Normalizing Expressing Your Feelings & Emotions
By Adam Burak
“Will Adam Burak please come down to the main office?” was a message I heard over the loudspeaker dozens of times while in elementary school. Still, it startled me and sent me into an anxious spiral. Heads turned, while stares of confusion and intrigue shook me to my core as I walked to the door. I knew where I was going, but no one else did. It was time for occupational therapy (OT). It was a time that I dreaded—not because OT was difficult or was not beneficial—but because I would lie to my friends and peers in my class when they asked where I went. I did not like lying, but I was so concerned about their opinions and ashamed of feeling different that I did not feel comfortable sharing anything about OT.
Had I been able to share my emotions about feeling different, my feelings about attending OT may not have been so negative. Rather than internalizing all of my doubts and insecurities, I could have shared the challenges I was experiencing and instead, receive my friends’ support. I realize now that many people have had similar experiences of feeling different and inferior to others. Therefore, I believe it is important to share my story. My mission is to help others open up, to normalize the expression of emotions and feelings, in an effort to change the way individuals handle, share, and think about their feelings and emotions.
I created a negative narrative about myself which began when I was born. I was born with a left clubfoot. Consequently, I faced many challenges early in my life which included learning to walk later than others, having difficulty walking, and having smaller and weaker left leg calf muscles. Unfortunately, the emotional issues I faced, like feeling something was wrong with me, were more difficult and challenging than the physical ones. Hearing doctors say, “He may never play sports and may never walk correctly” caused extreme emotional pain. As a kid just wanting to fit in, these experiences had a significant impact on my self-esteem and image.
When I was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder(ADHD) and a visual-spatial learning disability, I felt even more different and inferior to my peers. I started seeing an organizational coach along with other support professionals. The goal was to provide additional learning and to help me develop ways to deal with my developmental disability. I internalized my ADHD as negative and labeled myself as damaged. I did not understand how common it was to be diagnosed with a learning disability or ADHD. Looking back now, it wasn’t the ADHD that bothered me but the fact that I felt different and inadequate because of it. However, unbeknownst to me, many of my peers were experiencing the same challenges.
It is important to note that despite frequent feelings of inadequacy and alienation, I never told anyone how I felt. I completely internalized my emotions for over 20 years. I was never told, nor did I realize, that others were battling similar challenges and emotions. It wasn’t until recently that I learned to embrace my differences and transform them into self-love and self-acceptance, and use these differences in a positive way.
If we want to improve the lives of those experiencing mental health issues and eliminate the stigma surrounding mental health, we need to encourage people to express their emotions and feelings, not hide behind them. We need to normalize the expressions of emotions and feelings. In my opinion, the earlier this is done in a person’s life, the better it is for their mental health. I have learned firsthand how I would have benefited from being able to openly talk about my emotions, the things that upset me, and the anxiety that kept me up at night.
We must foster a safe space where all individuals can feel comfortable talking about their emotions and differences. The ability to be open and feel accepted is a critical part of an individual’s development of a positive self-image and their overall mental health. Expressing one’s true emotions is a key first step in a person’s ability to overcome adversity.
Encouraging children to share their emotions, and normalizing the behavior of sharing emotions, should be no different than teaching a child to go to the nurse when they are physically ill or with a sprained ankle.
If you need support now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, or, text 741741 to get help 24/7 from the Crisis Text Line. If you or someone you know needs help, visit the Jordan Porco Foundation’s resources page.
The opinions expressed in this blog are personal, and not those of the Jordan Porco Foundation. The information in this blog post is provided for general informational purposes only and should not be construed as mental health advice from the individual author or the Jordan Porco Foundation. You should consult a mental health professional for advice regarding your individual situation.