I’m Tired of Talking About My Emotions!

by Dan DeanSurvivor, Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma, Stage 4March 21, 2021View more posts from Dan Dean

Talking, thinking and writing about, burying, processing and shielding your feelings is kind of a pain in the ass. Feelings! Emotions! Who even wants them sometimes?

Even for those of us guys who more or less feel comfortable expressing or are in touch with our inside selves, have overcome some emotional crisis or worked with a therapist, I don’t know of anyone who really likes to do it–myself included. For me, it often feels like the last room in the house that I need to clean. I putter around, procrastinate, deny the room even exists, then–maybe, just maybe if the emotional burden becomes too much–I sort of address the clutter. Not in any kind of organized fashion, mind you, but in a haphazard, feeling it out kind of way (no puns intended).

For several years after being diagnosed with cancer, I wore my emotions on my sleeve, sharing more or less pretty freely about the breakthroughs and challenges of going through the disease. I was processing what had happened to me: facing my mortality and charting a new course in my life because of cancer. Granted, when I was diagnosed, there was nowhere near the resources for young adults–in particular, all shapes and sizes or support groups and programs–that exist today. I had to figure a lot of what laid beneath through reading, trial-and-error (living life and making mistakes in the process) and talking with friends for support, feedback or insight. I didn’t share everything with everyone, mind you, trusting close friends with some of the more intimate information, but I did share enough of what was going on emotionally with lesser-than-close friends to put myself in a less desirable position.

What does less desirable mean exactly? For me, it means giving out trust to those who have not earned it–not earning the right to know your cancer story and all that went into it. When that happens, you can feel exposed when that person doesn’t reciprocate a personal side of themselves or boxed in because they only see you in a cancer light (especially true if you don’t know someone that well, such as early in the dating process). There were times when I would share my story and feel as if someone were munching on a bowl of popcorn while they listened to it–more for entertainment in a way and less about empathy.

Sharing emotions reminds me a lot of when I write a story for my job or personal writing. If you’ve ever written anything (and I’m guessing you probably have), the work you produce feels like your baby. If you share your writing with whomever, everyone has a different opinion of it–advocating you to change this or change that, or like certain parts, but not others, to suggest a new word choice or judge you for a bad one, and so on. You’ll never find universal consensus on a piece of writing. If you did share your work, you’d have a piece of disjointed, non-coherent work that wasn’t truly yours.

By the same token, sharing your emotions in a similar manner will lead to nothing good–just confusion for you. For instance, you may want to share your cancer experience with someone in the hopes of looking courageous to them (there is always a reason why we share what we share–to be perceived as funny or intellectual or charming or a rebel). Unfortunately, a couple of things can happen when we (men) share our emotions freely with others who aren’t our close, close friends: 1) others will take away a meaning different than what you intend; or 2) they will not know how to respond because they don’t have the tool of empathy or lived experience to truly engage with you.

I tend to talk about emotions in this broad, non-linear kind of way–using analogies to describe the processing of them–because I think many of us are used to a one-sided, black-and-white approach and response to dealing with them. Having trouble? See a therapist. Or it goes something like that. Having emotions? Depending on who is reacting to you, they may not expect them from you outside of their/our stigmatized preconceptions of what men are supposed to feel like. Keep a stiff upper lip! Sound familiar? That’s typically how we’re expected to be as men in our society. Vary from that and oftentimes it’s “You might want to think about seeing someone” or “I don’t like this side of you” or “Where did this side of you come from?” and so on.

But what if you find yourself not needing therapy, for instance? Maybe you’re contemplating how great cancer’s impact has been on you and a little journaling would do? Or a trip away someplace? Or going to a fun support group where you can share your lived experience with others who actually have walked a mile (and more) in your shoes?

And yet I still come back to the roadblocks men experience if they consider those options. Journaling? What kind of man are you? Travel someplace? To do what? Find yourself? Go to a support group? Maybe you’re not as tough as I thought you were. Bear with me here. I’m not covering all the nuance of interactions and reactions, but these are the big ones that can trip us up from paying attention to, wading through and acting upon our emotions and feelings that cancer has a way of bubbling up to the surface.

I’m not much of an advice giver. If anything, I feel like my experience as a patient, survivor and caregiver make me more like a cancer travel agent who can share tips and must-sees from the places I’ve been to, but not some cancer guru who knows all the answers. That being said, this isn’t an earth shattering thing to say, but if you’re a guy who’s got emotions and has a desire to express them, start close. That is, start close by sharing only what you want to share with people you absolutely trust. Open that part of yourself up to them because it feels safe to do so, that you won’t be judged because of those annoying emotions.

Some of us have one or two people like that in our life. These are the people you can be real with. Is there a chance sharing would backfire? Yes. Can you predict with whom that will happen? No. That’s where counselors can come in handy–you pay them to listen to you without judgment. But sharing with whomever, as I’ve written, can be problematic. But equally as problematic is not sharing at all.

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All of the posts written for Elephants and Tea are contributed by patients, survivors, caregivers and loved ones dealing with cancer.  If you have a story or experience you would like to share with the cancer community we would love to hear from you!  Please submit your idea at https://www.elephantsandtea.com/contact/submissions/.

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2 Comments

  • Vikki Ramdass says:

    Nice article!

  • Amy Colver says:

    Dan, this is a great article, thanks so much for sharing! I am glad that we had the opportunity to meet each other on this journey, and hope that you are doing well.

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