I received the following email today from one of my participants. I thought this was a good opportunity to examine how much emotion may be involved when participating in a project of this kind by asking other participants to reflect on or respond to this email.
My response is also included. I immediately felt a sense of responsibility to my participants and wanted to be able to validate XXXX by legitimizing his concerns and responses.
I apologize for sending you so many emails in one week – you are probably getting tired of hearing from me >^..^< But this email is very interesting and very important I think.
One of your fellow participants emailed me this morning – the writing he is doing for this project is bringing out some emotions. I asked for permission to share this with you and he agreed:
Ma-chan, not sure how to put it exactly, but I am very angry and depressed right now. On the process of writing, I remembered quite a lot of events that I thought I had completely forgotten. Many of them are not particularly pleassant.
I guess, because of my upbringing with heavy religious and rural-Japan
influences, I have supressed an enormous amount of my emotion and I have yet come to terms with them.
Writing seems easy, but what is going on inside me is indescribable and almost unbearable. I noticed how angry I became, as one of the guys who I exchange emails with told me that I am being such. I am almost depressed right now, being exhausted by the anger.
Not sure what to do… part of me wants to get ’em all out and forget about it, while other one wants to bury ’em. Almost wish I could vanish myself into thin air. What would you say I should do?
My response was:
First of all, thank you for continuing with this project, and thank you for being honest about your emotional responses during the writing. I really feel for you and I think I can understand what you’re feeling.
I think this response is very important but also very typical. For example, last week I gave a presentation in Montreal, Canada about the sounds of gay men’s voices and how people make judgments about gay people based on the sound of their voice and the way they talk. I’ve done this presentation many times, but this time I decided to share some personal stories and explore why this topic is important to me. As soon as I told my stories to my audience, I became overwhelmed with emotion and was surprised about what I had unlocked within myself. Storytelling/writing can be emotionally powerful, yes? And sometimes we’re not sure what to do with all of those emotions, right?
My advice is:
1) Use the writing to work out these emotions. There is something transformative about feeling an emotion and then writing about it – write what you’re feeling, why you think you’re feeling it, etc. You may find yourself writing letters to people that you never actually send as a way to get some of this emotion out. (write a letter to your 3rd grade teacher, you’re dad, you’re best friend from high school, the Japanese prime minister, etc – burn them, shred them, etc after writing or keep them to reflect on later) You may even write a few short stories as a way of re-writing reality.
2) Continue talking to good friends who you feel safe with so you have someone trustworthy to explore your feelings with.
3) Feel free to write to me directly – I can be your audience – and tell me who you’re angry at and why. Feel free to totally let loose and let it all out.
4) Use counseling or a support group to express your emotions and receive comfort and empathy from others. I would bet money that you are not alone in your feelings and that many others share that same sense of anger and frustration. it is very likely that other folks working on this project are going through the same thing.
XXXX, may I share your email message with the other participants, anonymously of course? I think other people will tell you that they sometimes feel the same way and may be able to provide some useful feedback. Again, I won’t tell anyone that the email is from you, unless this is ok with you.
XXXX, again, thank you for your continued participation and honesty. we can learn much from each other I think.
p.s. – if you have skype or some other long distance calling, we can chat on the phone as well. +1 (561) 716 XXXX, on skype I’m Marlen Elliot Harrison
PLEASE FEEL FREE TO LEAVE COMMENTS AND SHARE YOUR THOUGHTS. YOU CAN DO THIS ANONYMOUSLY – YOU DO NOT HAVE TO SUBMIT YOUR NAME OR EMAIL ADDRESS BELOW. YOU CAN LEAVE THESE BLANK.