while depressed usually means verbalizing or writing through what is bothering me, while my manic outlets tend to be more physical; cleaning/exercising/and creative based projects. It took me many years to realize that, like punching the wall because of my big toe, failing to give myself an outlet for that energy trapped inside has often led me to explosive behavior, and outlets that have been seriously more damaging than what might have occurred if I had just followed my natural instinct.
I’ve done several training workshops about how to mitigate suicidality in crisis situations for other people, and I was shocked when each technique boiled down one core idea; confront the person about feeling suicidal, and then talk about why they feel that way with them.
Certainly I was expecting black hawk helicopters and swat teams and maybe a little magic to be involved, but ultimately providing an outlet for the person to express those feelings verbally in a nonjudgmental atmosphere proved that allowing some of that energy to escape was usually enough to disarm the threat of imminent suicide and get the person to some kind of treatment.
I would say that usually in my most dire moments I find myself at a loss for how to get that energy out. The fog associated with depression or mania might make it seem impossible, or unnecessary, and I might feel trapped in the moment, unsure of where to focus that energy without hurting myself or other people.
And obviously… I’m not perfect at it. After 15 years of considering this idea I still find myself punching walls occasionally or throwing my phone or rushing to my therapist feeling like a ticking time bomb because I’ve become certain that any words or actions on my part will destroy whoever I’m around (not true, as it turns out, but it still feels that way sometimes).
One thing I’ve done to help myself along though is to make a list for each of my intense mood states of good, useful, positive, harmless outlets that can help me get whatever energy I’m feeling out in a safe and satisfying way. Any time I think of something new, I add it, and that way when I am in the throes of a depressive fog, or so revved up on manic sunshine, or so irritable and agitated I don’t want to leave my room I have a little something to jog my memory.
Otherwise I might wind up punching the wall all the time and I’d never get my deposit back.