When she’s 9 years old, Rose Edelstein, the protagonist in Aimee Bender’s The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake, can’t wait to bite into her mom’s made-from-scratch lemon-chocolate cake. It looks absolutely delicious. But when she does, instead of savoring the sugary, spongy sweetness, she’s shocked to taste hunger, hollowness, and absence. Rose discovers that she can taste people’s emotions through their food, and her outwardly cheerful mother is anything but cheerful on the inside. Throughout the novel, Rose tastes the truth in all kinds of meals, prepared by all kinds of people.
This is one way we can ease into feeling feelings that are too hard for us: We can give them to a character in a fictional story. This gives us the opportunity to write about our feelings from a safe (and creative) distance. While it’s key to process our feelings, essentially, face-to-face, sometimes, it’s just too hard. Sometimes, we feel like we can’t do that. Maybe we don’t have much experience with feeling our feelings, especially the vulnerable, I’m-convinced-I’ll-fall-apart feelings. Maybe it’s an especially difficult feeling, a situation that’s difficult to look at right now.
We can use fiction writing as a way in, as a way to at least crack open the door, instead of putting a deadbolt on it.
If you give your feelings to a character, you can still describe them in great detail (if that’s helpful). You can still describe what your sadness looks, feels, smells, sounds and tastes like. You can still describe your anger, which makes your entire body shake and heat up. You can still describe the crushing disappointment, the loss of faith in yourself. You can still describe the nervousness that inevitably visits you at night or the deep fears that are in the driver’s seat during the day. You can still describe the grief, the heartbreak, the heaviness, the emptiness, the loneliness, the pain.
You can put words to feelings that feel too big, that feel too wild and unwieldy—and that can be comforting, to describe the seemingly indescribable and release it from our bodies, all the while having the extra layer of protection of giving them to someone else.
You can even give these feelings to anyone or anything—to a tree outside your window that’s mourning the loss of its leaves, to a deer who’s mourning the loss of her mother, to the flower whose petals are falling, to the ant who’s working tirelessly for a single crumb. You can get creative with describing your specific character and the situation they’re in. You can explore imaginative, magical worlds. You can explore science fiction or fairy tales.
This doesn’t have to be a long, drawn-out story (unless you want it to be). It can be a page or a paragraph. You can write for a few minutes each day, and complete the part that delves the deepest when you’re ready. You can write about the same character over and over every week, or you can explore different characters with different emotions that you’ve experienced, as a way to reconnect to the sensations you dismissed long ago. It can be whatever you’re comfortable with at the time.
When we engage in creative writing, we might make connections we wouldn’t otherwise have made (certainly not if we ignore or dismiss our feelings). We might be able to pinpoint precisely what’s bothering us. We might realize the origin of our feelings. We might explore a different perspective about our situation that makes us feel better and even sparks a helpful solution. Either way, we end up acknowledging and validating our feelings.
If you’re worried about feeling your feelings, start with fiction writing. Fabricate the facts, but be truthful and sincere with the emotions. Use creativity to build a safe space for yourself to explore what you need to explore.