The weather yesterday and today have been extremely hot for New Zealand standards but at least the humidity has been lower than normal, which makes the heat drier and more bearable. Now that we’re back into the swing of a normal schedule during the year, my counselling takes place on Wednesday afternoons every other week. My counsellor, from what I can tell, is a strong advocate for the planet Earth and helping curb human-induced climate change as much as he can. I admire him immensely for that. The session today, however, was difficult for many reasons, the least of which being that it was 36 C / 97 F outside, and while we changed offices to the shadier side of the building, the window and door were both shut, the fan was off, no temperature-cooling apparatus was in play, so sweat was pouring from my body and I could feel my heart pumping hard in my chest. It sometimes pulled my focus away from the session.
All of that aside, the session itself was hard too. We spoke about a carry-over from last session, that I seem to experience extremes emotionally; being angry, for example, doesn’t fully become felt until I am nearly at a rage, yet at other times that anger dulls to have the blur of anxiety buzzing around it so I feel nothing except that buzzing: almost at the depersonalization stage. I don’t seem to sit in-between those extremes a lot of the time lately. Last session, Michael guided me to that middle space, where emotion could be felt in a middle place: the place where most people feel it, and where I used to feel it most of the time.
Over the last two weeks between appointments, I did find myself at that middle place sometimes. The other day, cleaning up this blog, finishing a few errant pieces and publishing them, writing more pieces and publishing them too, made me feel happy and accomplished, and those feelings sat with me all day. It was nice to feel somewhat normal again.
There were two separate occasions that came to mind where the emotions became overwhelmingly strong, and some mechanism that questions my right to have those feelings steps into play, which dulls the emotion down. Part of that mechanism equates feeling strongly with danger. If you get too angry, it taunts me, you’ll have a heart attack and die. You’ll fly into a rage and destroy things around the house.
It’s a very irrational thought process because I probably could also have a heart attack from holding those emotions deep inside of me instead of letting them out, and I have only been so angry that I’ve flown into a rage about three times in my adult life that I can remember.
The first occasion in the last fortnight was strange. At The Place Where I Work, we have been having issues again with the New Zealand Qualifications Authority — no shock there — and I let them know exactly how I felt about how they were treating us and other providers. It’s the modus operandi for them; we know better, and even if we’ve made a mistake or not followed our own rules, somehow it is your fault for not watching Jupiter and Saturn align in the night sky. Yeah, I’m as baffled about that line of thinking as you are, I’m sure.
So I was in the garage, where our washing machine and dryer and clothes drying rack are, and I was doing laundry when my mind returned to NZQA and this issue. The anger grew rapidly within me, so strong it felt like my skin could burst at any moment. Anxiety kicked in as well, and that made my insides tingle, my chest get that funny anxious feeling. I was getting furious.
That mechanism I mentioned before stepped in. It was almost as if it was saying, You’re overreacting. They aren’t here to fight. You don’t have the right to feel this way.
You don’t have the right to feel this way.
The second occasion in the last fortnight also followed a similar pattern.
Someone I know and care about has been on my mind a lot lately. I’ll cover this in another blog, but I get this sense of something being wrong or off in my gut when a friend or loved one has a struggle in their lives. It doesn’t happen all the time, and it seems to happen with people I have a strong connection with. I call this my “voodoo”.
So I was getting ready for bed, and this man was in my thoughts, quite strongly for some reason. As I laid my head on my pillow, the memories of the times we had together came flooding back to me. One thought was around a pretty good day we had together, although the start of where our journey together that day intersected was a bit rocky.
Without getting into too much detail for this guy’s privacy and mine, we were in his pick-up, and something happened where I got very scared and anxious. This happened once before in a different situation we were both in. In this memory, he saw I went pale and started to tremble slightly as the anxiety kicked in. He focussed on both driving and on me. He promised me nothing bad would happen to me. His hand reached over and rubbed my leg to reassure me.
He was a strong, steadying influence for me. In a time of turmoil and upheaval in my life, in he strode, full of confidence and bravado and care. A true prince when I needed one in my life. A big brother, even.
In that moment, where he was trying to steady me in my sea of anxiety, I wanted to grab his hand and hold it. I wasn’t out at the time, although I had started to come out, but for some reason he already knew I was gay, and he had no issues with it. He had always been fine hugging me, or pulling me in close, even though he was straight. It was refreshing to be able to let my guard down a lot around him.
Regret kicked in as I thought about the memory. All that hesitation. All that not doing what felt right in the moment because I was afraid. Afraid he’d reject my sexual orientation. Afraid he’d mistake my true need for connection with another person in that moment of overwhelming fear and anxiety as something sexual instead of something calming. Afraid he’d walk away from that connection and friendship we had because he misunderstood, or was even scared of, me grabbing his hand.
In bed, I started to sob. It was a very painful example of my apprehension about doing what felt right and what felt true to the moment. Scott, spending his life holding back because of pure, unadulterated fear.
The sobbing turned to a sharp anxiety, nearly a panic attack. The tears dried up as the nerves spiked in my gut. Again, the thought process turned to this: You’re overreacting. This happened a long time ago. You can’t change what happened a long time ago. You don’t have the right to feel this way.
Again, you don’t have the right to feel this way.
In counselling, I have continued to say to my counselor that there is a fear within me that once I come to terms with the feelings around events like this, to give myself permission to feel them fully, that depression will overwhelm me. A deep, dark, bottomless depression will swallow me, and I may never find myself coming out of it.
I’ve also said the point of my counselling is to finally open the door on this lifetime of shame and fear and regret and sadness around inaction, sadness about being someone I am not, sadness about not taking the actions or speaking the words my heart told me to, and to accept the impact of that all. I said to my counsellor several sessions ago, and I repeated it today, where I think the true weight of my words finally landed, that I don’t want to get 10 years down the line with the same mechanisms in place, finally come to open that door blocking the shame, the sadness, the fear, the regret, and have to face a more compounded version (with 10 more years’ worth) of this monster within me.
I’m missing out on life. I’m participating from the sidelines, an observer but rarely a participant, and that makes the feeling of exclusion even stronger than it should be, than it needs to be. And that isn’t a way to live any more. I can’t keep going on being a robot, being an observer, being on the sidelines.
I’m now in the point in my recovery that I feel the conditioning (for lack of a better word) kick in and pull back, or try to distract me from, my emotional connection. The emotions swirl. The anxiety swirls. All darting hither and yon to try to avoid me being able to pin down the connections.
But the emotions are there, and I can feel them (even fleetingly). Sometimes I even connect and can sit with them for a while. So that’s a big improvement over depersonalization for sure.
I’m not sure if it was the heat or me bobbing around between feeling and not feeling in the session today — and this happens a lot with me lately, and I get frustrated at myself about it as well — but my counselor really pushed home that the conditioning in play is very strong, and I may never be able to undo it. That really upset me a great deal, although I probably had the outward appearance of sucking it up and being blank, which seems to be the way I cope.
All those years of hiding who I truly am, how I feel, because of the fear of being hurt, the fear of being rejected, the fear of physical violence against me. All that conditioning built up to make me be less of a target but making me less of a human being.
This is not what I am.
This is not what I want to be.