This is a sort of open letter as I begin to write, because I don’t want any one person to feel it’s directed at him or her; though in truth it is directed at several people. It is also for me, and for the world
There is no real mystery to me. I am not the aloof enigma many of my friends suppose. I’m uncomfortable talking about myself like this, but there doesn’t seem to be any other way to be heard, and hopefully, taken seriously. I am no more complex than you, the reader, suppose yourself to be. Yet, I’m known as someone calm and strong, someone who doesn’t emote a great deal, who can be trusted in a crisis, will listen attentively and try to help when you have troubles.
I know there are also times when what you want is to see how I feel without difficulty, or to get a reaction of some kind from me. I can and do disappoint you. I don’t have all the native skills required to anticipate this need, or respond to it effectively. For some of you, that fact alone is difficult to believe, maybe because you have such a high opinion of me (and if so thank you), or maybe because it’s a difficult notion for you to relate to. I don’t know, and if my conjecture here is laughable you’ll have to forgive me.
A few words about your expectations of me: I am not terribly emotive, but I am empathetic. I don’t deny having emotions: I have very strong feelings, in response to a great many events and people and ideas. When you show me your emotions, I have no trouble imagining what that’s like for you, and responding in a way I hope will meet a need or provide comfort. But I’ve spent a lifetime protecting myself from my own emotional responses, because as it happens, my tolerance for my own feelings is possibly a little low. When life becomes stressful, when there is a great deal of tension at work or in relationships, when I get enough negative feedback, I turn not on you so much as against myself. I become self-destructive.
What that means: As I grew out of childhood, some of the misery of childhood fell away, and I became more resilient. I had lots of good times. My lows were still dangerously low, but I knew enough to stay away from trouble as much as possible. I was the sort of person who was obviously looking for a good time. And I was fun to be around. A little shallow-seeming, possibly, but hardly anyone holds that against you when you’re in your twenties.
I didn’t begin to encounter what felt like impossible emotional situations until my late twenties and early thirties. That’s when I began to recognize problems in myself such as disabling depression, suicidal thoughts, and constant anxiety. I didn’t have the words to describe all this, exactly, but I went to many therapists and listened to what they had to say. I resisted taking medication, in part because I knew I could control myself most of the time – I took pride in that.
Did that pride make me aloof and superior-feeling? It’s possible, and I wish that weren’t so. It’s possible that every once in a while I became impatient with people I cared about, and made them feel inferior. I’m sure I’ve pushed people away, and walked away from relationships that seemed like too much work. I’m sure I’ve always been wary of commitments. Being an island becomes more than just a self-defense mechanism – it grows into a way of life. I’m sure my skill at revealing limited emotion has been honed, over time.
But know this: Even with the help of therapy, and ultimately antidepressant medication, it still catches up to me occasionally. After one too many fights, one too many hurtful remarks, one too many disappointing interactions, I get self-destructive. Mainly I drink. Sometimes I act out in other ways. Sometimes I start thinking about my wrists, and how good it would feel to slice them open, and let all the awful intensity escape from my body. Darkly, I think how that would feel for you – in response to your demands, your disappointment in me, sort of a black revenge.
I shake that off though, and feel like a bad person saying it.
Except of course, some of you who say you care still won’t believe me. Or, you’ll be shocked and angry at the words I’ve chosen, the accusation you feel from me. Or you’ll be disappointed, that I’m so grubby and so much like anyone else. I don’t know. I’ve had plenty of negative feedback lately – from people who are disappointed with my lack of response; who call me a liar when I’m being completely honest; who mistrust my ability to be articulate; who aren’t as interested as they think they are in knowing how I feel, perhaps. I get angry, a lot, lately; but mostly I just feel tired. Very very tired.
My saving grace is my little boy. I see the intensity of his feelings, and how he manages them. I see how he was born like me, a little bit, and I try to protect him, because he is my one consistent source of love and trust. He deserves my best.
I write this letter because maybe if I explain myself one more time, someone who isn’t happy with me will come to understand. It’s not that I don’t love you; but the way I show it will probably always be different from yours. I love you because it’s easy, almost always. But I’m not that easy, I guess. And I know I won’t change much as time goes on, because I still have to protect myself, always, from what I feel. Bad feelings are part of life. Conflict and pain and disappointment can be expected. But there’s a lot of wonderful stuff out there as well, and I want very much to enjoy those moments, and also to help make other people’s lives a little better. I focus on that. I’m sorry about the rest.