Repressed Emotion and Overwhelm

I wrote recently about a particularly cathartic experience—allowing myself to fully give up control, to let myself be hurt and to not try to make myself be okay, to let myself cry and just let go. On the other end of the spectrum, today I spent the entire morning crying uncontrollably, and the only thing that snapped me out of it was my partner simply touching my body in pleasant ways, keeping me warm, avoiding pain completely, focusing completely on my pleasure. In both cases—the pain in the first case and a pleasurable orgasm in the second—sex helped to release tension and stress that I tend to build up when I don’t really deal with problems in my life.

This is an ongoing problem for me that I’ve only begun to really recognize over the last few years: I avoid anger, hide myself away when I’m depressed, refuse to ask for help, and force myself not to cry when I’m hurt or scared. All of it blends together and builds and builds until it bursts, and I break down. I retreat into my room for a day or two or three, cry uncontrollably, shake, lose the ability to speak coherently or understand anything around me. I try to shut everything out. Simply, I feel a sense of overwhelm, of everything in this world just being too much for me to deal with.

A while back, I started to consider the idea that perhaps this cycle of overwhelm was related to my frequent inability to have orgasms that were fully satisfying, that didn’t just leave me feeling like my skin was crawling and I would never find true release. That is, perhaps my overwhelm/panic attacks would cease if I could only have truly satisfying orgasms on a regular basis. (Like today.)

Now, I’m realizing that orgasm is just one part of the bigger issue, which is that I don’t actually know how to release tension, stress, anger, grief, and other emotions. Not fully. Not in a way that keeps their residue from piling up until I choke on it.

When I first began dating my current partner, one of the most difficult issues we had to deal with was that we have each lived with completely different ways of dealing with emotion. He’s always been very forthcoming with his emotions—both good and bad ones—and finds it difficult, if not impossible, to not talk about it if he’s upset, hurt, or needs help. I, on the other hand, grew up in a family in which problems, illness, depression, and conflict were just not ever discussed. Whenever they did come up, they created such intense awkwardness and discomfort—because none of us actually knew how to communicate emotions or talk about our problems—that it reinforced the lesson that it’s better to keep things under wraps, to keep things “pleasant” and simple.

One of the ongoing challenges in our relationship has been to accept these differences; for me to understand that it’s healthy to get upset when things go badly, and for him to understand that it’s an ongoing struggle for me to ask for help or to talk about my problems and fears.

Anyway, getting back to the issue at hand—the point is that using sex to release emotions and stress, whether through pain and catharsis or through pleasure and orgasm, might work fine, but it would be better if I just didn’t let the stress build up in the first place. It means that I have to learn how to cry in front of people, how to let people help me when I need it, how to talk about my problems to my friends.

Just one of those amazing revelations that seem perfectly self-explanatory and simple when I write them down.

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