This is a wonderful recent advice column from Ask Polly–aka Heather Havrilesky–advising someone who just can’t be alone with their thoughts, who feels like they’re a sham, who can’t relax or find meaning.

“Feeling your feelings”–and learning to differentiate feelings and thoughts–has been ongoing work for me in therapy (to the point of keeping a journal where I had to start every entry with “I felt” to practice). I’m still working on it but have learned enough to see that Polly is spot on in her advice: The only way to “deal” with feelings is to feel them. I relate to this haunted house analogy HARD:

Even though [sitting with your feelings] might sound like walking straight into a haunted house and scaring the shit out of yourself for no reason, what you’ll find, when you turn on the lights, is a bunch of fake-looking automated ghosts running on car batteries. You’ve got to shine a flashlight on these wilted ghouls and see them for the self-created echoes of your underlying anxieties. Your anxieties are your mind’s way of trying to handle all of the feelings trapped inside your skin. You never let them out. The automated ghost is your irrational fear, the car battery is your anxiety, which is recharged whenever you try to take your feelings and stuff them inside your brain instead of just FEELING THEM, which would drain the energy there and keep the ghosts from dancing around.

When you feel your feelings, you turn your haunted house into a regular house. Feeling your sadness and your longing and your love for the people who matter to you is a way of dragging those fake ghosts out to the curb and stuffing them into the trash. Are you morose or depressed, or are you just sad sometimes? Is this a momentary manic feeling, or is it actual joy? When you pay attention to how you’re feeling, your thoughts slow down. You can focus.


The whole answer is wonderful–it was hard to quote just two grafs.