There are times that I sit down to write, and I have a plan. Some days that plan is thrown out the window and I just need to write what I am feeling. Even if it is something I never intended to share. I know that if these things happen to me, I must not be the only one. Conversation about reflection is not a new one. The idea that when we reflect on activities and emotions, we can work through them and see how they shape us has been around for forever. It’s the foundation of therapy. It can be an easy thing to do if you know that you need to reflect on something and work through it. It can be overwhelming when something comes up that you don’t even know affected you, or that you thought you got through already. The reflection doesn’t have to be about a negative situation to still be overwhelming.
In my case, it is an entire year that was the best year of my life. Mind you, my life isn’t very long in comparison to others. Though it was mostly happy, there are emotions that I didn’t take into consideration. I’m going to share the basics with you. Selfishly, this is for me to continue to work through. It is also to share that if, or more like when, unresolved emotions come out of nowhere you know you aren’t alone. No matter what you feel, it is valid. You don’t need an reason, end of story.
When I was 20 years old, I had a wonderful opportunity to travel internationally to the United Kingdom, South Africa, and Japan. I spent a year teaching music and dance with 40 others of approximately the same age. Every three days we would be in a new town teaching new children. Every three days we would be set up with a new host family that would take us in with open arms. This allowed us to really immerse ourselves in the country and their culture. It also allowed us to make connections that were hard to say goodbye to. Yet we said goodbye over and over again without time to acknowledge how difficult that was. We would say goodbye to one family in the morning and were with a new family the same evening. There wasn’t time to process and reflect on the experiences we were having. There was so much love and loss amongst the cast that we all handled differently. Add the exhaustion and the stress that comes with travel, those emotions were pushed further back. I have stayed in contact with many of the families I stayed with. I know I have families across both oceans that will be there for me and me for them. I know that I have worked through the “homesickness” that I feel for those I met.
What I hadn’t realized is that I haven’t worked through my time in South Africa. We were there for 2 weeks. It was wedged between my time in the U.K. and my time in Japan. Talk about a culture shock. It was the first time that my organization had been there, nobody knew exactly what to expect. What we experienced was an outpouring of love and support from the communities that we were in. Just like everywhere there was heartache. I guess this heartache sat a little deeper and was never acknowledged.
The two weeks there was a blink of an eye in that year. A blink of an eye that was skipped over. An experience that I didn’t know affected me differently. I didn’t know until today. As I was working through my daily freewriting the emotions hit me like a freight train. Happy emotions, sad emotions, some emotions I don’t even have a name for. In that moment I felt a little manic. As though an experience from six years ago shouldn’t have that much effect on me. In that moment of manic emotion, I reached out to my mom. I told her what I was feeling. Her first question, because she knows me well, “Are you crying in the middle of a coffee shop?” It wouldn’t be the first time, but I surprisingly wasn’t! We talked through how it is normal to stir things up. It is normal to set things aside until a better time. Today was my better time.
What I really wanted to do was suppress those feelings, keep them tucked away in the back of my heart. In my head, I wasn’t ready to work through it, in my heart, I knew that now was as good of time as any. It wasn’t until I heard my mom say, “Sometimes you just need to finish it… it’s okay to not stop” that I decided to listen to my heart. As I continued to reflect on what I was feeling it became clear that, no shit these feelings wouldn’t just disappear.
We all have something sitting in the back of our heart waiting to be reflected upon. When we work through it there is no longer any ammo for it to debilitate us. The next time a thought flies through about my South Africa experience I won’t be so overwhelmed with emotions. I won’t struggle to find my breath and lose the ability to focus. When the time comes for you to reflect, find somebody you trust and work through it. You don’t have to do it on your own. Hell, I am an open ear if you need somebody that is removed from the situation. There is also a lot of strength in scoping out a professional if you believe that you need to. On top of that, I want you to know that you are not alone. You are not the only one that has unresolved emotions. If today isn’t the day to work through it, there is no shame in that. Acknowledge that it is there and face it on a day when you are feeling a bit stronger. From the words of my beautiful mother, “We’re all a little broken on the inside… it takes acknowledgement to soften those sharp edges.”