Use your words
When I found out I was pregnant with my son, I rang my friend, The Good Doctor, and asked, what the hell should I know about raising a son?
Her answer was the greatest piece of advice for anyone with children.
Teach him the words to name his feelings.
Argghh! How good is that? How perfect? Shouldn't everyone know their feeling words? Not enough do, I'm afraid.
I recently read that if you have a strong and wide emotional vocabulary, you're more able to differentiate what is depression, and what is 'just having an off day'. In fact, the article went as far as to say, perhaps make up some words for how you're feeling so you can assign that particular feeling to that word, and you will remember it the next time it comes around, and you will remember that you got through that moment and feeling. It's called emotional granularity.
Tiffany Watt Smith, a research fellow at the Centre for the History of the Emotions at Queen Mary University of London, says "It’s a long-held idea that if you put a name to a feeling, it can help that feeling become less overwhelming,” she said. “All sorts of stuff that’s swirling around and feeling painful can start to feel a bit more manageable,” once you’ve pinned the feeling down and named it.
For anyone who has suffered the bite of the black dog, not knowing how to describe how you feel, sums up the whole condition known as 'depression'.
There are so many words for moments and words in other languages for feelings or actions we didn't know existed until you read them and nod in agreement. Such as:
Kummerspeck (German) Excess weight gained from emotional overeating. Literally, grief bacon.
Tartle (Scots) The nearly onomatopoeic word for that panicky hesitation just before you have to introduce someone whose name you can't quite remember.
Backpfeifengesicht (German) A face badly in need of a fist.
Gigil (Filipino) The urge to pinch or squeeze something that is irresistibly cute.
Awumbuk: It’s a funny thing about house guests. While they’re in your home and you’re tripping over the extra shoes and suitcases that are suddenly littered about your living room, you start dreaming about how nice it will be when they leave. Yet, after they do, your place often feels too empty. To the Baining people of Papua New Guinea, Smith writes, this feeling is so prevalent that it gets a name all to itself: awumbuk, or the feeling of “emptiness after visitors depart.” There is, luckily, a way of ridding the home of this rather melancholy feeling: Smith writes that “once their guests have left, the Baining fill a bowl with water and leave it overnight to absorb the festering air. The next day, the family rises very early and ceremonially flings the water into the trees, whereupon ordinary life resumes.” That’s one way to do it.
Waldeinsamkeit (German): The feeling of solitude, being alone in the woods, and a connectedness to nature.
Merak (Serbian): The Serbian word merak is a wonderful little word that refers to a feeling of bliss and the sense of oneness with the universe that comes from the simplest of pleasures. It is the pursuit of small, daily pleasures that all add up to a great sense of happiness and fulfilment.
Ah, so many words, so many feelings. Perhaps I will write an emotional dictionary for those like myself, who are filled with words and wonder and moments of merak and gigil and despair and ennui and everything else in-between.