How to Stop Feeling Numb
I've never really thought that feeling numb was a problem for me. I've always had issues with feeling too much. Even when I'm depressed, I don't usually relate to the emptiness that many others describe. Even my depression is full of emotions, from self-loathing to existential dread. But over the last few years, I have learned to cope with my depression better and better, so when those depressive emotions resurface, I panic and try to shove them away. Which is why, after years of depression and anxiety, I am just now starting to experience numbness.
What Is It Like to Feel Numb?
If you're familiar with feeling numb, it probably seems ridiculous to try and describe what feeling numb feels like, because it feels like nothing at all. But I have found that describing my emotions (or the lack thereof) can really help me understand them and process them.
For me, numbness feels like a brick wall. All my feelings, good and bad, are behind the wall, but there's no way through or around it. The longer the wall stays up, the more disconnected I feel. It's like drifting through space without a tether. I can see the space station of emotions, but I have no way to get back to it. I am vaguely afraid, but I can't even really feel that. Over time, emotions start to pile up behind the brick wall, and I start to feel a sense of pressure, like a dam about to burst. But it won't burst. It just keeps building until I feel like Atlas, holding up the world.
How to Stop Feeling Numb
I am definitely not an expert on breaking through the wall of numbness in a healthy way, but it is something that I've been working on recently. One thing I've learned is how not to deal with numbness. For instance, you can't just wait for the numbness to go away on its own. At least in my experience, odds are that the numbness will just continue to get worse and worse.
And you definitely shouldn't engage in activities that are triggering for you in an attempt to create an emotion so big that it can't possibly be numbed. I've done this my entire life, and I'm just now realizing it's probably because I'm more comfortable feeling horribly overwhelmed than I am feeling numb. But it's still not good for me.
Now, I'm trying these coping mechanisms instead, and I've found that even though they're hard and painful, they help break through the numbness and break me out of my pattern of avoiding negative feelings.
- Write down the feelings you're avoiding. Even when I can't feel my feelings, I can usually tell what they are if I allow myself to admit that they are real. I often try to make "bad" emotions disappear because I don't want to feel them because they are inconvenient, are confusing or would be upsetting to others if they knew. Sometimes I'm just too scared to actually feel them. So I start by writing them down without any obligation to actually feel them. All I'm asking myself to do is acknowledge that my feelings are real. Sometimes this breaks through the wall of numbness, and other times it doesn't, but it is always a step in the right direction.
- Tell someone close to you that you're feeling numb. I've found that simply talking about feeling numb can help break down the wall. I think the main reason this works is that I am reaching out to someone I love and allowing a little bit of his or her love to get through to me, and that tiny bit of feeling helps me break through to the rest of my feelings.
- Play the "why?" game. I typically do this through journaling because I feel like I process my emotions better through writing, but you could play this game in your head. Basically, ask yourself why you're feeling numb. Then, whatever that answer is, ask yourself why that is. Keep asking yourself "Why?" until you finally tap into a real emotion.
Have you experienced numbness specifically during your recovery from mental illness? How do you deal with feeling numb, and what does it feel like to you? I would love to talk to other people about this uncomfortable aspect of recovery. Let me know in the comments.
Griffith, M. (2020, July 7). How to Stop Feeling Numb, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2020, November 26 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/recoveringfrommentalillness/2020/7/how-to-stop-feeling-numb