What emotion will you choose today?

Trigger warning:  talk about mental illness, suicide.

There are a couple of memes going around my Facebook timeline presently that assert that happiness is a choice.

The thing is, if you are going to say that happiness is a choice, then you’re allowing that unhappiness is also a choice.

Would a person really choose to be unhappy?  Sometimes, maybe, yes.  Maybe, in the twisted logic of distress, one would choose to be unhappy (perhaps as a way to punish someone else or even oneself).

If it is a matter of choosing our emotions, do we choose to be frightened by loud noises?  Do we choose to be angry when someone taunts us?  Do we choose to be sad when someone we love dies?

If unhappiness and its more serious and sometimes chronic cousin depression are choices, then unhappy people should be able to snap right out of it simply by choosing to be happy, right?

I suspect that anyone who believes that has never been in the jaws of depression.  So deep in the self-hatred and feelings of failure that every move, every decision is a painful one.  So agonized that suicidal ideation becomes a release; death becomes an option (however fleeting), because the dead don’t feel.

The idea that we can choose our emotions also leads to a disturbing phenomenon that’s already too prevalent in our society:  victim-blaming.  Blaming sad people for feeling sad. Ultimately, blaming the mentally ill for being mentally ill.  (People with depression are exceedingly capable of blaming themselves, so we don’t actually need help from society at large on that score.)  I mean, if sadness/depression/anxiety/fear/anger/jealousy/etc. are all choices, we only have ourselves to blame for feeling them, right?

And that is just not helpful.

It is true that we have control over our emotions, at least some of the time.  I’m sure a number of you reading this know all about forcing happiness at work, especially if you have a customer service job.  I know about that.  I also know how emotionally harmful it can be.  Controlling your emotions or forcing yourself to display a particular emotion, however, is not the same as choosing to feel one emotion over another.

Let’s go back to an assumption regarding the memes:  that choice is simple.  (Yes, the memes do not explicitly say the choice is simple.  However, it is implied.)  Not all choices are easy.  Some are gut-wrenching, soul-tearing, difficult decisions. Many range in difficulty levels between those two extremes.  Arguably, choosing to be happy could be simple, excruciatingly difficult, or somewhere in-between depending on the person.

Allowing that choices aren’t all simple, can we really choose our emotions?  Can you really wake up in the morning and say, “I choose to be happy today?”  I think that’s far-fetched.  What you can choose to do is to face the day with a hope that you will feel positive most of the day and a determination to face any challenges that come along.  That is not the same as choosing your emotional state.

As Zero Dean says on this blog post:

“No. Happiness is not a choice. Attitude is a choice.”

This idea is better than the whole happiness-is-a-choice one.  Even with attitude, though, changing your attitude can be as difficult as moving a mountain.  (Remind me of that the next time my kid is acting up, and I say, “Change your attitude.”)

Not everyone can change their attitude and feel better every time, as Therese Borchard discusses in this article:

“That’s what bugs me about ‘happiness is a choice’ philosophies. I think they work on mild and moderate depression, definitely on situational depression. But for some forms of severe depression and treatment-resistant depression or complicated mood disorders — at least for those periods of time when you’re on your knees begging God to take you — my experience has been that any attention to your thoughts only makes it worse.

…The trick is knowing when to apply optimism, cognitive behavioral therapy, and all the brain exercises that can form new neural passageways, and when to turn the brain off and just keep swimming.”

We humans need all our emotions, and it’s okay to feel them.  It is okay to feel sad or mad or glad or silly.  Feeling a wide range of emotions is healthy.

And I get it.  Memes don’t take into account every person, every situation, etc.  They are sound bytes in a world bombarded with messages.  They are images thrown into the vast sea of social media to inspire or to ridicule or to attempt levity in a world that has exploded with seriousness, because we have up-to-the-minute access to the terrors in our world.

I also know that these little bombarding bits of information add to the overriding culture. A drop in a bucket may be only a drop in a bucket.  But many similar drops in the same bucket change the whole amount in the bucket.

 

Little poem

I wrote this little poem in November.  Enjoy.

