26 March 2010

And so it goes.

I have the emotional control of a toddler. In fact, my toddlers (are they even toddlers anymore?) often exhibit more emotional control than I do. The point is that keeping my feelings to myself is not a strength of mine.

This is a way in which I have fundamentally changed since John died. Until John got his diagnosis, my life had been all about keeping my feeling under wraps. I grew up being tacitly taught (oh how ironic that it was tacit!) that showing negative emotion was a sign of weakness. There was to be no crying, no stormy anger, no pissy sulking, no nerves. It was acceptable to show joy or exuberance, I suppose, but certainly the negative was to be kept hidden at all times. We were A Family Who Was Always Fine or Better.

To some extent, that served me well into adulthood, especially in the workplace. That training has made me even-handed and cool under pressure. Growing up avoiding conflict has turned me into someone who seeks peace and tries to resolve tension. I'm incredibly optimistic by nature—something that has perhaps surprisingly not changed since John died—and I think some of that optimism comes from a sense that life is supposed to be good, that the negative is fleeting and best ignored.

Finding out that your spouse is terminally ill just a few weeks after you marry is shocking to the point of near-incomprehensibility. That diagnosis awakened in me a range of emotions that was not going to be relegated to the back burner or ignored until it faded away. I cried buckets of tears and did a lot of yelling; the tears were private and public, the yelling all behind closed doors. I found that I didn't even know how to identify some of the things I was feeling, and was shocked to discover just how broad the "Wow, this is crappy" spectrum truly is.

Over the course of John's illness, through our experiences with various doctors and counselors, as we muddled through a lifetime's worth of living in just over two years, I got better at identifying how I was feeling. As I got better at naming my emotions, I found myself identifying how I felt not only in the context of all-encompassing grief, but also in my day-to-day life. I was shocked to discover that I felt angry all the time! Sure, some of that was feeling grief all the time, but some of it was an awakening to the fact that I'd been feeling negative emotions my whole life, I just hadn't been acknowledging them. And as I stumbled through life in those years feeling bitter about my crappy hand, emboldened by the recognition of my feelings, I became less and less willing to hide them. I no longer felt like I had anything to lose by going public with what I felt. The spouses of the terminally ill are given a lot of latitude to behave in ways outside what is tolerated in the general public, and I took full advantage. It became a habit.

So here I am, 38 years old, completely incapable of keeping my feelings to myself. Good or bad, they are all out there for the world to see. It's the no bullshit philosophy of living at it's finest. Why waste time pretending you feel one way when really, you feel another? Oh, sure, I'm still able to keep a lid on it when called for at work, for the most part. But outside work, it's a free-for-all.

The good news is that I'm generally pretty happy. I'm also generally pretty tolerant and open-minded. The bad thing is that I find myself to be a short-tempered parent (as has been well documented here) and somewhat volatile friend. I've gone from conflict avoider to someone who'd rather have a knock-'em-down, drag-'em-out fight, only to forgive and forget. I relish releasing negative feelings so that I can get to what I really think rather than having what I really think obscured by a bunch of repressed gunk. I'm quick to anger but equally quick to give a sincere apology.

Processing emotions in this way has made this week—which was Spectacularly Crappy with a Side of Awful—both more difficult and easier to deal with. It's been more difficult because I truly feel the bad in a way I never did before. I shielded myself from that in the past. Now I really feel it. And it's not pleasant in the moment. The payoff is that I get greater peace on the other side, and I get through the bad faster for just allowing it to take me over. But wow: it's both wretched and exhausting while it's happening.

We've had two students die at Reed in the past two weeks. I didn't know either of them personally, but as a now-sensitive soul, a parent, and a member of a small, intense community, I found both deaths disturbing. The most recent was earlier this week, a senior who accidentally overdosed on heroin. He was close friends with a student who works in my office, and between that connection, my mom instincts, and my glaring naïveté about all matters drug, I was pretty rattled on Tuesday morning. I work in the public affairs office, and while my job is shielded from media contact, my coworkers were under fire.

