Feel

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A few years ago, I wrote about things I want. A couple of years before that, about talking about depression. Today, the two come together with me talking about things I feel, and it’s decidedly darker than what I want. Turn back now if you’re not up for it. I’d hold it against nobody. If you are up for it, welcome, and tread lightly. Today’s pop culture references are the Titanic, The Matrix, Scrabble, Frozen, Hamilton, Welcome to the Monkey House, and Network.

I feel cold. No matter how many blankets I put on. But I’m not sick.

I feel sick. But not from germs.

I feel tired and drained. Deeply, deeply drained. A lot of the time. For months, years. Hours and days are lost to it. I run regularly on fumes. From time and again involuntarily exerting effort to resist my feelings. And from, more often over time as I’m able, voluntarily exerting effort to face them.

I feel uncertain. Uncertain about anything, because every day I learn and re-learn and deepen my embrace of a simple yet elusive and alarming piece of wisdom: that we just don’t know the future. Not one of us. Despite our plans and predictions, our goals and guesses, our hunches and hypotheses, our ambitions and aspirations, our ideas and intentions, our expectations and assumptions, our beliefs and convictions, our opinions and suspicions, our hopes and dreams, our feelings and thoughts, our theories and nightmares, our requests and demands, our desires and doubts, our fantasies and fears, our wishes and worries and wants and needs, despite them all, nothing is certain. We don’t know a decade from now any more than we know a second from now. And though I feel increasingly accepting of this uncertainty, I also feel afraid of it. The more I allow myself to feel the actual fear underneath it, the more I feel that lurking behind the uncertainty is a sickening certainty, that things will be bad rather than good, will go wrong rather than right. I know that this certainty is not certainty. It’s just, as always, the deluded feeling of certainty. But uncertainty is a fact of life. It makes no sense whatsoever that living organisms should be especially afraid of it, not to the extent that we habitually seem to be. So I feel, more and more, that it’s this fear, of what is imagined to be certain disaster, that is actually at the heart of any fear we may believe we have about uncertainty. That it’s the fear of something known that we somehow fail to see in the middle of what we believe to be our fear of the unknown. That we cannot allow ourselves to see it, because it is all too well known to us just why this known thing is deserving of our deepest terror.

I feel overwhelmed by the world. The social ills, the ecological ills, the political dysfunction, the selfishness, the escapism, the countless other things I could list here, all of which cannot help but overwhelm us to the point of freezing, numbness. I feel terrified that more people are not terrified by where we’re heading — or, at least, that more people are not consciously terrified by where we’re heading, because surely the very same terror is unconscious for so many people, and they run away from it, and that just keeps hurtling us toward catastrophe. The Titanic may have hit an iceberg in the dark, spotted too late to avoid. Our circumstances are far more dire, somehow having things wrapped up so that all the wonderful things on board the ship, all the reasons why people built and boarded it in the first place, actually somehow keep its rudder aimed squarely at the iceberg. I feel fear, dismay, helplessness, at the ignorance of so many, and at the substantial inability of the non-ignorant to make any difference.

I feel sad and hurt and scared and angry and hopeless. At many things in the world, and at many things in others, yes, but most palpably at many things in myself. At the gap between where I am and where I want to be. Between what I have and what I want and need. Between who I am and who I wish I was, and who I know I could have been if things had gone differently, and who I could still become that nevertheless always seems so far away. I’m getting closer, ever closer, to feeling the deepest depths of these terrible feelings. Part of me hates every second of what this long, too-long, painful, too-painful process has been and where it’s leading, where it must go. Part of me thinks about the character Cypher, from the movie “The Matrix.” He’s outside the Matrix, in the real world, fighting to free humanity. But he’s grown weary, miserable. So he meets with Agent Smith, inside the Matrix, at a fancy restaurant. And he acknowledges that the restaurant isn’t real, that the steak he’s eating isn’t real, that when he puts a bite in his mouth, it’s just the Matrix telling his brain that it’s juicy and delicious. And he doesn’t care. He agrees to sell out his compatriots in exchange for the chance to leave the terrible harshness of the real world, getting plugged back into the Matrix. He will be made someone important, with no memory at all of his time outside the Matrix. Nothing will be real for him, but he can contentedly live in the delusion that everything is pleasant, at least for him. I wish, often, that I could forget what I know and what I feel and just hide my head in the sand, forget that there was ever anything other than the sand. But I can’t. I’ve been long since cracked open. At first by nature, because I couldn’t help it, because whatever this thing is that is me just wasn’t capable of avoiding being cracked open by life, and, later, by choice, by valuing facing reality rather than denying it. And there is nothing for me to do but see what old things flow out of the cracks and what new things may be able to flow in. Despite the terrible harshness there often is, part of me is glad for it all. And so I’m glad I’m getting closer to those depths. They may feel terrible, but they are real, and they are mine. They are me, parts of me, longing to be seen and heard and understood, by whoever, yes, but above all by me myself. And I believe that good things will come from seeing and hearing and understanding them. And I believe that the only way out is through.