They say poetry is dead
out of my head
in my head
long live poetry!

They say Twitter is dead
running out of funds
and fun
full of cliques and trolls
with guns
long live Twitter!

They say Facebook is dread
full of targeted ads
and unwanted opt-out opt-ins
long forgive Facebook!

© 2016 by Robin A. Sams

End of 2015

Well, the December holidays have rushed past.  I thought I would pause to reflect on some of the writing highlights from my year:

NaPoWriMo:  I took part in NaPoWriMo again this year, writing a poem a day for the month of April.  My poems can be read on this blog, starting here.

Cascadia Poetry Festival:  I had the fortune of attending the Cascadia Poetry Festival, which was held in my town this year.  I listened to many new (to me) poets, read some of my own poetry during the Living Room readings, and acquired three new books of poetry.

Channillo:  I tried something different this year in splashing feet-first into the realm of subscription-based, serial literature.  I wrote a series of blackout poetry based on Piers Anthony’s Xanth novel The Color of Her Panties and put it up on Channillo.com.  While the series completed in November, it is still available for reading here.  (You can subscribe to 1-10 series for $4.99 per month.)

NaNoWriMo:  In November, I took part in NaNoWriMo to work on my fantasy novel.  While I did not reach the 50,000-word goal, I did reach 20,693 words and got a good start on the novel.  As the new year approaches, I’m gearing up to get back into novel-writing.

Publications:  This year, I had a total of five poems published in textIsland Writer magazine, and the e-zine Restless.  I also had a book review published in Island Parent magazine, which you can read on my blog here.

Reviews:  Besides the previously mentioned review, I also reviewed the Genderific Coloring Book here on my blog.  Given the popularity of that post, I’m looking forward to posting more reviews in the coming year.

I am also looking forward to working more on my novel and submitting more poetry.  I hope to get more blog posts happening on here, which I realize is an annual hope.

In the meantime, I have Yule-Christmas decorations to take down.  I will be spending the evening with my spouse and child, watching a movie, maybe playing games, and enjoying the toll of midnight with a glass of sparkling apple juice.

 

November is here. Time to put pencil to paper, fingers to the keyboard. Go!

My poetry series on Channillo will be drawing to a close later this month.  I have four more poems to write and upload to the site.

In the meantime, I am starting NaNoWriMo this month as a way to motivate me to continue work on my novel.  I’d had the idea for the book in my head for several years and started writing notes and several scenes earlier this year.  Then, mid-summer, the writing stopped.

Now I am planning to get back into it and get my story out onto the page.

Sore’s Anniversary

Today is the one-year anniversary of the launch of my first poetry book Sore:  fantasies and inhibitions. Why not celebrate by buying a copy today?  :-)

I’m quite pleased with how this book turned out.  The poems are jam-packed with desire, longing, love, sex, loneliness, jealousy, caring.  They are a love note, an explosion of pent-up desire, a long-held longing.  I enjoyed writing these poems.

Creating the book was a learning curve and a great experience.

I hope all of you who read my book enjoy it and share it with others you think will enjoy it.

And thank you for supporting me.

Happy Random Acts of Poetry Day!

Here’s a new poem for you:

I meant these words to leap
to tell a month’s joy in glorious detail
it seems they are too much like me
turning pages of stabbing lines into the heart of it
which exaggerates the sagging truth dragging
itself through my faultlines
ripping the ragged edges
dipping a finger to the clear horizon
of parchment unwritten upon
tempting a new crack to break the view
until letters tumble back to the safe
zone of okay     let’s go
a word at a time tip-toeing the line
whispers hiding as shouts
to keep down the noise
the push    pushing through a burning dawn.

© 2015 by Robin A. Sams

Back from holidays with fresh poems

I’m back from a near six-week vacation visiting my family in the States.  I have some blog posts in mind which will hopefully get written and posted soon.

In the meantime, I’ve added some fresh poems to my Channillo poetry series The Colour of Her Mind.  You can read the series (and up to nine other series of your choice) for only $4.99 per month.  My series is ongoing until November, so check it out!

The first poem is available for view for free here.