In the time since my brother took his own life days after Christmas 2016, I have learned a great deal. Before this event, I felt inadequate because I could not keep up with my colleagues. I had suffered a breakdown in 2005, and a second, less severe one in 2014, both times diagnosed with post-traumatic stress.
But, after the event, I started to think it was not me that was wrong – it was a society that was so unaccepting of emotions, so intolerant of temperamental differences and so judgemental about achievement, affluence and appearances. In my working life as a registered nurse, I excelled at looking after others’ emotional needs but had totally neglected my own. I believe it is worse for males; our society expects them to be strong, rational – anything but emotional. I found Susan Cain’s work on introversion, and Elaine Aron’s work on sensory processing sensitivity – I strongly identified with both. It was an enormous relief to realise I was not alone, not the only one who felt like a misfit in an insensitive, extroverted world. I began a master’s degree, looking at society and these issues, linking my research back to my experience.
I have found there are many who agree that we need to rethink how we relate to our emotions – especially those we consider ‘negative’. The idea that we can just push through or ignore emotions is wrong. In her book, ‘Emotional Agility’, Susan David, PhD, links the acceptance of normal human emotions to resilience. Jonice Webb, PhD, has studied childhood emotional neglect and its impact in later life. We all need to learn to recognise emotions and find a way of accepting them rather than denying or repressing them, something neither my brother nor I were taught.