"It’s very awkward for me to look back at how misguided and lost I was back then but like most things that make me feel awkward, in sharing them I get a tremendous freedom, my shame dying in the light of exposure." - Anthony GreenThis quote is part of a larger Instagram post by Anthony Green, lead singer of Circa Survive, a band whose music I seek when I am a particular flavor of sad. It's less depressing than it sounds; I just have soundtracks for certain moods. And certain people. It's somewhere between therapy and torture, a catharsis but also an inventory of which memories still sting.
Maybe it is that depressing.
I haven't written here in so long and I don't even know why anymore. I used to have really good excuses, maybe even real ones, but I don't remember half of them now. I do know that any kind of creative writing I tried to do was painful for a long time. It hurt because it poked at freshly opened wounds without the mercy of bandaging them at the end of the creative process. And it hurt because the creative process betrayed me; something I normally turned to for solace was suddenly and inexplicably barren. I stumbled into different outlets, some healthy some not. And then I started writing professionally, which made writing for myself even more of a chore. It's not supposed to feel like a chore, right? It's supposed to help, not rip the air from my lungs, right?
When I get stuck in a piece of writing, I always remind myself to answer the question. (Thank you, Mr. Resciniti.) ATQ. Answer. The. Question. I usually find that I have wandered off on some articulate but unnecessary tangent that sounds cool but doesn't add any real value. You know how babies make noise just to hear themselves talk? I stitch words into intricate quilts that will only ever see the dusty, crooked shelves of a guest room closet just to prove to myself that I still know how imagery works. So, evaluating the question and my answer to it keeps my writing honest. It keeps me honest. ATQ has been my professional motto for years, except during the detour I took through the service industry. (My motto then was Do Not Stab Rude People.) ATQ helps me focus on personal matters, too, especially when I am overthinking. So over the last year or so I was constantly asking myself questions like "Why can't you at least write about all the cool things happening right now?" and "Has writing failed you or have you failed writing?" and "Why did you abandon the only thing you're good at?"
The answers I had for my own questions made such little sense to me that I confused the issue entirely. I was so focused on answering a question that it never occurred to me to check if I was asking the right question. I repeatedly asked myself why I couldn't connect to my own words. I wondered why my many, many attempts at writing (for Filthy Nerdy, specifically) ended up on the cutting room floor. I wanted to know what was wrong with me, how I could pen ideas that I didn't even recognize. I might as well have been asking how many teaspoons are in a mile. The answers were impossible; I didn't even understand the questions.
I should have been asking "If writing is not helping you process what you feel, are you being honest with yourself about what you are feeling?"
The answer, of course, is no. Not even close.
I have very little to show for the time I wasted invalidating my own feelings. When I decided that my depression and anxiety weren't topics that I could tackle with writing, I inadvertently gave them a strange power. I don't mind them existing, but I was now letting them occupy space in my head without any checks or balances. You win, I told them. I'm not even going to try to fight you.
Each time I sat down to write, no matter the topic, my words inevitably turned to the battle raging inside my head. My inability to get out of bed. My lack of interest in things I used to love. The steady whispers of self-doubt. I wasn't constantly miserable, but I was having a harder and harder time each day connecting to things that were supposed to matter. I grew apathetic little by little until I'd pushed away most of my relationships and responsibilities. It didn't seem destructive, in fact, it felt very safe. I felt safe, swaddled in my own depression. But every time I set out to write about anything, there it was, threatening to come spilling out and ruin my carefully woven stories of "I'm just tired" and "I already have plans that day." I spent exhausting amounts of energy on looking high-functioning, because looking okay was easier than being okay. Mind you, I wasn't a danger to myself or anyone else, but I wasn't being honest either, and that lack of authenticity started to eat at me from the inside out. Disconnecting from my true self prevented me from connecting with anything positive. And so when writing threatened to reveal what I was hiding, I stopped trying to write before it could betray me. You can't quit, you're fired.
So I was stuck under my own emotional avalanche with no means to dig my way out. And worse yet, when I couldn't figure out why I was stuck, I just started lying to myself about it. You're not stuck, you're busy. It's not you, you just need a new outlet. Yeah, you probably just outgrew the only form of self-expression that ever made you feel whole since you first discovered you could entertain through writing at the ripe old age of eight. Case closed! Nice work, Nancy Drew.
What a schmuck. I am working on limiting negative self-talk, because I hear it can really screw with you, but I really fucked this one up. I wasn't honest with myself about what and how I felt, and instead of admitting this, I marginalized my emotions until they turned into resentments that I was kind enough to take out on myself and those around me. And the worst thing I did was trick myself into thinking that I was somehow above my beloved, neurotic, late-night blogging as a way to get ideas out of my head and process them. I convinced myself that I now inhabited a place where my shit was together and I didn't need to whine philosophical to friends and strangers in an attempt to A) understand my own struggles and B) use them to connect with others. I refused to believe that I could be so fulfilled and so empty all at once, so I buried the empty under carefully curated Facebook posts and a schedule that kept me perpetually behind. Look at how busy I am! See how rapidly every aspect of my life is changing? Broken people can't possibly get this much accomplished. I couldn't possibly be broken. Still. Or ever again.
Now that it's over, I don't know why I was so afraid.
"It’s very awkward for me to look back at how misguided and lost I was..."
Yesterday I found out that a really good friend of mine had to say goodbye to her dog of 15 years. I sent her this haiku:
I am sad for you.