Also on the work front, a project to which I'd devoted considerable blood, sweat, and tears was shelved. I'd handled the editorial process poorly, but recovered and managed to find a way to work well with a challenging colleague only to have our labor cast aside. In the grand scheme of things, not such a big deal, but in the context of an already emotional work situation, it was that much worse.

And then. And then! On the flip side of the craptastic craptasticness of dead students and feeling like an inadequate worker, I was on a total Mr. Brady high. The thing about not having any emotional control is that it works both ways. When I feel shitty, I feel really shitty. But when I feel good, I feel really, really good. All that feeling good can make me impulsive and the intensity of the high can be freaky for anyone who's invited to the party.

And so the charming, witty, adorable Mr. Brady and I had been exchanging e-mail and we went out again this past Saturday and it was intense and fun and probably a little reckless, and just what I needed. The aftermath left me feeling a little awkward, but ready to see what happened next.

Except that what happened next was that Mr. Brady gave me the "just friends" spiel. That was a possibility that had not crossed my clueless little mind. He told me that on Tuesday on a midday, post-lunch walk, when I was completely reeling from the news of the student dying from a drug overdose. And even if I hadn't been reeling, I was completely caught off guard, and all I heard was the "wah, wah, wah" sound of the teacher in Charlie Brown specials, and then I said something, rather loudly, as we walked down the street, about being really angry, followed by the pronouncement, "OK! So! This is really awkward! And I'm too angry to be rational right now! I'm leaving!" and I did.

I've gone from keeping too much in to, at times, letting too much out. My interest in Mr. Brady was obvious and genuine. I'm not into the games. I don't think he is, either. But it was perhaps less obvious that my genuine interest was not the same as a need for things to be instantly serious. In the end, we went out on two fabulous dates and it didn't work out. The end. Yet I find myself analyzing, wondering if it was my emotional oversharing that forced the hand. I find myself thinking about finding a balance between keeping things in and letting things out, and about recognizing that letting it all out is going to freak some people the fuck out. In fairnesss, my emotional transparency was not what Mr. Brady cited as the reason for backing off. But I can't help but wonder if at some level, recognized or not, it was just too much too fast.

I also find myself thinking about what I even want from a relationship. It was unreal fun to go out with someone who was smart, funny, and charming. It was a great distraction to think about what to wear, what to say, to send flirty e-mails. It was fun to feel like woman, not a mom or a worker. I've joked with friends that what I really want in a relationship right now is to have that kind of interaction every two weeks or so, no expectations that it becomes something serious but no prohibition against it, either. I just want to enjoy that exhilarating, dating part, the getting-to-know-you part. The part about going to the movies and eating at restaurants and feeling giddy. I need to figure out how to enjoy that without getting so carried away by it that all I can do is feel, feel, feel. 'Cos I think the feel, feel, feel is pretty scary, scary, scary for most people.

What an exhilarating, draining, crazy week. Maddie, Riley, and I are headed down to my dad's house tomorrow; he's been out of town quite a bit and we're all having Plain Ba withdrawal. The plan is to get up, put gas in the car, hit Grand Central, and head out of town. I'm hoping for some sun and for some calm, for a plateau amidst the highs and lows of this last week.


Audrey Watters said...

[insert comment here that isn't helpful at all because, yeah, it sucks.]

Really, I wish there was something I could say, some sort of insight or bit of wisdom or something SOMETHING.

I regularly get these moments where I rise up all strong and fierce and announce to the world that I've walked through fire with cancer and death and nothing is going to stand in my way of seizing control of my life and then blah blah blah blah single parenthood mothering job bills blah blah blah 38 year old trying to date again ha ha ha blah blah blah

I soooo get where you are coming from.

I admire you endlessly, Snick. I'm not sure there's any way to be graceful through any of this, but if anyone comes close, it's you.

Much love to you all.

kzucker said...

Oh, G-d. I know that student's family here in NYC. I didn't know he went to Reed but when you wrote the thing about accidental death a little bell went off and I googled it.

Everyone from my hometown is shaken b/c nobody expected this. His parents are a wreck. The funeral was today, my mom was there. I feel terrible too, he was so young. Why do these randomly stupid things have to happen?

Mama Mama Quite Contrary said...

