I have counselling every other Thursday at the moment. Sometimes we continue what we were talking about in the last session, or sometimes there’s a little progress from the last session to the next session, and we can expand further on that.
This past Thursday, I started the morning feeling very connected with my emotions, even singing a song from Into the Woods in the shower and feeling every emotional twist and turn that song brings. It felt good, and I felt like I was myself again.
But, as has happened quite a lot in the recovery stage from depersonalization, the emotional engagement somehow tires me, and then I go flat. In this case, only an hour before, I’m singing in the shower, feeling completely surrounded and connected to them, and then I’m in counselling, holding them at arm’s length, feeling them churning deep down inside me while my surface is calm. Still waters run deep.
My counselor and I spoke about this in my last session. There’s a recurring theme where I seem to talk about myself and my emotions as if I am somehow a passive observer, even like a scientist reciting data about an experiment he’s working on. That feeling (or lack thereof, that detachment) annoys the living daylights out of me. But, interestingly enough, it is something some gay men go through. Another subject for another blog.
This session, I spoke about the conditioning we go through as humans in our society, the agreement (sometimes actively, sometimes passively) with the rules set down in place. For example: if I go to a movie, and I’m moved, I want to cry. But I get self-conscious because I grew up in a time where men don’t cry because it shows weakness, and I am concerned about what others might think of me crying, or, moreso it becomes about my perception is of what those people around me at the time think about me crying. It’s kinda this never-ending spiral of repression made by me and my perceptions of others perceiving me.
In short, it breaks down to all me.
I linked it back to my childhood — and honestly, I think that lots of trauma can be linked back to anyone’s childhood — and all the backlash I experienced then.
Boys don’t cry. Boys don’t try to talk things out. Boys don’t play with dolls. Boys don’t kiss boys they like. Boys can’t be Princess Leia.
Boys are strong. Boys solve problems with their hands. Boys play with mud. Boys kiss girls they like. Boys want to be Luke Skywalker.
These little rules ended up ostracizing me early on. When I was at Lions Park Elementary School between first and third grades (ages 6 to 8 approximately), I went from having a lot of kids to play with to spending the recess pretty much alone.
Because I cried when I was hurt. Because I didn’t want to fight to solve a problem. Because I played with dolls. Because I wanted to be Princess Leia when we were playing Star Wars (and Jesus, there were no girls playing stupid Star Wars with us anyway, so…)
And most of the other boys picked on me for that. Some of the girls, at first, were compassionate and kind and played with me, but that soon stopped too as the students and classes changed from year to year.
So, by third grade, I was deeply unhappy in life. I don’t think my grades suffered, and I don’t remember if it affected my home life — to be honest, I think home was one of the only places I could escape to and be myself a lot of the time — but I remember being really unhappy at school.
It escalated to one day in the late winter or early spring of my 3rd grade year, where I was in the back porch at home and crying really hard, and I remember my parents trying to find out what was wrong. They were very kind and patient in trying to get to the bottom of the issue, and I remember the looks on their faces of compassion mixed with a little bit of horror and a little bit of determination and a bit more of protective instinct when they found out how unhappy I was. Then they asked me if I wanted to transfer to Saint Paul Lutheran where my brother Brian was going to school. I think I was still too upset to talk but I nodded my head strongly yes.
These societal expectations do not fade away by changing schools. It seems like these expectations keep building, and they are not the expectations I like, but they are the expectations I perceive I should abide by because society has them in place.
I kept losing pieces of myself in these moments in order to conform and in order to be liked and accepted.
Why shouldn’t I cry?
I’m a boy.
Why can’t boys cry?
It shows weakness.
Why is crying weakness?
And with these kind of restrictions that I have placed on myself over the years, it’s no wonder that it has culminated in so many mental health issues for me.
Back to the counselling session last Thursday:
I said to my counselor that I want to be free. I want to be able to feel how I feel in the moment, be fully connected to that, let it break to the surface, and live in that moment fully. No repercussions, no retreat due to my perceptions or my expectations how others will react. Just feel and be true to who I am, then and there.
I shouldn’t be editing myself to live up to my perception of how I feel others might see me. I want to live a completely authentic life, not a shell of myself because some perception of societal rules that lead me to place restrictions on myself.
I don’t give myself the space to process emotions. There’s a fear that giving myself that space will lead me to some sort of tipping point where the emotions get out of control, or I get out of control, or I am in danger. In reality, these are pretty outlandish reasons not to give myself space to process my emotions.
Why should I be afraid of my emotions and showing them?
Because, deep down, I am a nice person. I am a compassionate person. I try to help as best as I can, although it does piss me off if someone tries to take advantage of that help or lies to me. I strongly believe in justice, but I also like things just so.
Friday. Graduation day for our students.
I was helping give out the diplomas and prizes, as I do every graduation. I was in the background, much like I am all the time at work, trying to make things run smoothly.
One of our students of the year — we have two now as we have two separate year-long courses — is a quiet, unassuming young woman, who started off the year as a very shy, introverted person and ended the year as a quietly confident, well-spoken person who considers her words and chooses them carefully. Actually, she seems a little bit of an old soul.
A few steps back: Selecting the student of the year is a very straight-forward process. Whoever gets the highest overall grade in the intake wins the prize. It is the most just, most objective way to select winner of the prize.
In this intake for this specific course, another student was the forerunner towards the end of the course. This student is a very nice lady, talkative, outgoing, but determined that she will be top student and tells that to other people quite freely. (I wish I had that sort of confidence!)
Naturally, everyone believed the confident student was going to win the student of the year prize. But, we hadn’t completed final exams yet, and sometimes that can swing things in a different direction.
During the final examinations, the quiet student did extremely well. She actually scored 90% on one of her final practical examinations, which is relatively unheard of in the school. Even the international examiner (an independent examiner) commented to our principal on how amazing this student’s work was, and she travels to a lot of schools and sees a lot of work.
So, those high scores in her school exams were enough for her to go from second or third to first by a good margin.
Back to graduation: When her name was read, the quiet student was shocked. You could see this dawning realization creep over her face that yes, her name was just read, and yes, she had won student of the year for her course.
She came up to the podium, where one of the school’s owners (Don), her tutor (Tracey), and I were. Once there, we did the typical thing: give her hugs, tell her how proud we are of her, give her her prize and her certificate.
But then, she turned back to us, and she started crying. Good crying, but crying.
Don instantly reached out and gave her a big hug. Tracey and I got closer to her too, because we could tell this was emotionally overwhelming for her.
I started crying. In front of a room of about a hundred people, standing at the front, with a student crying, I started crying.
I broke that cycle in my head. I didn’t care what other people thought because I was being true to me and my emotions at the moment, and that caring part of me came out. This was that freeness I spoke to my counselor about longing for, not even 24 hours prior.
She said, to us, “I’m sorry.”
I touched her arm and replied, “You should never be sorry for how you feel. Never.”
(Another lesson learned at counselling.)
So, with what seemed like very little push-back from myself, and in the moment, I was true to myself. I had put my emotions into action.
I hope this little victory for being true to myself continues.