“It felt like I was drowning, underwater-no, that’s not right, I love water, water feels right, it felt like I was trying to move through honey, like I was seeing and hearing the world through it, but sort of just stuck there, because moving was so difficult”
-Me, describing my experiences with anxiety to someone who will remain nameless
Literary devices like metaphors, similes, and analogies are more than just a way to make your writing sound more poetic. They can certainly be overused, or used incorrectly, but they are a way into understanding what can never really be understood. Some emotions are easier to explain than others. If I were to say, “When he heard the news he smiled, he was happier than he had been in a long time” it would probably be a relatively easy concept to grasp. Even if you have not had a happy life, or if you are not happy at the moment, it is likely that you get the idea of happiness. Oh, this guy got good news and it improved his life. As with anything, there are exceptions to this, and I could certainly be wrong, but it seems to me that most people can understand happiness, whether it is a common or a rare experience.
It is not the same with pain. Physical and emotional pain are very personalized experiences. If I say, “She was sad” or “Their back hurt” you would not understand the depth of the depression and chronic pain that these people are experiencing. In my personal experiences, I have learned how absolutely frustrating it is to try to explain how you feel to someone who is outside of that experience. Knowing that other people probably look at the things that I find earth shatteringly important and think they are ridiculous makes you feel a bit guilty about complaining about anything. My brain can quickly become a very isolating place to live. Isn’t it amazing that language has these magic little tricks that let us into each other’s experiences just a little bit more. Without metaphor (and yeah, all those other ones too, raise your hand if you’re 21 and still confuse metaphor and simile, because I do) how would we escape the isolating nature of pain.
The featured photo for this article is a painting I did (A very long time ago, don’t judge, I know it’s not great), but I felt like it matched the tone of this article. To me, metaphor and company are the “taking an airplane” of describing feelings, both physical and emotional. It works, it works very well, but we all know teleportation would be faster. Making art and writing poetry have always been my version of teleportation. Writing poems is like stripping away all the rules that go with prose writing and leaving just raw emotion, and art transcends language all together. But, even if it isn’t as cathartic for you, the metaphor is still sometimes easier for other people to understand.
And, maybe all emotion is beyond language. Maybe joy and pain are both personal and indescribable experiences. I think they are, actually, but these pathways to empathy are so important, especially now with the world being what it is, we must learn to understand each other, or how are we to survive? No person, or place, exists alone. The world only works if we understand that other people are just as real as we are, and cannot just be ignored.