Friday, 23 November 2012

Perception Fail

I can tell you that the two most internationally recognizable emotions are fear and anger. I can tell you that an emotion translated into a physical ailment is called a somatoform disorder. I can tell you that various negative emotions are likely to manifest as anger in many males. These are all things my psychology degree has taught me about emotions.

What my degree didn't teach me is how to identify in myself the difference between anxiety and an upset stomach. Must have slept through that lecture.

I seem to have trouble recognizing a lot of what I feel. I mean, I can manage the difference between happy and not happy, but whoever it was that said "females are more in touch with their emotions than males" clearly was thinking of someone else that is not me. Up until just a couple years ago, my supervisor at work was more in tune with my emotions than I was.

It was early morning at Tim Hortons. I glided behind the counter with my usual grace and charm, inquired as to the well-being of my coworkers, and started doing Tim Hortons stuff. It was a nice morning, so I hummed a bit and doodled with the grease pencil on the cream dispenser.

When my supervisor, Debbie, asked how I was, I gave her a long-winded reply to the effect of "fine" and mentioned that finals were over at school.

"Oh," Debbie said, "Is that what was making you stressed lately?"

"I was stressed?" I said. "I guess.... wait... Was I behaving poorly or being snippy or something?"

"Well," said Debbie, not making eye contact, "To be honest, you were kind of... quiet." By this, I take her to have meant sullen and dull and taciturn.

"Oh," I replied. "I'm sorry. If it happens again, let me know and I'll try to stop."

"Most people wouldn't notice," said Debbie, "It's just that I've known you for so long. I'm glad you're feeling better now."

For several months after that, my early morning shift at Timmy's was the primary tool I used to measure how stressed I was or was not feeling. I discovered that if I didn't spontaneously break out into humming while stirring coffee, but spent my time sighing instead, then that meant I was stressed. Eventually, I was able to extrapolate so I could tell where I sat on the stress-o-meter when I was at home or at school, too.

But it turns out that even measuring objective criteria doesn't always work.

Yesterday, something felt off. Initially, I put it down to worrying about finances, but I wasn't really sighing. So then I thought I might just be coming down with something, because I remembered mistaking nausea for nervousness during the puke fest at family camp this summer. But it didn't get worse and I didn't anticipate throwing up, so I just got confused.

At any rate, I told my prayer partners during class.

"I don't feel right," I said. Then I paused. "What does it tell you about my personality that I can't distinguish a physical ailment from an emotion?"

They laughed at me (and also prayed for me). Then the professor mentioned something about "all the people getting sick," so I thought the odds were good I was just physically ill.

This morning I slept until noon. Now I feel better, despite there being no change in the possibly anxiety-producing situation. It seems safe to say that I was actually sick. Which is good. Psychology major and crisis line volunteer or not, I wouldn't have known what to do had it turned out to be objectless, generalized anxiety. I only know what other people are supposed to do about it.

All in all, I feel pretty proud for having figured this out. One day soon, I might even be able to reliably tell the difference between frustration and embarrassment.

Dealing with ailments of the more existential kind:
Londo: What's wrong with me?
Vir: What's wrong with you is you!

1 comment:

Art said...

Emotion kind of sneaks up on you. I don't think I have ever hummed while stirring coffee so does that mean I have been stressed my entire life? Maybe I have and just don't know better. I know I am happier when you are happy though.