If feelings can’t be wrong, why are they allowed to be your enemies? It seems like a major design flaw. Emotions should not be powerful enough to consume you or tear you down if you can’t even call them wrong. It’s not fair. Try screaming, “You suck, fear, you piece of shit!” or “Fuck you, self-loathing, you cruel abuser! It won’t convince the feelings to see the errors of their ways. None of those words will have any impact. A feeling just is. I know, I get it, but I would be lying if I said I’ve been able to accept it.
I want my adversaries to be clearly evil. I don’t know how to fight amorphous, supposedly neutral feelings. That is far too nebulous. I long for clarity. I need an exacting plan of attack against mortal enemies.
My nemesis is a massive, slimy, shape-shifting blob of bad feelings that follows me everywhere I go. I am attached to it. Not attached, like I love it and don’t want to give it up. We are attached because there is an unbreakable umbilical cord that connects us. A sinewy, stretchable cable runs from the center of the blob’s power source to the middle of my back, where it shoots straight through me, anchoring itself right between my rib cage. Just like a real umbilical cord, the cable acts as both a tether and a oneway conduit. Except the blob does not want to protect and nourish me, it wants to undermine and stifle me. And with its cord fused to my body, the blob can both restrain and infect me—limiting my actions and dispatching all the accusatory and hostile messages that it wants.
I cannot always tell where the blob is or what it’s doing. Sometimes, the critical thoughts pour through the cord flooding the channel, but at other times there is only a steady trickle. The blob’s power and size as well as the distance between us also vary. However, regardless of the blob’s proximity, its dimensions, its force, or the rate at which it transmits its negativity, it is always there. Hence, I have dutifully learned to acknowledge it. I have studied it. I have tried to identify its methods and understand how it came to be. I have not made peace with it, though. I have not forgiven it for all the times that it’s held me back, sucked me in, or sought to poison me.
I wish I had the tools or skills to completely escape the blob’s influence and control over me. I have tried to flee by pulling away as far as I can. In stretching the cord to its absolute limit, the hope is that I will somehow manage to weaken the cable long enough to sever our connection. Initially, this helps; the cord’s fibers become stressed almost to a breaking point and its channel significantly narrows. Inevitably, though, either I collapse from the exertion, or—in response to my efforts—the blob expands and refuels itself with hardier vitriol. And when that happens, I think if only I could turn to face that vicious blob and simply say, “You are wrong.” But, I can’t, because it’s only a bunch of feelings. A gigantic, pulsating mass of aggressive emotions that will snap me back, just before it swallows me up and tries to smother me.
For the last two weeks, I have been thinking about how to explain what made me the way I am. Depression is part of it, but that is only a piece of the story. Brain chemistry is not only about our genes. What determines who we are and how we feel depends on both our physical makeup and our lived experiences. The timing, intensity, and frequency of all our traumatic and encouraging experiences affect who we ultimately become. I suppose it’s possible that I would still be the same person today if things had been different, but I doubt it.
On this blog, I have written about my feelings and talked about some of my experiences. But my story—where I came from—is something I have been too afraid to tell. (That makes it sound so intriguing and important, which it probably isn’t.) Nevertheless, I tried for much of last week to write about one small section of an unusual but sad adventure of mine. I was only striving for a tiny excerpt from my past, when the blob sprang up and shot out. Before I knew it, the blob was growing and deftly pursuing me while simultaneously injecting me with huge doses of self-doubt and shame.
I tried to scramble away from the blob. I worked at batting it back. I tried to block the cord’s channel and ignore all of the contemptuous criticism. I charged ahead, typing words into my computer, struggling to portray what happened. But I couldn’t beat it. My efforts only made things worse. I found that as I got deeper into the narrative (on the verge of revealing scary feelings and family stories), the blob got bigger, stronger, closer, and more venomous.
Eventually, it always slimes me, thoroughly coating and crippling me with my own negative feelings. It turns them against me: perverting my outward anger into self-hatred; twisting my sadness into shame; turning all hope into hubris. Once this happens, everything I do is tainted. Instead of walking, I do this hunched-over-shuffling thing. My body feels heavy, cumbersome, and droopy as I limp along. Or, I get all jittery and can’t sit still. I have to be biting my nails, or pulling at my lip, or fidgeting in my seat.
The hardest part, though, is the closets. It’s not the bottle of rum, the pack of cigarettes, or the tub of hazelnut gelato that I have to resist. I’m not joking. When the blob has infected or enveloped me, I have to muster up whatever strength I have left to fend off the overwhelming urge to run and hide in a closet. I feel so desperate, I begin to believe that if I could just steal away, slamming the door behind me, I would be sheltered and safe. I dream about finite, predictable, innocuous spaces where I can be alone and shut off from all risk. So, I delude myself into thinking that stowed away from the rest of the world in a closet, I will be able to vigilantly and reliably guard whatever self-respect remains.
Although I didn’t succumb to the lure of a closet this time, I still surrendered to the blob. It won. I gave up. It stopped my writing, and I let it. The blob was trying to convince me that I could only tell my story if I did it without assigning any blame and without exposing other people’s mistakes. But in my stories, there were real errors, and they weren’t all mine. The truth is, several people screwed up in a number of ways. I can’t get around that without hiding the facts or denying my feelings.
Disingenuous feelings and gaping holes in context make story fragments meaningless. Who did what, when, and why matters. And the feelings matter even more. You can’t separate those things from a story without destroying it. So, I am stuck—frightened of the repercussions that seem unavoidable if I try to claim and share my story. The stakes feel too high.