Tears stream down my face. My body heaves with the sobs. He asks me “What’s wrong?” My answer, in all honesty, is “I don’t know.” “Well, what are you feeling?” Again, I respond, “I don’t know.”
I don’t know. My common refrain when asked about feelings. It’s not a cop out or a way to avoid answering. It is my truth. Most of the time, I don’t know what I’m feeling. I can usually tell you “good” or “bad” but beyond that is a mystery to me.
You see, I have alexithymia which is a difficulty or inability to identify and describe emotions. From the way I write on hear, you would probably think I’m pretty good with emotions. I can write poetry to describe various emotional states. Yet in order to get to the place where I can write about an emotion, it takes days or even weeks to process what emotion that was and how to describe it.
My difficulty identifying or explaining emotions doesn’t mean I don’t have any, though. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. I often feel too much. I experience emotions very intensely, I just have difficulty figuring out which emotion I’m feeling at the time. When I’m feeling good, it doesn’t really matter to me if I have words for what I’m feeling. I’m content with good. However, when I’m feeling bad, I often need to figure out in which way I am feeling bad which can be a big struggle. Am I depressed? Anxious? Angry? Frustrated? Something else? Most of the time, I can’t tell you in the moment.
Over time, I’ve learned to use body clues to identify my emotions. Depression is a sinking weight in my chest. A literal heaviness of my body. Anxiety comes with a racing heart and racing thoughts. Anger is burns like fire, hot and intense. Yet, even with all of these clues to identify what is going on, I still have times when I can’t put the pieces together.
Talking about emotions is where it gets even worse. Even if I can identify what I’m feeling, making mouth words happen to describe that feeling can be very difficult or impossible. Much to the frustration of those who care about me, I often need a lot of time to think and process my words and even then I usually only get out a fraction of what I need to say.
Emotions are a challenge for me which I think is why I find them so fascinating. I experience such intense emotions and yet there is a disconnect between what I feel and my ability to identify and describe it. Alexithymia varies from person to person. My experience will not match everyone with alexithymia. Yet, I hope that by sharing my experience, it might help others feel less alone in their own experiences.