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The Difference Between Not Being Upset and Wanting to Not Be Upset

·983 words·5 mins

It’s funny how new gadgets seem to become popular all at once. The tech has existed for a while, but until very recently, I knew almost no one with a smart watch. Oh, sure, I’d see guys with them in public. Doing whatever it was that they did with them. I sure as heck didn’t know.

But then a close friend got one. And another. Then another.

And before I knew it, I was being gifted a smart watch of my own. I’ve been a lot more health focused as of late, ever since my older sister passed away a month ago of a sudden heart attack. It was shocking, to be sure. And concerning in its implications for me and the rest of my siblings (she was young, only five years older than I am).

I took a clear-eyed look at my habits. Honestly I’m overweight but don’t have any weight-related illnesses. All of my lab work has been great. I have good blood pressure. Just to be safe, my physician ordered some other workup to see if referral to a cardiologist for intensive testing is appropriate.

But I immediately identified the area I’ve been slacking — exercise. I used to walk many miles per week (walking was really my thinking time and therapy), but I fell out of the habit. It was a mix of the lockdown life — and also moving to a slightly different neighborhood, one which is fairly friendly to pedestrians, but in which things are close together, which means I don’t have to walk a mile to get anywhere like I did back in the day. Add in warmer weather due to moving to a Southern state and my having to adjust to the heat… and well…

That’s why I started slacking in the first place. But once my sister passed, I decided no more excuses. The week following the funeral, I embarked on an exercise program.

The smart watch is interesting as a tool. It tracks my activity and my heart rate. Now, it doesn’t provide me with motivation. That’s up to me. But it helps me keep good records of what I’ve done, which is extraordinarily helpful.

The Stress Function

Anyway, the device had lots of unexpected functions built into it as well. The one that grabbed my attention almost immediately was the fact that it could measure my stress level.

I was a bit incredulous at first, wondering exactly how it did this. Was this simply a hyped-up mood ring? I did some research and discovered it used heart rate variability in its calculations, something that was well supported empirically.

Huh. Neato.

And I was captivated when I saw the stress meter spike into the red following an argument with my partner. Why yes, the dang thing worked.

It would go orange or red whenever I was in physical pain. Or fighting with someone.

It created pretty graphs. At a glance, I could see which days of my week had been more trying. And I was enchanted with this.

But then the watch started delivering some bad news. News that was tough for me to swallow anyway.

There were times when I was very upset when I would have sworn up and down that I was “fine.” Not to be passive-aggressive and withhold my feelings in the moment only to punish later when the target least expected it (a practice I abhor, as it was a staple of childhood abuse for me) — but because I recognized that nothing was objectively wrong and that I didn’t need anything from the person I was talking to.

This has been something I’ve done, said I’m fine but I’m struggling. And many times, the person I’m talking to can tell I am actually upset. They start challenging me on it. Which is the worst cycle to be honest. Being accused of being upset when you’re not — until you get frustrated enough that YOU ARE SO UPSET AND YOU CAN’T HIDE IT.

I think in the past that I assumed that this was what was happening. I believed I was fine, except the other person wouldn’t leave me alone…

But the watch told me differently. By golly, I’m upset when I’m saying I’m not upset. It was there in red and orange.

There was a difference between not being upset and wanting to not be upset. And I had been conflating the two.

Aw heck.

Fessing Up

So what did I do with this information? I told my partner. Showed them the graphs.

It was a bit humiliating on my end, since this has been a decades-long accusation from multiple parties that I was finally copping to. Refreshingly, however, my partner seemed unphased. It didn’t seem like a big deal to them.

They shared that they were aware of this tendency of mine and had been trying to do some work on their side, trusting that my choosing not to follow an upset feeling into action in the moment wasn’t a sign of danger. (A sharp departure from the people they’d been close to, lots of passive-aggressive partners and family members in their past.)

And it seems pretty possible at this point to move to a mutual understanding. Where it’s not important whether I’m upset or not. I mean, it is important. Because they want me to be happy.

But it’s not a sign that anyone needs to do anything different. Sometimes feelings just do irrational, unhelpful things. And that’s okay. Sometimes you need a second to reflect and figure out if it’s a feeling you want to commit to. If it implies changes.

The trouble is that mindfulness is about observing your feelings without passing judgment. And in my hurry to not rush to judgment, I’d forgotten to say hi to the upset. To greet it. To honor it.

I’ll work on changing that.


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