“My natural talent, I think, is in being fine–no matter what is actually going on inside me. I am fine. Nobody ever thinks otherwise.” — Andrew Smith, 100 Sideways Miles
I don’t know how to reconcile this.
I don’t know how to turn this feeling into some kind of pretty metaphor about flowers or homesickness. So instead, I feel like I’m drowning.
I told a therapist once that I couldn’t remember a time that someone explicitly said to me that feelings weren’t okay. That was a lie. I remember it every time this swing-shift happens. Every time I feel bad about feeling good. It’s a constant.
I was a kid, young, maybe before school, maybe not. I was crying about something, because I cried a lot then. Someone told me that whatever had upset me wasn’t a big deal, or was stupid, or that I shouldn’t be crying because life wasn’t fair and I needed to get used to it. I don’t remember the phrase specifically. I don’t even remember who said it to me. But I remember that being the first time that I ever felt ashamed of having feelings. So I swallowed the tears and I went and sat by myself and stopped participating.
Sometimes, I think that whoever said that to me is the person who turned me into what I am now.
And I’m okay, sometimes. When I can brush off the fact that emotional responses are part of what make you a fucking human being. But then there are other times that I really do have genuine emotions about something, and I turn into that same silent, sulking kid that I was back then. I hide the tears. I suck it up. I pretend nothing happened. I pretend I wasn’t upset. I pretend I wasn’t hurt. Because it’s so much easier to pretend than to be told that your opinion doesn’t matter.
That sad kid turned into an angry teenager, and the angry teenager turned into an apathetic adult, and now I don’t know how to admit that I have feelings. I don’t know how to admit that I’m not really what I make myself out to be.
I want to come across like I have my shit together. I want to be seen as competent and confident and capable. I want to seem a little intimidating, a little unapproachable, a little aloof.
Here’s the secret: no one has their shit together.
And I am not what I pretend to be.
I’m anxious. I’m stir-crazy. I’m self-conscious.
I’m fucking lonely.
And I hate admitting it. I’ve spent so much time building up this image of myself that saying any of this feels like I’m tearing it all down, like it was a waste of time, like I’m turning myself into a laughing stock. And there is nothing, and I mean nothing, in this world that feels worse than being laughed at for how you feel.
And I am not strong enough to take it.
But it’s not as if I haven’t tried. I’ve reached out to quite a few people over the years, but the thing is that I was never taught how to do it, or at least didn’t learn at the age I was supposed to because of how I was made to feel about it. I always overstepped, or pushed too hard, or something caused whatever tentative connection I had managed to create to crumble under its own weight. So eventually I stopped trying, and I learned to write instead, because writing can’t turn you down, or call you crazy.
So I have a lot of pieces that look something like this:
She’s upset. He doesn’t understand why because she doesn’t know how to communicate her feelings properly, which makes him frustrated. Eventually he yells at her, or she yells at him, and once everything is out in the open it’s like someone’s turned on a floodlight and everything suddenly makes sense. They cry together.
It’s this fucked-up little fantasy I have about how to romanticize my problems.
I also have things that look like this:
She catches him upset about something. She confronts him about it and he tries to deny it at first. Eventually she coaxes it out of him and he turns into a sobbing mess about it. She holds him and lets him cry, but it turns out that she also has repressed feelings about a similar set of circumstances and ends up crying herself.
This one is a fucked-up little fantasy about how it’s only okay to reveal one’s own emotions when someone else is doing the same thing.
I write about this kind of shit all the time because it’s safer than actually admitting anything, even to myself. And it’s much, much safer than actually trying to find someone else to admit them to in hopes of finding sympathy.
So I don’t say anything at all. I write everything down and I save it in files with inconspicuous names and I never let anybody read it ever. Even the people I’m close to. Even the people who would probably understand.
Fun fact: I can count the number of people I’ve ever openly wept in front of on one hand. More than half of them are people I no longer speak to.
Fun fact: The last time that I really, seriously tried to connect with someone else, someone that I knew, I ended up ruining one of the best friendships I ever had (I asked too much from her – she didn’t know how to help) and I ended up in the proverbial gutter for six months. He ruined me, and it took me a long, long time to get over it. That was in high school. More than six years ago. It still, sometimes, eats at me. It’s a big part of the reason that I don’t try much anymore.
Instead, I learned how to desire the unattainable. Unattainable can’t look you in the face and tell you it wants nothing to do with you. Unattainable can’t tell his friends that you’re psychotic while meanwhile telling yours that he just doesn’t want to hurt your feelings. Unattainable can’t make you have a panic attack just by being in the same room as you. Because unattainable can’t be in the same room as you. You can write about unattainable all you want because unattainable will never know, because no one will ever know, because you can keep your fantasy all to yourself where no one can ruin it.
Except you. And you will always ruin it.
There always comes a point in the timeline with unattainable that you realize that you’re still dealing with a person, and that somehow this isn’t quite fair, and that somehow it’s actually pretty fucked up, what you’re doing. That’s when the shame kicks in, and then the depression, and then the isolation. And isolation doesn’t help anyone with anything.
I found this quote a few years ago, and I think it sort of sums up this idea pretty well:
“You see it is important to understand how damaged people don’t always know how to say yes, or to choose the big thing, even when it is right in front of them. It’s a shame we carry. The shame of wanting something good. The shame of feeling something good. The shame of not believing we deserve to stand in the same room in the same way as all those we admire.” (From The Chronology of Water by Lidia Yuknavitch)
This is a thing that I struggle with every single day, every single time that I realize I’m falling into the cycle of false intimacy with something new. It’s awful, and it makes me feel like less than a person, and I have yet to figure out how to fucking deal with it. Maybe part of it is that literally no one, ever, in my life, has thought twice about me, or wanted to give me the time of day. Maybe it’s because I’ve been led on more than once and cut off like a rotted branch. Maybe it’s because I’m not optimistic enough to believe that it will work out differently if I try again.
And here’s where this gets sort of complicated: I’m a fucking catch. I’m intelligent. I’m hilarious. I’m gorgeous, to boot. And these aren’t just things that I think. These are objective facts. Yet, here I am, lamenting over my own misguided bullshit. Because that’s my caveat, my thing that turns “I’m a fucking catch,” into “I’m a fucking catch, but.”
And I get stuck on the “but,” get stuck on the idea that there is something, inevitably, that makes me less or makes me just different enough to be scary enough to pass over. And I don’t know how to let that go, so I dwell on it, and end up at the idea that I’m going to die alone. (The running joke is as an old lady in a Parisian flat with collections of wine (or whiskey), manuscripts, and cats.) Here’s something that makes that sound prettier than I can:
“Loneliness is an old friend standing beside you in the mirror, looking you in the eye, challenging you to live your life without it. You can’t find the words to fight yourself, to fight the words screaming that you’re not enough never enough never ever enough.” (Tahereh Mafi, Unravel Me)
And I know that having something won’t make me happy. I know that I can’t attribute my happiness to anything outside myself. But I am so stuck. And I don’t know how to win.