I went away to an inpatient clinic from February 8th to March 20th for anxiety and depression, both of which culminated in several unhealthy and self-harming practices, hourly negative-self talk and internal hatred, routine ruminations of my own dead body, increased addictive behavior, and the inability to get out of bed. While away, I learned a lot about how the human body works: how emotions both come upon someone and are never wrong because we have little control over their appearance; how thoughts come upon us (a phrase I loved: “The mind has a mind of its own.”) and are also never wrong because, again, we have little control over their appearance; how addiction is typically the body and minds response to emotions that, due to emotional abuse, are being suppressed because they’re internally dictated as unwanted or “immoral” emotions (depression) or unwanted or “immoral” thoughts (anxiety). Clearly, one is responsible for their actions regarding emotions and thoughts, but the brain uses independent thoughts and reactive emotions to send signals to the individual. In other words, thoughts and emotions are like little people running around inside your body providing internal updates on external situations, and you are always in control, or capable, of responding to or ignoring them.
For starters, an example of emotional abuse (for which there are countless forms) that I was given looks like this: a young girl gets angry that she can’t eat a cookie. Her mother, who grew up in a rage-a-holic home and is terrified of the emotion ‘anger’ says to her daughter, “Good girls don’t get angry.” The daughter, however, hears “Angry girls don’t get love.” and begins to suppress the emotion ‘anger’ as she grows up. (I heard this almost verbatim from a great video from a great psychologist for whom I forget the name. If you know who it is, please write in the comments. Thanks.).
You’ll notice, then, that this girl is now suppressing the emotion ‘anger’, which then will lead to depression. By suppressing an emotion, one is not able to let it pass (emotions typically last 10-20 minutes) and it essentially locks in the body. The emotion ‘anger’ helps the body right injustices or defend oneself. Anger, bodily speaking, produces tightened muscles, a focused mindset, and can even slow digestion as the body begins focusing its energy in other areas. By not letting anger pass in a healthy manner, the emotion will be stuck in a state of high-intensity as the muscles tighten and prepare to fend of danger while the mind races to prepare for all outcomes. This girl may grow up to have poor sleep because her foot is constantly twitching (the anger energy coursing through and kicking out with a flick), meanwhile she can’t take her mind off the things that make her mad and she has difficulty falling asleep without her mind racing toward solutions. She may also grow up to become a ventaholic, one who constantly lashes out or attacks with wicked sarcasm and cynicism. Why? Because the anger is still present within her, never permitted to pass, because the emotion ‘anger’ is not “good” for her. She learned if she is angry she cannot be loved, so she will do whatever she can to not be angry. Perhaps she’ll start drinking, or lose herself in sex with random passersby.
Anxiety, then, is the thought one has that they do not want to have. This can be for various reasons, but the Christian church gives us an easy example. The Beatitudes are a beautiful sermon series we have on record from Christ himself, but often it’s read with sense that, as Jesus talks about “do not think of murder or you have committed murder in your heart” or “do not think of adultery with a woman or you have committed adultery in your heart” that just the passing thought or fleeting unprompted image of another person naked or intimate with yourself, you’ve now sinned. This is not the case, as the body is, again, trying to compensate for what is happening outside itself, activating against prompting events, and trying to help you out.
As such, here is a personal example, one that I’ve since found great freedom in: I was in inpatient for 6 weeks, but during my second or third I began to be enamored with seeing a lot of my peers naked in my head (yes, it’s both as awkward but not nearly as malicious as it sounds, stay with me). These were extremely brief moments, so short you only had time to realize it before it was gone, but they were very frustrating because, regardless of it simply being nudity or even a momentary flash of sexual intimacy, I seriously didn’t want these thoughts to begin with. I then meditated on how the body works, how it’s trying to pepper in advice or help or whatever to fix problems. I reoriented myself away from the self-condemnation I produced after experiencing these unwanted sexual thoughts and rather invested my energy into why these thoughts may be occurring (I observed my thought, or emotion in other instances, like a scientist may observe the world, a practice my psychologists and teachers repeated is immensely helpful in fighting anxiety and depression). I realized that, after being away from my wife for 2-3 weeks, I missed the intimacy of my marriage.
Realizing this, I began to see why my mind was peppering in sexual thoughts of friends: it was suggesting a solution to my problem. However, realizing what my body and mind were trying to do, and rightfully recognizing that the ‘need’ my body/mind were trying to help with wasn’t going to actually solve the problem, I was able to not only take captive my thoughts, I was able to call my wife and tell her freely and without remorse both my internal experience (“Kathryn, this keeps happening: I keep picturing friends naked!”) and what I had learned about myself (“It’s literally just my body trying to help me, even though I know that won’t help.”). And, my wife, freely said, “Of course, you didn’t do anything wrong. This sort of stuff even happens to me and I take those thoughts captive, too.”
Rather than lamenting over the thought of a close friend naked, therefore increasing my anxiety, I observed why the thoughts appeared, then responded accordingly. I disciplined my body, as Scripture may seek to describe it. Which causes me to ponder: if only the Beatitudes were taught with such clarity then perhaps the church, its members, and its ex-members would not be filled with such anxiety, and perhaps addictions would not be such a consistent threat within the church as an organization.
