Traveling for the last two months has been pretty incredible, as I'm sure you can probably imagine, but if I'm going to keep it real, you need to know that it has also been pretty hard. While it's been amazing to see so many new places, make new friends, and even live out of a suitcase (seriously, I'm loving the minimalism of it), it has also been, at times, both exhausting and lonely. About halfway through May, right as I was landing in Rome, I was physically, emotionally, and mentally spent, and totally feeling it. I had been go-go-go for over a month, bouncing from city to city every 3 or 4 days (with some god-awful travel days mixed in), and so I was real tired and slowly starting to realize that I was also feeling sad, simply because I was overwhelmed with alllll of the feelings: excitement, anxiety, anticipation, exhaustion, loneliness. Best put, I felt a hot mess, and knew that my old friend melancholy wasn't too far behind.
Melancholy is not a new feeling to me, not in the slightest. As a teenager, I didn't know the term melancholy or my propensity toward it, but I struggled with bouts of depression that led to self-harm (which I've talked about before), and was known as the "emotional drunk" (yes, I drank in high school) because I often ended up crying for — seemingly — no reason at all . Thus I'll never forget being a 20 year old, sitting in one of my college psychology classes, and taking an assessment on the four temperaments. My result? Melancholy. Melancholy is often referred to as the "introverted, pessimistic, moody" type, and in that moment — and for too many years afterward — I detested my result. Emotional, creative, perfectionistic, and prone to depression? Sounds like a party. My mindset for many years was "I'm too much, but I'm also not enough." I always had too many feelings and I cried a lot and easily, which was often overwhelming, while at the same time — having a well-ingrained perfectionist mindset — I could simply never live up to my self-imposed expectations.
I am sure you can see how this all might come together in a perfect storm: in the past, I would feel something, and either stuff it down and ignore it... OR feel it deeply, sit in sadness or overwhelm or fear or depression, letting those emotions suffocate me until I felt as though I couldn't breathe, and then I would get angry, lash out, and even hurt myself for being so "emotional" ... all as a result of not knowing how to handle my deep, melancholic feelings in a healthy way. It was a mess, and something that plagued me for many years as a teen and young adult.
It's definitely taken me a few years, but at this point I am in a place where I both accept and more fully understand what melancholy looks like in my life. As an INFJ and Enneagram 4, I'm keenly aware that I am someone who feels emotions deeply and personally, whether for myself or for others — especially with empathy being one of my biggest strengths — and I know that that sometimes means feeling overwhelmed by my feelings. The switch happened when I realized the importance and necessity of clearly recognizing those feelings, allowing myself to really feel them, and then moving on from them, with a lighter heart and clearer mind.
I think that my biggest problem in the past has been not believing that I had a real reason and/or the space to feel or express those deep emotions, so I would ignore or stuff them down, pretending things were okay. This was what led to my depression as a teenager, and to my struggle with self-injury. But something changed a few years ago, just a few years after that temperaments assessment in college. I began to understand that my tendency toward melancholy was not something to rid myself of, but to accept, grow from, and work with. I know now that feeling things deeply is not a curse; it's a gift.
Which brings me back to Rome...
When I realized that melancholy was beginning to set in, I recognized it for what it was and said hello to my old friend, giving myself permission to feel all of the things while refusing to live in it. I felt sadness, loneliness, exhaustion, and anxiety in their own unique ways, addressing them individually and working through them... and then I chose to move forward.
As I continue to inch closer to my thirties (what!) and grow more confident in who I am and who I want to become, it has been really amazing to recognize just how powerful my emotions can be: they have the ability to transform me for the better and challenge me to go deeper with others. I have become a more passionate, compassionate, and creative person as a result of allowing myself to feel everything more deeply, and I have learned to channel those emotions into positivity, understanding, and encouragement. I know now that this part of me — this way I am and have been made — has more purpose than I could ever know. And being able to keep it real like this with all of you is a real honor, because I know that what I used to believe was a burden is now an avenue for deeper conversation, understanding, and relationship.
I want to encourage any of you who may resonate with my messy words on feelings, melancholy and/or depression: you are not alone, and you are absolutely allowed to feel your feelings. Please don't think that you need to stuff them down in order to keep going or preserve an image of yourself. Know that you have the freedom and the space to feel all the things as deeply as you must, and then I hope that you find ways to turn it all into creativity and kindness. Be kind with yourself. Be patient with yourself. Trust your feelings, but don't live in them forever; feel them, and then move forward stronger and better because of them. You've got this, and I am with you.