Sounds like a pretty upsetting week all around. You are a very bright, insightful person and I think that is a pretty cool. I wouldn't try to change anything about yourself-- there are many people out there who can appreciate a person who really knows herself.

Michèle Hastings said...

i too grew up in a family that keeps negative emotions under wraps. since my john died i don't waste time not telling it like it is. i have started a new relationship and can't believe that i haven't scared him away yet. i just can't keep my emotions inside anymore... for the most part i think it is a positive thing.

Goddess in Progress said...

Boy, I'm exhausted just reading about what an insane few weeks you've had! High highs, and really shitty low lows. Blech, it's enough to feel like you've had the crap beat out of you.

Anyways, I suppose I don't have much helpful to say. Just wanted to take a big exhale on your behalf and wish you a relaxing, low-key weekend.

amanda in ATL said...

yeah, expressing your true emotions can scare people off. BUt if a guy is scared off because you are honest and can talk about it then he is not for you. He is still living the emotional repression you mentioned that most of us were told to adopt as kids. Being an adult who has walked through some amazingly tough times and is still trying to learn and make the best from it is perfectly fine. If he's looking for the glossy exterior with all bad stuff tucked away he is not for you!

sappho said...

Snick, I'm so sad to hear about the rough going you've had. The emotional rollercoaster you're talking about is a familiar ride for me. I used to be so repressed I don't think I even knew how to identify happiness, let alone anger. (I still remember the first moment I understood and accurately felt/recognized that I was feeling "anger" for the first time...I think I was 25).

Anyway, it's better to have someone who is comfortable with their partner honestly expressing their emotions. Even if it is a week where the emotions are all over the spectrum. That's just life, and expressing it like it is creates many less moments for misunderstandings and ensuing difficulties, IMO. So if that's why Mr. Brady ran, then that's okay. You'll find a guy who wants you to be you, everything included, and will be crazy for you because of it.

I hope you have a great time with your Dad. Take care *hugs*

Mama Nabi said...

There was a student who was killed on our campus as well... our bizarro paths cross again.
You know, I remember this inner debate - the whole exposing too much feeling vs. shutting the man out so that, when it ended, I'd at least walk away with my dignity intact. I went with I-got-nothing-else-to-lose and "dammit, I have feelings and there's nothing wrong with feelings."

*hugs* You know where to find me if you need a vent or a "girl-talk".

NanarocksWeen said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
NanarocksWeen said...

I removed my comment because, though it was a decent (I thought) response, it didn't say what I wanted it to in the end. All I can really say is "I'm sorry you had such a sucky week." You've been through a LOT for someone so young - but because you have, I'm sure you already know that something magical could be lurking around the next corner... just keep yourself open for it ;-)

Anonymous said...

Sorry you had a bad week. I've been reading your blod for a long time, and I'm pretty sure you don't want people dumping on Mr. Brady. For whatever reason, things sometimes just don't work out, and that's fine.

But giving you the "just friends" spiel during a walk in the middle of your work day? When it's reasonable to assume you might be a little upset, and then have to go back to work? I'm sorry, that's really inconsiderate.

Anonymous said...

Chalk it up to experience. You are finding your way in the dating/romantic field and also in the emotional one. You will find the "happy medium" in terms of emtional sharing and expression. It is common to go from one extreme to another in trying to change.

Jen said...

Wow, that's a heck of a week. I'm sorry about Mr. Brady, and so very sorry about the student. Stay true to yourself -- your emotional transparency serves you well, and will serve the right sort of guy well, too. I hope you find him soon.

Mel said...

Thank you for sharing the dating stories... you make me feel like I'm not crazy, or at least not the only crazy one :)

Watercolor said...

Can totally relate. Something I learned in therapy.... is perfectly normal to have the negative emotions. Is not okay to spew them all over people.

So. Very. Hard. Not. To. Do.

But it really hurts people and just saying you are sorry doesn't fix it.

So.... I am getting better at controlling the spewing and being able to step back, process, and re-engage when the hot emotional moment has passed and the rationality in me has returned so I can express the emotion in non hurtful ways.

Always a struggle. I am a very emotional person and you could read my emotions on my face like a book. lol. I just press my lips together and try not to SAY anything until I'm calmer, lol.