Both depression and anxiety come alongside the two great emotions we’ve come to know and love: guilt and shame. Where guilt is “I’ve done something wrong” and shame is “I am wrong”, we endure the painful battle that is depression, anxiety, and poor coping methods only to produce an increase of guilt and shame, which we don’t want to feel (or think about) and thus begin coping again. So went my vicious cycle, a response to the personal emotional abuse I experience(d) – and other abuse, of which I will comfortably omit for now – until I began to learn what was happening within me, and the compassion expressed to me while I went away for those 6 weeks. Learning that I have no reason to feel ashamed for visualizing someone naked for a split second was incredibly comforting. I didn’t do anything wrong, I have as little control over my immediate thoughts as I do over blinking when a bright light is shined in my face. My body is trying to help. But, I am in control of my body, and I have control over how long that image remains, or what I do with that image. Not only do I have control over it, I am responsible for it, and now that I have the tools to recognize why even violent thoughts may appear in my head (perhaps I was wronged, a boundary was broken, I was afraid, etc., and now I want to fight) I feel no shame over what comes in my mind. I am not an error, I am not wrong, my mind has a mind of its own.
And, while away, one class showed us Inside Out hence why we talked about it on the podcast first thing after coming back. I watched this movie while learning, brute-force style, how my body and mind worked, and to watch a movie visualize near-everything I had been learning was amazingly cathartic (and exciting, as I was getting a bit of movie-withdrawal since it’d been a few weeks since my last flick).
When the character Sadness is rejected, Joy goes with her because depression, the act of suppressing one emotion, often takes with it many other emotions. If we get too happy, or if we become too sensitive, the emotion we are desperately suppressing my slip out, so it’s best to hold it all in. Or, so the thought pattern goes. And, simultaneously, sometimes it isn’t until we get incredibly frustrated or lose our temper that other emotions fester to the top. This happened with a housemate of mine as he was encouraged to visit a rage-room to release pent up anger. When he went, a deep sadness was produced within him 5 minutes into the destruction as he wailed against glass and clay, his first time crying in several years. Anger (again, an emotion used to solve injustice or wrongs) internally assists us in tearing down the internal walls we build ourselves, which are often much sturdier than the walls we face externally. Inside Out depicts this wonderfully as Anger is used to help bring Joy and Sadness back into the Emotion Headquarters. With Riley angry enough about her family’s move to San Francisco, she’s ready to let the rest of her emotions flow and be honest with them.
Lastly, one nice recommendation our counselors encouraged was to visualize our thoughts like they were riding a train (remember the train of thought in Inside Out?), a practice that helps in separating ourselves from our unprompted and often unrequested thoughts and emotions. In doing so, we are better equipped not to say, “I am [current emotion]”, rather we say, “I am having [current emotion]”. Being apart from our experiences assists in keeping us from fully embracing our miseries and sufferings, and relinquishes it’s domineering power to prevent our own self-participation in solving our own problems. It also allows us to observe whether our emotions or thoughts are either unfounded, or perhaps not even useful at the time. Anger may be beneficial in solving problems, but not all problems need to be solved immediately or with equal force.
And, with Inside Out, it was also nice to watch a movie that handles emotions and thoughts in a way that’s fun and colorful. For as much as I love the movie Waves (and even more so after what I’ve learned these past few weeks), I’m glad to watch a film that is respectful to the complexity of human emotion, thought, and experience, without having to be aggressive or dreadful at times. Not to mention the accessibility to children is ginormous considering so much of a persons trauma, anxieties, depressions, etc. are sourced in childhood, be it parental abuse or neglect, horrific school experiences, or whatever you’re carrying.
I’m sure more of my experience in inpatient will bleed into my other reviews, podcast episodes, and blog posts. But, with Inside Out, it seemed most appropriate to share a bit of what I’ve learned. You know, considering the film is basically a visualization of the human mind in terms of thoughts and emotions. I have so many experiences to share, and I’m sure it’ll slip out through blog posts and podcast episodes, so look forward to that.
And, as a personal request, please pray for me. My depression, my many anxieties, the occasional self-hate, fleeting glimpse of my dead body at my desk or in the hall, and the addictions that routinely fail to solve my problems are still floating around my life, hovering like a salivating vulture eager to dive at my weakest moment. And I am very weak. I know my savior in Christ is very strong, but I am still very weak. So please, keep me in your prayers if you can. Even one would be sweet.
In the meantime, enjoy the show, enjoy the blog, and it’s good to be back.
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Melvin Benson is the Founder, Editor-In-Chief, and Lead Host of Cinematic Doctrine. He’s written fiction and nonfiction for over a decade with short stories featured on the Creepypasta Wiki and Wattpad. His novelette Ethereal Temptation, a teen drama with a tinge of magical-realism, can be read for free here. His hope is to see King Jesus glorified as far as the east is from the west!
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