I feel bubbling, a roiling, soon to be boiling. Tingling, a burning, soon to be churning. I feel it build. Building. Acid behind my eyes. Stabbing inside my head. Radioactivity in my guts, completely unrelated to my digestive system, feeling like it wants to heave itself up through every cell of my body, heedless of whether it may go out some existing hole or rip through my flesh to make a new one or simply rise up into my cheeks, my eyes, my forehead, my mind. A flooding in my brain, my head now an over-inflating tire, an overflowing sink, a dam failing after a monsoon raises the rushing river behind it, and I wish I could just smash my head against the wall and let everything out so I wouldn’t have to feel or think anything, ever, ever again. I feel dizzy, in my head, yes, and it cascades down so that my body feels dizzy, too, whatever that even means. My vision blurs, from the tears I shed along the way, and from my neurons which remain so confused and disoriented. I feel things slowly calm down, and I feel a little bit of relief that I’ve come out the other side, once again, and that, at least for now, who knows how long but at least for a bit, I don’t have to go through this again right away. But it will happen again. Sometimes sooner rather than later. It always does.

I feel detached, disconnected, alone, lost. I try to find connection, community, a sense of home and belonging, a tribe. I look here, I look there. I can’t find it. The closest I’ve come is something scattered to the winds across the world and the internet, and it’s not something I can build a life around. I feel like I’m a high-scoring 7-letter word sitting in a Scrabble tile rack with nowhere to fit on the board. I play a few of my tiles here, a few there, always only part of myself fitting with others, scoring far lower than I know I could if only the circumstances were right, my remaining tiles left behind, wishing that they, too, could join in the play this time around, and stay with all the other tiles that are me. If you have some association with me, personally, professionally, whatever, please, don’t feel judged, don’t feel offended. It’s not your fault. Until I’m in touch with the things I need to be in touch with within myself, it seems unlikely for me to find belonging outside of myself.

I feel ever buzzing with the craving of touch. Sexual, yes. Sometimes. Often. But not tawdry. Fine, sometimes tawdry. But more and more often, I long to make love. It sounds so cheesy. So formal, so much in denial of our animal selves and the pleasure that we can have that we shouldn’t feel bad about. And yet it’s the right phrase. I long for transcendent union, body and soul, looking into someone’s eyes inches away from mine, knowing that we are sharing everything we have to share with each other, never wanting empty space to appear between us. Other times, not sexual. Just Olaf’s warm hugs. Just to connect quietly and cozily in the simplest way that can assure a person that they are not alone, that they are, in fact, there, here, somewhere, anywhere. But I spend most hours of most days alone, with little human connection of any kind, much less physical touch. With so much solitude in my life, on some level, deep inside, I feel that every step I take is on pins and needles, a howl hiding just around the corner wanting to rush out to the world and fling my arms out wide hoping that there’ll be someone there to fill them. If you see me in the street, walking by nobody’s side, have pity. But, please, never give me a pity hug. I’m likely to sense it, and it will do more harm than good.

I feel broken and incomplete. But I recognize that it may be nothing personal. I recognize that, on some level, I’m whole and always have been. I recognize that there is some fundamental truth to that idea. But I also recognize that fundamental truths are pie in the sky compared to our lived experience. The most beautiful possessions any human has ever had will disintegrate in a vat of powerful acid or the blazing plasma of the sun. A thing’s inherent wholeness and beauty mean nothing if it has nowhere to belong, if it’s surrounded by too much that can hurt it. Kurt Vonnegut said, “A sane person to an insane society must appear insane.” That same sane person must also feel insane in that insane society, despite their underlying sanity. There is no contradiction between being whole and feeling broken. Between being whole and feeling incomplete, sick, ill, disconnected, alone, isolated. Between being whole and living a life of dysfunction. In an insane and broken world, it would be insane to feel anything else. It’s semantics whether we say someone is whole or not, sick or not. It’s the dysfunction of one’s lived experience that matters.

