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What to Know About Experiencing ‘Emotional Motion Sickness’

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While chatting with a friend last night on the phone (which was wonderful and rare, given we live 200 miles away from one another), we were catching up and I mentioned how I feel a disconnect between the way my life looks from the outside and the way I feel on the inside. I have been in a season of transition to a new state, new job, new house, new friends, new everything for the past year. At this point, a lot of things that were up in the air for a long time are more settled: my job is permanent, I actually bought a house, I have a Tennessee state driver’s license. Basically, I’m here for the long haul… or at least a few years. 

This should help me feel stable, or at least less in chaos. I am thankful for all these amazing blessings and answers to prayer, yet I still feel the same as when my life was completely uncertain. I’m still nervous, and sad, and lonely, and worried, and anxious, and still experience the feels I had when the place where I would be living or the job I would be doing were undecided. My depression and anxiety grew and thrived on my state of displacement, and now, with that disorientation gone, they still haven’t shrunk back down to their normal size.

Explaining this to my friend, I had a moment of realization: it’s sort of like motion sickness. I don’t understand the whole science behind it, and I’m thankful to not experience it except in extreme circumstances, but this is what I know: Motion sickness is the sensation caused by when your body is not moving, but your surroundings are. So, you could be in a car, on a plane, train or boat, and your body feels the movement of the boat or the rocking of a train, or sees the scenery moving past through the window, but you’re in one place, completely inactive. This messes with your brain and can make you feel awful, and often super sick. 

At the moment, my environment is stable. My life has found a routine and I am falling into the flow of what my new job and life requires of me. However, my emotions are still swirling. My depressive symptoms have been interfering with my life and my ability to do things well, and my anxiety continues to give me moments of intense fear and panic. My mind continues to feel displaced and my heart doesn’t feel peaceful. To be frank, this place is not “home.” And so, my emotional body and my mental state continue to move around, searching for some stability while my environment has found an equilibrium. 

The stationary setting of my life does not correspond to the torrent of emotions inside me, and I feel sick. Not physically, but I feel, on top of all the other emotions, a dissonance. There’s some shame there when I (or worse, other people) try to talk myself out of this funk, reminding myself there’s so much good in my life that didn’t exist three months ago, six months ago, a year ago. There are so many exciting opportunities on the horizon and new adventures to embark on; there’s no reason for the feelings created in my time of uncertainty to stick around. And yet, they do. 

The next logical question to ask is: How do you cure motion sickness? How do you prevent it? I’m not sure any of the wristbands or medicine you can take before going on a boat or twisty-turny road trip would work here. I wish I had the power to stop the internal movement, so to match the static setting of my life to the stability of my thoughts and feelings. I can do my best to mitigate the movement, try to make it minimal, but feelings tend to stop when they want. Depression and anxiety are brain disorders, and I can’t just tell my brain to fix itself.

What I can do is take away the shame. I can allow the mismatch of my internal and external environments to be OK, no expectation or judgment. I don’t have to strive to fix one or the other, and I can advocate and communicate that while I may look “OK,” there are issues beneath the surface that are just as real as when my life was overtly complicated and confusing.

Photo by Denys Argyriou on Unsplash

Originally published: November 15, 2018
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