Mental Health · School

Alexithymia in Action: Graduation Celebration Update

Alexithymia is a trait where a person cannot identify and describe their emotions. It is commonly linked to autism, but there are mental health conditions that it can be linked to as well, such as depression or PTSD.

It was around two years ago when I first learned about processing emotions. It made no sense to me. In therapy, I realized I can’t process emotions that aren’t the basic mad, sad, and glad. My current therapist occasionally uses an emotion wheel for me.

Even rarer (and sometimes preferred), I feel absolutely NOTHING! Today is one of those days.

Before we get started, let me explain a couple of school-related terminology.

Graduation: The completion of all of your degree requirements.

Commencement (or Commencement Exercises): The formal event where everyone wears caps and gowns and walks across the stage to symbolize their graduation. As final grades do not get reported in university until after the ceremony, the ability to walk across the stage does not automatically assume you graduated.

I graduate from the Master’s program in December 2021. However, due to Covid, we will not be having our commencement until May 2022. I should be disappointed that I have to wait 8 months for a ceremony instead of 3 months. I should be scared that my 91-year-old grandfather might not live to see me walk across the stage by May. I should feel thankful to have extra time to find a (preferably black) photographer for my graduation photoshoot. I should be sad that the kente stole I wanted for my birthday (for the photoshoot) will have to be put on a Christmas wishlist instead.

Instead, I feel absolutely nothing and can’t process whatever emotion is behind the nothing. I see my therapist on Monday so I’ll talk to her about it then. The only thing that doesn’t change is that I planned on having my graduation party in the spring anyways. My original commencement date would have been right before the winter holidays and I don’t want to deal with the unpredictability of winter weather. We can’t predict the future with the weather, so I wouldn’t want to schedule a party for January 15th (example date) and there’s a combination of a snow and ice storm.

Earlier, I mentioned an emotion wheel. When using an emotion wheel, you go from the innermost set of emotions to the outermost set. The emotion wheel I use has fear, anger, disgust, surprised, happy, and sad as the innermost emotions. However, you can use any emotion wheel you find online or one provided by your therapist. Here’s an example of an emotion wheel you can use.

I start my final module in DBT group on Monday and we’ll be learning about emotional regulation. I hope we use an emotion wheel there. I can’t be the only person in that group who can’t identify emotions even if I’m likely the only autistic person in the skills group.

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