Jack Bragen
Saturday August 04, 2018 - 07:32:00 PM

The ability to feel emotions, both happy ones and painful ones, is a sign of health. While someone may suffer from mania, psychosis, depression, and so on, the ability to feel emotions that are considered normal, and not just symptoms, could mean that we are healthy beings who suffer from a brain disorder. 

When I am "doing well" in my life, it is more likely that I will experience sadness, as opposed to paranoid fear or excessive anger. Paranoid fear has the potential to block out most of the other emotions. When the fearfulness wanes, I may have a gamut of other emotions that emerge. 

Once we get past the yoke of fear, one of the first emotional needs that emerge may be the desire to like ourselves. Yet, almost any types of emotions could emerge. When we get beyond fear, often we will have less anger--sometimes more anger. 

In some spiritual and self-help philosophies, the idea is that we are supposed to evolve beyond painful, negative, fearful, and angry emotions. However, most people, not just those with mental illness, must do a lot of preliminary exercises and "inner work" before we can realistically get close to this stage. Too many self-help philosophies espouse being sweet and loving, well before an individual can genuinely get to that stage. The result is someone who bristles beneath a phony front of spiritual advancement. Usually, the main person being fooled, is oneself. 

Especially for those with mental illness, we must access the emotions first. You can't let go of your anger before you get to your anger. The same goes for fear, and the same goes for grief. 

I was recovering from an acute episode of psychosis in Kaiser, about three decades ago, and a counselor wrote on a chalkboard, "Feel what you're feeling." Long before we can rise above the painful, difficult, "unevolved" emotions of an average person, we must get to the stage of fully experiencing those emotions, without blocking them with some form of suppression, or perhaps "neurosis." 

Having a psychiatric disorder is not an indicator of being unevolved. A person can have a psychiatric disorder, the origin of which is largely physical (it is a brain illness), and at the same time, we could be otherwise emotionally healthy, and ready to practice meditation, and/or mindfulness, and through this, become evolved.  

Not everyone is interested in meditation. They may prefer Christian practices, or practices of other religions. Regardless of what spiritual preferences a person has, it probably helps to be able to feel emotions without running away from them, without blocking them, and without resorting to forms of escapism, such as narcotics, alcohol, excessive food, or perhaps even video games. 

Psychosis can be akin to a drug. It is generated directly by the brain, but in some ways, it may have similar characteristics to taking a substance. This is one reason why compliance with treatment in some ways resembles sobriety. 

However, taking psychiatric medication isn't easy. It can cause a lot of suffering due to the side effects. It can block the levels of functioning necessary for performing at most jobs. Psychiatric medications can sometimes block the ability to read books for long periods of time. 

Psychiatric drugs may sometimes prevent us from fully experiencing emotions. If the dosages are excessive, or if they are being used to block valid yet uncomfortable emotions, it might be time to talk to one's doctor to get those meds straightened out. 

Persons in treatment for mental illness may mistake some painful emotions for symptoms, and might seek to solve all anguish with more pills. On the other hand, if the emotional state is so bad that we can't function and do the necessary things to live, such as go to the store "and buy a loaf of bread," then medication is likely to be part of the answer--either adding or subtracting a medication, or adjusting a dosage. 

However, if someone in your family, and/or whom you love, dies, it would be unhealthy not to be filled with grief and sadness. If you lose a job that you have had for years, it would be unhealthy not to feel some sadness or loss over it. If your car breaks down when you are driving through the Mojave Desert, it would be appropriate to worry. Medication should not be sought as the solution to all discomfort. 

If we are unable to be upset about anything, it is a sign that something is wrong; it is not a sign that we have achieved the pinnacle of higher consciousness. Even the most esteemed of Zen masters are capable of occasional anger. Christian monks are capable of anger. This is the human condition, and this is the design of the human brain. 

Some amount of emotional pain and happiness are normal. If we are incapable of this, we should seek more help.