When you bombard nuclear fuel, like Uranium-238 enriched with Uranium-235, with neutrons you create a process called nuclear fission. Nuclear fission releases byproducts, including Iodine-131, Cesium-137, and Strontium-90. These radioactive leftovers stick around and emit (often dangerous) levels of radiation for variable amounts of time. The unit of measure for this process of radioactive decay is called a half-life. It represents the amount of time it takes for a given quantity to reduce its value by half.
Recently, I’ve come to think about my emotional responses in terms of their half-lives. The initial feeling can be overwhelming but dissipate quickly, like Iodine-131 which has a half-life of eight days. Alternatively, the sensation can linger and evolve. Plutonium-241, for instance, has a half-life of 14.4 years, but it decays into Americium-241 which sticks around much longer. It’s half life is 430 years. Some days, it seems like I will feel my feelings forever. I’ve found that disappointment and frustration tend to start out like Plutonium-241, before decaying into anger, resentment, and hurt, that perpetuate like Americium-241. Joy, happiness, and gratitude often resemble Iodine-131. I will now stop torturing this analogy.
I’m working on recalibrating my internal scales for how I experience and work through my emotions to try and smooth out variability in how my feelings affect me and for how long. It’s a process.