Language is a metaphor

metaphorLanguage is a metaphor. Words are an inadequate but courageous attempt to describe the things we want to share with the world. My name, pronounced completely different in another language means all of me and none of me. It’s merely an arrow above my head that makes it easier to point out the ‘me’ in the ‘us’ or ‘them’.

The words I use to describe my feelings are the ones that my parents and other teachers have taught me to use. I have learned to apply them to different situations, with their approval or by using them as an example, to then accept them as true. For example, I have boxed up a feeling and labelled it ‘frustration’ or ‘anxiety’ and left it at that. When opening the box, a long time after the labeling happened, I might find that there is quite a lot in the box that I’ve labelled wrong. An example is that when I was about 6 years old, I used to tell my mum I felt ‘dizzy’ after dinner. My mother was very worried about this, but what I actually meant was ‘nauseous’, which is slightly less worrying. This went on for a few weeks and doctor’s visits, all because I simply could not think of the right word for the uncomfortable feeling I had, but thought ‘dizzy’ was close enough. woops…

If language is a metaphor, it tries to use a figure of speech to label something beyond words, so that we, or others might find it more recognizable. I think we have a desire to share what we feel or think, and we really need language for that at some point. Sometimes labeling thoughts or feelings makes it easier for others to understand and empathize.

In Biology we label plants for example by classifying it, so we can then recognise its properties and character. This gives us a better idea of how to treat the plant, but also tends to restrict us in seeing how it interacts with the rest of its particular and unique ecosystem. Talking about feelings is often experienced as restrictive and might feel like it minimizes whatever is in our heads. I think this is because it’s hard to also explain the entire context in which they occur (our life).

I think when feeling frustration, or anxious for example, I can label it as such and be done with it. When doing a deeper and very honest attempt to explore these feelings however, I might find that there are other labels that I could have used. Anger maybe, or disappointment. There might even be sadness because I have lost or missed out on something I really wanted. The same might go for anxiety. Behind that one big (and paralyzing) label, there might be insecurity, anger, sadness. They are emotions that might even have something to do with someone else, and  not having one’s needs met by these other people (intentional or unintentional). They are harder projects to deal with, and harder labels to carry around, so sometimes it’s easier to dump them all in my big personal box with a big personal label on it. (“don’t worry about me, I’m working on it”)

Feeling depression for a long time is another very personal problem. Recognising what is behind that word (which describes a syndrome) I might find sadness, or anger or a desire for something that should have been given to me (like care, or comfort). This makes it a problem that might possible mostly lie in the past, and which I have carried with me all this time. It might have been a survival strategy from back when I needed it, but is now sabotaging my life because I never tested its use within my reality now. And although it goes from being hidden in a box to merely being wrapped up in other metaphorical words, they might become packages that are more movable, less obscure and might even be opened because they are no longer that scary.

If I would label a feeling as depression, it can become an unresolved thick blanket-like label that is acceptable, recognisable, as well as un-identifiable. It means I can dump all the ugly feelings I go through in that one big box and put a neon arrow above it which I can point to when wondering or being asked about what the hell is wrong with me.

If I label that feeling as anger for being neglected when I really needed care, anger for being taught the wrong things when I was younger, sadness over never having the attention of a certain parent, and possibly even a child-like feeling that I am not supposed to be proud of myself and happy, then that becomes something to work with. They are again labels, but they represent the actual feeling better, they are again just a figure of speech, but they might be closer to what is actually going on. They make the feelings I have more recognizable and therefore hopefully easier to understand and approach.

And I might find other words yet again for those feelings after looking at them for a while. As in biology, classifying is infinite. At some point though, I might have to stop classifying when I have a pretty good idea of what is going on, and start working on them and how they affect me. A good start is to explore what makes me feel better, using the little packages I uncovered as a guide.

I guess I use metaphors a lot, I think it makes me understand myself and others better. It is all just a figure of speech for things that I, in all honesty, have no way of perfectly describing. My sadness, joy, anger, may feel nothing like yours either, but I hope you can relate.

I think, just to milk this metaphor for what it’s worth, the idea of carrying around a big labelled box full of feelings makes it hard to move, and hard to resolve. Taking away that label and seeing what is actually going on inside the box is hard as well, but at least I can work on it one bit at a time. Then possibly at the very end of it, when the big box is finally empty, I can flatten it and chuck it out*, leaving room to breathe.




*I meant ‘recycle’ but it didn’t fit the metaphor :-S …



If the last post was about depression, this one can be about happiness. I’ve started to think that for me happiness is not a permanent state of mind, but an emotion, like anger, sadness or annoyance. It’s passing, and that’s fine, I can actively try to get myself a bit of happiness by climbing a hill, cuddle or go for a wild swim. I won’t feel happy every time I do it but the chances are definitely a lot bigger than when I go to Tesco’s, sit in a doctor’s office or stand in line at a Starbucks (not so much because of the line, but because it’s Starbucks and I actually like coffee).

And sometimes they hit me by surprise, when seeing a little girl playing with a puppy, getting caught in an epic downpour, or sitting on the veranda at 7 in the morning with a particularly well made coffee.

I had a chat with Joe once about 2 years ago, outside the front porch of a small hostel on the Isle of Skye. We talked a bit about happiness and I wondered at the time if it was just contentment with what you have at that very moment. I had felt euphoria when on the top of a mountain or when swimming in the Scottish sea but never did I feel completely like that for an entire week, or day even, and very rarely for an entire hour. I’ve thought about it since, a lot. It’s the ultimate goal in life isn’t it? Happiness… but what the hell does it mean? How would you describe happiness?

So building on that old idea, maybe contentment or satisfaction with who you are, who you are with and what you are doing and where is sometimes described as happy. Lines like “I’m happy with my husband” “I’m happy living in this town” or “I’m happy to stay at home watching tv” come to mind. Maybe it means something like “I wouldn’t want to change anything”. Which is fine, it’s good. I think it might be the best you could hope for. I’m wondering though if that should be described as happiness.

In the old fairytales they would end with ‘and they lived happily ever after’. That sounds rather boring I think… Maybe, if I go back to wondering whether happiness is ‘just’ an emotion, the best I can hope for is to feel this emotion often and purely. I feel pretty happy waking up in a cuddle, or when walking on an epic Australian beach, but it does pass, and other emotions come up, and that’s totally okay. It doesn’t mean I wasn’t happy that day, it just means that I wasn’t entirely completely happy for the entire complete day. There wouldn’t be room for other emotions if I had been and enough stuff happens that calls for other emotions in the span of a day. And that’s fine.

When in love you get heaps of feelings of happiness, when being kissed, being looked at, being touched, but (at least after the first few weeks of euphoria) these emotions pass until you are kissed again or even just think about the other person. If someone makes me happy it doesn’t mean that I won’t feel any other emotions or won’t have any days of feeling like utter gloomy crap.

For me it means that he very often gives me little moments of happiness. It means these moments are very pure and he hardly ever fails at making me feel them. And I also think it means that I wouldn’t trade him for anyone in the world. I don’t know what you would call this feeling, but it makes me feel comfortable, at ease, excited, loved and happy. I guess the closest thing that comes to mind is not necessarily the word happiness though, but simply the word ‘home’.