Hugs!!! No one is perfect. I forget, have you done therapy? If not, it is soooo helpful with this kind of stuff, especially with your grief history.

Yankee, Transferred said...

The son of someone I know died of an accidental overdose two weeks ago today.
I'm still reeling.

Sorry about the work project shelving and The Mr. Brady ick.

Sending my hugs from Down South.

Fresh Hell, Texas said...

First, if you ever write a memoir, "We were A Family Who Was Always Fine or Better" would be an excellent title for a book.

Second, I'm sorry that things were so sucky this week.

I have this theory that I'm working on...it goes something like, "there are people who the world has broken open and then there are people who it has not happened to yet."

It can be a death or an event or something else but if we live long enough, we get broken open and "the rules" fall by the wayside. We find out first hand that bad things happen to good people. That what we thought mattered and what really matters are two entirely different things.

The saving grace is that those of us who have been broken open tend to gravitate towards each other. There's no bullshit and no need to apologize for the lack of it.

You're living a real life, which hurts more but the colors are also more vivid.

I hope that makes some sense. I hope for good things for you and your kiddos.

Angela said...

I think that's wonderful that you are so open with your emotions, that is a truly amazing quality and trait. I grew up in a very, very stifling and repressed family.

I am still desperately trying to give a voice to my emotions and it is so hard.

I am so sorry you had such a tough week. It is fun to dress up and feel like a woman. I know you will find the right one, and he will truly appreciate your openness and great capacity for love. Sending you warm hugs and good thoughts.

Kimberly said...

For anyone, I think that in the final analysis, in any relationship you should get to be exactly who you are, and without second guessing. I would kind of rather something not work out in the beginning than feel like I had to be somewhat not myself in the beginning and then later wonder how to introduce "me".

It's hard to ever really know why something doesn't work out.

Anyway, it sounds like a truly yuck week, and I'm sorry for that.

Sonya said...

Suppressing emotions makes one sick, especially when there is a lot of drama going on.

I can tell you that Mr. Brady did a favor for you by blabbing that spiel.

Not only are you grieving over a loss, a single parent and who knows what else, but you are also rising up from a lifetime of emotional repression.

You have a lot of healing going on. Good thing you have a solid group of family and friends around you because you need them.

Time is your friend. Heal and find a healthy way to express yourself and be true to your self.

Wow. Reading your blog is amazing therapy for me as writing it is for you.

Crash Course Widow said...

What a crappy, shitty week for you. I'm glad it's over. Nothing particularly insightful to add to what you already said, but I was nodding in agreement with much of it.

And to feel like a woman again? Huh?? What's that?!? Sigh. I miss that part too. More than I can say. I'm bummed for you that it didn't work out and that it ended the way it did.

I have all the time in the world on my hands for the foreseeable future. Anytime you want a kid playdate, or a sans-kid girls night out, I'm here....Hope the 3 of you are having a much better week this week!

Lori said...

Here's the thing. You are who you are. If you say what's on your mind 24/7- then that's you. And you don't need to alter yourself or your emotions in order to find someone. You just need to find the person who likes that about you. Personally, I'm like you. If I feel it or think it- I'm most likely going to say it. Has it got me into weird situations or not been accepted well, yes. But in those cases I find I don't really care because if they can't handle me- I can't handle them.
It's like the Marilyn Monroe quote-
"I'm selfish, impatient and a little insecure. I make mistakes, I am out of control and at times hard to handle. But if you can't handle me at my worst, then you sure as hell don't deserve me at my best."

And that sums it up. This was just another trial run. Have faith even though I know that's hard to do. xo

Soon, Then said...

Wow. What a week you've had. You have such good perspective on your life. I like someone that knows themselves inside and out and even when they are being (fill in the blank) they can understand the why behind it.

I like to think I am the same way. However, I grew up the opposite way you did. We let everything hang out a lot of the time, so I am well versed in my own emotional intensity, and my family still has to deal with my emotional spewing pretty frequently.

I'm glad we're friends. I like seeing parts of myself in the way you write about yourself. :)

vimala said...

You are a great writer, a great thinker, and I feel what you go through.Keep up the good work!