I wouldn’t necessarily say it was one experience that led me to write these thoughts. Rather, it was a collection of observations throughout several different moments of sitting in nature. I enjoy watching animals go about their day while paying no attention to me; they just do what they need to do and don’t pay attention to unnecessary things in their way. I watch a few squirrels as they run around campus, and I find myself wondering what it would be like to be them. I see them chase each other through the green grass. One stops to pick up a piece of food found on the ground. The other comes back and sniffs around for a piece as well. They store the food in their cheeks, and I listen as they scamper up a tree. What would it be like to live the life of a squirrel, where all you had to worry about was finding food, finding a mate, and avoiding dangers? What would it be like to live a life that was solely focused on survival and nothing else?
It occurs to me, in a deeper way than before, that some animals don’t seem to show emotion. There are some animals, specifically animals that identify as pets, that show significant emotion towards their owners if the bond between them is strong. Other animals, however, like wild squirrels, don’t show any human characteristics besides that of physical survival. They don’t experience the wide range of emotions that humans do: sadness, depression, pure joy, compassion, empathy, love, and so on. I believe that, in their own way, they probably express anger and frustration, and perhaps even sadness and happiness, but it is unlike how I experience those emotions. I can only guess how a squirrel, or any animal, may experience what I understand as emotions. They aren’t capable of feeling emotion so deeply that it hurts. They don’t feel heartbreak when a loved one dies or a relationship ends. They don’t feel extreme emotional pain when anxiety and depression seem to suffocate you. There is no sense of immense joy for them when something they worked so hard for finally pays off in the way that they were hoping for. I find myself asking the question: which is better? To feel everything so deeply that it is often overwhelming, or to feel hardly anything at all?
I think that this question is asked repeatedly by people who struggle mentally. For those who suffer from mental illnesses, feeling nothing may be a strong desire. The emotional pain that can come with mental illness makes feeling nothing seem like a gift, in a sense. Would it be easier to be like a squirrel and feel the bare minimum? If that were the case, who would we be then? We may not be anything other than a human body with a squirrel mindset. I have often wondered what it would be like to feel nothing at all. As someone who feels her emotions strongly, I know how overwhelming it can be to just simply feel at times. There have been times that I have felt things so deeply that it has physically affected me. I have felt my heartbeat begin to race, my body get weary, and my breath shorten, all as a result of an overwhelming sense of emotion. And I wonder what squirrels would be like if that were the case for them.
Dealing with emotions and mental health may be one of the most difficult things for mankind to deal with. Surviving in a physical world isn’t too hard if you have the means and resources to do so. Survival for squirrels and other wild animals isn’t that hard if they are in the correct environment to do so. But surviving in an emotional and mental way is a whole other form of survival. Coping with emotional struggles is different than coping with physical ones. And that is where I find that we as humans are quite uniquely different from animals.
I don’t believe that I want to be an emotionless person who is focused on the aspect of physical survival alone. I know that I have definitely wondered what it would be like to be able to feel little to nothing at all; I have even desired it. But I don’t want to be a human body with a squirrel-like mindset. My wide range of intense emotions and my mental health struggles are what make me the person that I am. I wouldn’t prefer to suffer from mental illnesses, but I guess through the journey, however painful it may be, I realize that emotions and pain have a purpose. Sometimes you have to go through some hard times in order to appreciate the good. You have to experience the rain before you can see the rainbow. You have to observe the daily life of a squirrel in order to fully appreciate the wide scope of human emotion. And sometimes you have to deeply feel the negative emotions in order to fully appreciate the good ones.
Yes, I have seriously considered what it would be like to feel nothing at all, and I wonder if it would dull my emotional pain. However, if that option were given to me, I don’t believe that I would take it. If there is one thing that I have learned recently, it is that yes, the extremely negative emotions can be almost unbearable at times, but I wouldn’t trade that for the ability to feel nothing at all; I wouldn’t want to lose all of the overwhelmingly positive feelings that may come my way. I wouldn’t want to miss out on the experience of graduating college and getting the degree that I have fought so hard for, or the joy of falling in love and having children, and developing personal relationships with them. I have to take the good with the bad and appreciate the good when it does come around.
When I think about it, it is a bit sad that the squirrel will never be able to feel the way that God has gifted people to be able to. It will never know what it is like to live a life separate from that of physical survival. It will never know what it is like to wake up and have so many possible experiences that could happen throughout the day. It will never feel that deep sadness that makes you so appreciative of the joyful moments. I am thankful God has given me the ability to feel things on such a deep level. The negative emotions are so hard to deal with at times, but the blessings that God gives me make it all worth it in the end.