wall-of-wordsEvery feeling tells a story.

These stories that swirl and sway and wriggle and writhe in our chests, these little tellers of truth in our flesh, these feelings are the story tellers that have been hard-wired into our bodies since before we were born of stardust and bone marrow. Feelings don’t just capriciously come and go, they don’t drive by peppering us with their arrows and then skid and drift away leaving damage and disorientation in their wake. They reside in us, dwell with us, speak to us. Feeling always have something to tell us when they show up.

The narrative they speak to us is one of response. Feelings don’t exist in a vacuum. Something prods and pokes us and elicits a response from deep within the chasm of our innards. These responses we carelessly call feelings. We label these stories as happy, sad, anxious, depressed. We categorize them into good and bad. We shove them down into a tiny bottle of in our soul. We dismiss them as ethereal and without substance. We try and cover them up, self-medicating to get rid of, hide from, or just ignore these feelings. We often don’t even know what we are feeling let alone the story that is trying to be woven for our ears to hear. Often, we respond poorly to the catalysts that spark feelings and end up so disorientated that we don’t even know what we are feeling.

But feelings are trying to tell us things, important things, things that shouldn’t simply be ignored. When out very bodies are reacting to a situation it would do us well to listen. And that’s what feelings are: simply a reaction. They are not inherently good or bad. They just are. They are our bodies reacting chemically and physiologically to some stimulus, internal or external. Feelings are trying to tell us something has happened, something we should pay attention to, something worth our attention. It may not be some monumental thing that has occurred. But pebbles still make ripples on the water’s surface. Little things that happen still affect us. We should pay attention to the small things as well as the big ones.

Often it is easier to understand why we feel the way we do when some huge event occurs. We can look at this colossus of a reason and say, “Oh that’s why I feel this way. In the large moments of life, it is easy to hear the feelings and learn their stories. But in the small moments, the quiet times when feelings slowly creep in under the door of your heart, it can be difficult to understand these stories. When suddenly you realize that for days you have been unhappy and sad. When the revelation of your quietly happy days knocks you off balance. When your irritation and grumpy attitude coalesces into a simmering anger at the world around you. Times like these it’s not always clear what causes the feelings. It’s not always clear where these feelings sparked from. But they are there still and still there for a reason and they still have a story to tell. It might be harder to hear what our feeling are telling us in these small moments, but it is just as important that we take the time to “oh ya, this is why I feel like this.” Mountains are usually easy to see, understand, define. In these moments, it’s easy to see what the story is our feeling is telling us. It clears why we are angry, sad, happy, confused, despondent. Clarity like that doesn’t happen all the time. Take it and run when you can. Use the big moments of life too clearly hear what feelings are telling you about yourself, about the reasons you feel anger, about the reasons you feel peace, about the reasons you feel overwhelmed. Find the path between the event and your feelings, the direct link between cause and effect. When we see the reason, we feel the way we do, we begin to hear what the feeling is telling us about ourselves. That is important information. It helps us understand who we are, how we are wired, where we may want to change our automatic responses.

Feelings always have a story to tell, even when we are out of balance and mentally unstable. For some of us, mental illness means that we have feelings that can seem to pop up out of nowhere blindsiding us with their ferocity, crippling us, crushing us with their magnitude. Depression is all encompassing. Irritability and anger are unfounded. Overjoyed can mean a manic episode is coming like a tsunami into our life. Anxiety is the best example of this I can think of for myself.

See, I get these crippling panic attacks. Anxiety claws at my heart, it becomes harder and harder to breathe, my mind vacillates between two (or more) seemingly equal impossible choices. These panic attacks leave me a crumpled mess on the floor. They have stolen jobs from me. I am unable to move, think clearly, act, or calm down. Still, there is a reason for even feelings like these. There is a story they are trying to tell me. It might be the narrative that my medications are off and I need them adjusted. Or maybe they are telling me that I have neglected self-care for too long and I need some real rest. Maybe Anxiety is telling me there is stress going on in my life that is overwhelming and crushing. Whatever the message, I would do well to take the time to hear it rather than writing the feeling off as simply another panic attack that plagues me.

I need to listen to what my feelings are telling me because feelings are information, reaction to the world and situations around me. They aren’t inherently good or bad. Rather feelings are signposts, alerts, messages to hear and discern. They are meant to help us navigate through this life, to discover what makes us happy, what hurts us, what enriches our life. We shouldn’t be afraid of what we feel, even when society and culture may tell is its bad or wrong to feel a certain way. Don’t let anyone tell you your feelings are wrong. What we do with these little stories may be good or bad, wise or foolish, but the emotions themselves are valid, true, and important.

So listen to the stories your body and brain are telling you. Pay attention to why you feel the way you do, to the cause and effect. When feelings seem to strike like lightening, barging in out of nowhere, don’t be quick to write them off as a fluke, an illness, or some other excuse. Listen to the narratives they are telling you, to the information they are providing your wise mind. We can’t lead a good life if we go around half-informed of who, what, and how we are. Let your feelings tell you the story of yourself.