Why Feelings Won't Kill You, But Running From Them Will

by Zara Barrie

I've spent most of my life absolutely, positively afraid to feel feelings of any kind, from the uncomfortable and the bad, to the warm and the good.

I did anything in the world to run away from the bad feelings faster than a teenage runaway fleeing from the cops in the heat of the night. And I was so afraid of losing the good feelings that I prevented myself from feeling them at all.

In high school, something extremely scary happened to me. I won't get into the specifics, but it involved the dangerous 16-year-old combination of booze, hard drugs, boys and hormones.

I can feel every single girl entity reading the aforementioned sentence collectively shudder.

I remember waking up in a state of panic. I wasn't sure what exactly had happened, but I knew it was something really, really, really bad. I had that girls’ intuition, that tug in the gut, that precious instinct that each and every one of us is born with telling me something was WRONG.

But I ignored it. I distinctly remember saying to myself, you know what? I'm just going to pretend this NEVER happened.

So how did I do it? I stuffed the relentless panic, the pressing fear and the impenetrable sweeping sensations of violation deep down within a closed-off cell inside of myself.

I shook the trauma off and went out to f*cking breakfast with the boys who had hurt me the night before. And I laughed with them over runny yellow eggs and stale coffee.

See, I can do this, I dutifully thought to myself. Who needs to deal with anything at all when you can just pretend?

This was precisely when I started having panic attacks.

For the next decade, anytime anything bad or scary or sad happened (I was a young girl working as an actress in LA, London and NYC with zero self-esteem and a slew of questionable "friends," so you can only imagine the epic piles of sh*t I was confronted with), I buried it deep down inside and locked up in a steel iron box that no one could touch. Not even myself.

I was so f*cking afraid that if I felt these pressing feelings, I would never see my way out of them. That I would drown in a proverbial pool of dark feelings. That the panic and the painful memories would consume me until I was nothing more than my anxiety. That the hurt would cut through the good parts of myself.

It's safe to say my plan didn't exactly work out the way I wanted it to.

Avoiding the scary feelings only made them manifest in bizarre ways: dizzying panic attacks, relentless nightmares, underlying depression that made it hard to crawl out of bed.

By the time I reached the age of 24, I was basically living in a funhouse made up of perpetual debilitating fears and panic.

So what did I do to seek relief? I ran away from the fear. I fled from the panic, flying away from any and every emotion that worked its way into my orbit. I drank until I blacked out. I engaged in disconnected sexual experiences with people I didn't care about. I drowned myself in my work. I surrounded myself with friends so I never had to face my own scary thoughts when I was alone. I numbed myself with a slew of prescription pills.

Finally, a friend spoke up. “You're playing Russian roulette with your life, and I can't watch you hurt yourself anymore,” she said.

It was then I realized something had to give.

Numbing works until it doesn't. And sometimes, a wake-up call comes not in the form of a disaster or a hospital visit or a breakup, but from a friend, uttering a simple sentence to you on the subway from Manhattan to Brooklyn.

For me, it's always been the littlest things that carry the heaviest weight.

Suddenly, I became acutely aware that my life could go in two directions: I could continue to run away from my feelings and possibly die, or I could feel my feelings and stay alive.

So, I started to let myself feel. And I realized the f*cking acute beauty in feeling feelings.

Feelings are what connect you to yourself. Feelings are what inspire you to fall in love, sketch in a journal, rock out to music and cry your eyes out in a sad movie.

Now, feelings are everything to me.

My life is so much better now that I f*ck with feelings. I even have learned to appreciate the dark feelings. They don't scare me anymore. Because I know in my heart that the bad feelings can't kill me.

But running away from them can.

Girl creatures across the stratosphere, I know how terrifying it is to confront a trauma. I would never minimize the sheer terror in confronting the demon. I know from my own experiences that once you've felt real fear for your life and paralyzing sadness, you don't ever want to go back to that place. I completely, 100 percent understand why you choose to run away just like I used to.

But please remember these feelings are temporary. And once you feel them out, you will realize they aren't so bad. Feelings aren't these epic monsters that can kill you. Feelings are feelings. Just that.

Don't run from them. Bask in them. Write them down. Cry about it. Sing about it. Whatever. Feelings are there to remind you that you f*cking survived. Feelings are a testament to your strength.

When you're tempted to numb, remember that a broken heart won't kill you, but drinking away the pain can. Remember that crying it out won't kill you, but numbing the pain with the drugs can.

And I'm not even just talking about booze and pills. I'm talking about your mental health. Anger won't kill you, but holding it in can. Happiness won't kill you, but thinking you don't deserve to be happy can.

Confronting the truth about how you really feel won't kill you. But swallowing that secret will.