I’ve been living in an emotional wasteland for more than 15 years. It doesn’t mean that I don’t feel anything, it only means that I’ve been forbidding myself to let a particular set of negative feelings affect my life. Of course, it didn’t go as planned, I did feel a lot of stuffs, but by denying those feeling, I created a situation where I forgot how to recognise them. And as I pointed out in my previous post, it becomes problematic when it builds up and I can’t see the threshold being atomised. I should be able to identify the early signs of distress and take preventive action, or at least prepare my defence. But to know why I have so much problems with this now, I have to come back years and years before.
When I was in middle school, I was quick to cry for any stupid thing. And when you grow up as a boy, your peers are quick to shame you for being so emotional. Heck, in the 90’s, even the girls were shaming you for that by calling you… a girl (not sure that changed actually, but I’m not in middle school anymore). After that, high school was a boring hell hole where every one but me was in a group, I started my college years with my first big “romantic” deception, I’ve been mugged a couple times, and by the time I was 20, I was fed up of being emotional and victimised. So, I basically decided to change all of that, trying to be more the person that people want you to be. But it turns out, when people want you to conform, they don’t mean that you should behave like a cold anti-social butthole.
After a few years of being like this, and refusing to feel anything, or to be vulnerable in front of someone, your body gradually accept the changes, and stop giving you any warning signs. You live like nothing can get to you. It’s boring, and lonely, but even that doesn’t feel as bad as it sounds, because your body stopped giving a rat’s ass about your feelings anyway. But, of course, it’s only illusion. If you have as much empathy as I do, you can understand how this wall is just a prank your mind loves to play on you, and all those feelings build up until the illusion crumbles and you as well.
And that’s where the weirdest thing happens. You would think that after a breakdown, you’d get a wake-up call and decide that all this was a terrible way to deal with your problem, and you should start working on it but no, you just go full 2nd amendment on it and you decide that you need more of your stupid idea to protect yourself. Mix it and shake it for a few years, and here you go, you built yourself a gigantic fortress full of cracks and, ironically, you end up an inmate in a prison you designed. And it’s the kind of prison where you can smuggle anything in, but nothing comes out. So you keep feeling, but to other people, you still look like a cold anti-social butthole.
Jump-cut to 2015: Crap! I’m transgender. I knew it already (1), but hey, now it’s messing with my sanity, so I really need to do something about it. My shrink tries to break into my defence, but she does that by finding workarounds. Bad luck, my wall is designed against that kind of evasive action. However I realise it fails in the face of direct action. Who would have known? I’ve always been honest, and somehow I was always waiting for someone to notice and reach out. So ask me a question bluntly, I will answer the same way, try to go around, I can play for hours, and we’ll both waste time.
So I realise that I need to let my guard down, but I have two problems: first I can’t just withdraw everything because, since I’ve now come out as transgender, I shifted in a particularly unsafe category of people, and I need to be careful. And second, I forgot what feelings feel. As I said, my body stopped warning me, so I have no idea what to let through, because I don’t receive relevant emotional inputs. I only know when it’s too late, and that puts me in annoying or embarrassing situations, to say the least.
So now I am trying to dismantle that wall, but it’s really complicated. It’s a piece-by-piece project. I need to really think about what constitutes a feeling and how it is supposed to trigger me. To give a bold example, when I experience something that is supposed to be sad, I have to tell myself that it is sad, and I know that an appropriate response to that feeling is crying. So I may try to force myself to cry. Think it’s messed up? I actually do it for real. I have some cues that gives me the tears right up. It’s kind of a cheap trick, but after learning some basic neuroscience, I realise that it’s a good way to reinforce a behaviour (2).
However it’s a very long process. It’s not a one-off thing. You don’t get it when you do it once. It’s like any other trained behaviour, it only reinforces when you do it enough times that it becomes natural (like driving, or flipping crèpes without folding them). And most often, you forget to do it because you’re too busy already to notice the stimulus. So I’m in for years and years of remediation. Hopefully, I’ll be prepared when Death comes knocking at my door. So when He says “I DON’T HAVE ALL DAY, ARE YOU READY YET?”, I can say proudly “I saw that coming!”
(1) Actually I knew since I was about 15, without really putting words onto it. But society puts so much pressure on you to conform that it’s really hard to accept it, or to find help. Especially back in the 90’s when Internet wasn’t yet the go-to place to find useful information. And as my friend Bria says:
I don’t care who you are, if you had the courage to transition, you automatically have my respect.
If you transitioned in the 1990’s or earlier – HOT DAMN, you get mad props. That is playing on hardcore mode.
— Bria Ultimate Power (@LifeofBria) November 26, 2017
(2) There are some stimuli that have never failed to make me cry, and I think it’s because of some things I cared for when I was a kid, like the dog my family used to have. Shit, just writing about him gives me tears. And it actually makes me cry every time something sad happens to a pet (and that’s why I have a hard time with animal deaths in movies). So thinking about this when another supposedly sad stimuli comes up helps associate the response to the stimuli. And then it reinforces by itself, since crying when the stimuli happens makes me realise that the stimuli is something sad.