I feel worthless. Worse: unworthy. Worthless means simply having no worth. Unworthy means no chance of gaining it. To be fair, I’m not actually sure I feel it, but I think I must, deep inside, because of other things I do feel. I feel judgmental about my self. I loathe aspects of myself. All the parts of me that have not fulfilled their potential, all the parts of me that aren’t as healthy as they could be, all the parts of me that have such unpleasant feelings so often. I’m also full of self-righteousness, of other-judgment and other-loathing. And I’ve learned that when I see those other-directed things in myself, they are seldom worth taking seriously at face value, since they usually point back to myself. And I believe that anyone who feels any of these things must, deep down inside, have, at the core, a feeling of unworthiness. And yet so few people question these things in themselves. It is too painful, to take empowering feelings of superiority and deflate them by pointing them back to oneself and one’s own deepest hidden vulnerabilities. Yet, when self-worth is the birthright of every person, the prevalence of unworthiness seems like one of the saddest things of all. And, listen: don’t you dare try to talk me out of mine. Not because I don’t want to get rid of it. I do. Not because you wouldn’t have some very good points about me having good qualities and abilities. You would. No. Don’t you dare try to talk me out of it because it, too, is a part of me. One that needs love, exactly as it is. One that will not change unless it’s given love exactly as it is. I’m trying to do that. It’s hard. Really, really hard. And if you can’t help me with that, then you’d better damn well stay out of the way, because anything else is just likely to make the process harder. No good comes from invalidation and denial. Not in the long-term, at least. I strive to welcome everything inside of me. Go hide your head in your own sand if you must. I understand. I’ve done it, too, and so I try so hard not to judge others for doing so. But my sand does not welcome your head.

I feel, perhaps needless to say, far too little that’s pleasant and far too much that’s unpleasant. I’m increasingly unafraid of the unpleasant. Increasingly welcoming of it. It’s me. It’s welcome, it’s home, it belongs here, and I believe that my welcoming it is the beginning of helping it find its way to something better. Even so, my highs tend not to be very high, and to be relatively infrequent. And my lows tend to be somewhat low, sometimes very low, and in any case fairly frequent. The balance is inequitable, and it’s hard to live with. I hope it will change as I continue to make more and more space for what’s inside of me instead of resisting it. I know it may not change. And that knowing is just one more thing I’m trying to welcome. That reminds me of a song I wrote a while back. Always so much easier to learn something intellectually compared to knowing it emotionally, living it experientially, in practice. One more thing I judge myself for.

I feel intent on pressing onward. It doesn’t feel like hope, like what I imagine hope would or could or should feel like. But it must be hope. To feel the things I feel and to not just give in and give up can only be a sign of some hope deep inside. I know that, along the way, I’ve made progress, I’ve grown, I’ve gained some good and important things. I’m a far better listener than I used to be, for myself within and for others as well. I have so much more empathy, compassion, humility. I try to remind myself of these things when the struggle gets hard again and makes me feel like I’ve made little or no progress. I know that’s just a story some upset part of me has. I know the truth: that I’ve made a lot of progress, and I’m still making more. So I press onward. There is nowhere else to go. Nowhere else worthwhile, at least.

I feel both relief and concern sharing all of this. Relief because, for better or worse, I have a strong need to be seen, heard, understood, a strong need to express these things beyond the inside of my own head. Concern for all the reasons why almost nobody talks like this. Because we’re all too concerned that we will be rejected if people hear us talk like this, if people know that these are the things inside of us. Concerned that we’ll make people uncomfortable and push them away. That we’ll lose our livelihood, that we’ll lose our friends, that we’ll lose those who love us and those we love. That the parts of us that were rejected in the past, that we may reject in ourselves, will be opened up to brand new rejections all over again. Sometimes life bears out that we are right to fear these things — we do get rejected again, we do get pushed away again, we do get denied again. That sure sucks, doesn’t it?

I feel inspired to shout out the window my own take on Howard Beale’s battle cry in the movie “Network”: I’m hurt as hell, and I’m not going to hide it anymore. And I feel cautious about that inspiration, because I have made claims in the past about how I’m going to express myself more, only to fail to make good on them. We just do not know the future. We’ll see what happens.

I feel ashamed that I am a hypocrite, talking about how much I value being open, how much I value expressing myself, how badly I want to be seen, and heard and understood. And yet, as much as I have shared here, I have, on some level, shared very little. But then again, as Brené Brown says, vulnerability is not oversharing. It’s not purging, and it’s not indiscriminate disclosure. I’ve wrestled for a long time with wanting to open myself and wanting to keep myself hidden. With wanting to be seen and not wanting to simply be attention-seeking. Wherever I am with all this now, that’s where I am. Where I will be after today, I don’t know. We just do not know the future. We’ll see what happens.

I feel a certain calm acceptance of my choice to share all of this publicly. I feel like the potential benefits outweigh the potential costs. The costs of silence have been far too great for far too long. The tide is turning. I don’t write this to be a downer on New Year’s Day. I write this to help make this year truly a new one for me, not the same old thing. To help make 2020 truly a year of clear vision — helping me be open and honest and seeing things clearly, and helping others to see me clearly. I don’t believe in New Year’s resolutions, but if I did, mine would be to say at least one thing each day that I wouldn’t have been willing to say before this year started. This post counts for today. I’m glad to be more open. I encourage the same in you. Let the towers tumble, the nations crumble, the stock markets fall, and the gears of industry grind to a halt. None of it matters a lick if we’re not accepting who we are.

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