May your dog rest peacefully.
I'm bad at feelings.
I was trying to make her smile, but I was also being serious. I wanted to reach out and give her some words, but I quickly realized that I didn't have any good ones. Now, I have dealt with more death in the last few years than I ever could have expected -- friends, family, mentors, acquaintances; sudden tragedies, drawn out departures, childhood cancer and a suicide. In more ways than I can explain right now, I have become so familiar with grief that I often mistake mourning for something I am as opposed to an emotion I occasionally feel. But if I'm so comfortable in this shroud of a second skin, why could I not come up with something remotely appropriate to say?
I'm bad at feelings. Since when? For as long as I can remember, the only thing I was better at than feelings was expressing them, specifically through writing. Like, here, here's something that spilled out of me because I was feeling. And this one? More of the feels. Here I was feeling feisty. And here I felt pretty smug. I wrote this because I felt like making people laugh. And this one? I vividly remember feeling incredibly bored so I wrote about the first thing I pulled out of my purse, which happened to be a name tag.
My grandmother used to say, "Emotions aren't right or wrong, they just are." It's something I hear myself saying a lot, too, something I've been telling everyone except myself lately. They just are. So how can I be "bad" at them, and why would I feed myself this garbage narrative? And why did I believe it for so long?
I think I wanted to believe that since I couldn't (or wouldn't) access my depression through writing, why then, I must not be depressed at all!
Great news, right? Time to start caring about something, anything, right? I was trying to rationalize my way out of my feelings because I didn't understand them. I was trying to write on a dry erase board with chalk. I was trying to take pictures with a toaster or eat soup with a fork. And instead of simply realizing that I was using the wrong tool, I told myself that I was bad at eating or photography or writing, which isn't true at all. I distanced myself from writing and being truly vulnerable, the things that could have helped me, by telling myself that I was not good at them anyway. Depression is quite smart and will go to great lengths to protect itself.
For the record, if either one of my sisters had come to me with "I am learning a lot personally and professionally and I'm finding myself in these new positions of trust and authority that make me want to stifle my own feelings in order to meet some self-imposed, unrealistic expectations that I picked up on accident" I would immediately shut it down. I'd tell her that progress isn't always linear, there is no point in life where anyone has it all figured out, other people's opinions of you should always be secondary to your own opinion of you, and it's not worth compromising your boundaries to make other people more comfortable. So the fact that it took me a year to say it to myself is pretty frustrating. It's absurd, really. But I am grateful it didn't take longer. I don't even know what happened today to break the spell -- suddenly I was writing and then I spent all day writing and rewriting. I think I wanted to blog about Christmas cards, to be honest.
Now that it's over, I can't remember why I was so afraid.
"It’s very awkward for me to look back at how misguided and lost I was back then but like most things that make me feel awkward, in sharing them I get a tremendous freedom..."
I can be decisively logical at times, but what I've learned about myself recently is that I prefer to feel my way through life. My intuition is directly tied to my empathy and compassion. Maybe I could use a better head to heart ratio sometimes, but I'm okay with being emotive first and analytical second. As long as I am managing it in a healthy way.
Somewhere along the way I got scared. Scared to feel, scared to write about it, scared to even acknowledge my fears, lest I be judged for not being a million percent confident all the time. I don't know now why I expected that of myself -- I don't think anyone else did. But as I took on new roles at work and within my own family, I mistakenly took on a vow of silence that kept me from speaking up about my own feelings and emotional needs. In my quest to love and protect those close to me, in trying to forge new identities that would keep us all safe, I ended up losing myself.
It took a while to realize I was gone and longer to decide if I cared.
I found myself here, in this blog, where I left off years ago. I cringe at the things I wrote, the weird things I overshared and the unabashed way I poured my heart and soul into posts about drinking someone's orange juice and having a crush on a college professor. (Hi, Tom. Please don't look at me while I break down, thanks.) It's all incredibly embarrassing to read now, but it's nice to be reminded that I used to have no fear. I used to be brave, or at least less concerned about how I was perceived. If I felt something, anything really, I was bound to write about it. I want to get back to that. (It may not be as public from here on out, but I had to prove I could plaster my neuroses on FN one last time.)
"It’s very awkward for me to look back at how misguided and lost I was back then but like most things that make me feel awkward, in sharing them I get a tremendous freedom, my shame dying in the light of exposure."
SHAME DYING IN THE LIGHT OF EXPOSURE. I get goosebumps each time I read this line.
I can be a good bonus mom and still have days where I am 100% winging it. (I am told this is called parenting.)
I can have anxiety without suffering from it.
I can be challenged at work without falling apart.
I can be in a great relationship and still forget how to love myself occasionally.
I am allowed to be dissatisfied with shallow friendships that revolve around alcohol.
I am not a bad person for saying no or setting healthy boundaries.
I am allowed to be scared of change. (Which is convenient, because I am terrified.)
I am allowed to overshare really personal things on the internet because they are my stories to tell, and I firmly believe that if it helps one person it is worth the embarrassment.
I give myself permission to engage with my own emotions in a constructive way so that they do not control me.
I can grieve long past the imaginary statute of limitations society places on death. I can heal on my own timeline.
I am not responsible for anyone's emotions or happiness but my own.
I am getting used to feeling feelings again, but I think I am starting to feel tremendously free. And awkward. But also free. And now that it's over, I can't remember why I was so afraid.