Updated: Aug 31, 2020
I wrote this on the eve of my 19th birthday. A time where, in retrospect, I see I was processing a lot. This sense of numbness is the lesser discussed cousin of the bold vignettes through which emotions are often discussed. I look back on who I was when I wrote this, and I see someone who is trying to find the appropriate response through the only way they knew how. Trying to intellectualise, to abstract, to find an elegant, philosophical answer to the concrete ugliness in the world.
If it is any help this did dissipate. I'd love to be able to give a crystal clear moment where the world bloomed into full technicolour. Minds do not work that way. Instead, I had a gradual awakening.
Feeling happier does not always come in the form of a silver bullet, a day where everything is dandy, but a slow and imperceptible removal of the gauze through which we see the world.
You can be doing better, even if you do not see it.
I've noticed for a while that I don't seem to feel things like I used to. When I say I've stopped feeling things, it's more that a part of the emotional spectrum has been cut off. I'm missing out mainly on the primary colours, and to a lesser extent the jewel tones. I've been left with pastels and watercolours and so am aware of muted versions of emotions, without the genuine article.
The last time I laughed until my sides hurt was April. I've cried a grand total of 4 times at uni - for half of those occurrences I felt entirely disconnected from my body. A passive observer. I haven't felt properly angry since Christmas, and haven't been in love. I don't get jealous anymore, and I'm taking stupid risks because I don't feel fearful. It has resulted in my walking for entire days just to feel a sort of bone-ache exhaustion. I've had low level, slow burning motivation but few actual starts - at the gym, I can now run and endure for long time, but struggle to push myself to sprint beyond where it starts to hurt. So that's sadness, rage, happiness, fear - all absent.
I feel content, I can feel frustrated, I can get pangs of sadness - but only in the kick-in-the-stomach sort of way rather than the heart-wrenching feeling of before. I have the teal of absorbed, concentrating, the darkish red of lust, the pale pulsating blue of worry. I can do the orange of wry amusement. And I can recognise the appropriate response in some cases - I can see that some actions provoke a necessary display of anger - in some instances, my body has provided the requisite response (tears) even as in my head I'm noting this as interesting and registering the lack of corresponding emotion it has been accompanied by. But you can see from the colours below, it's a far more limited range. I'm working in the minor keys.
This would be a surprise to a lot of people. I am, to some, a caricature. The number of interactions where people think they've got a rise out of me - eyebrows furrowed, wrinkled nose, flushed cheeks, a rise in my voices pitch and pace. A cartoon. So many interactions with people thinking they're unique in provoking this response without realising I have a hyper-expressive exterior. The representation of me is an abnormally emotive response, at odds with my inner discourse. If people annoyed me as much as they thought I'd be perennially agitated. As it happens, I'm not. Sometimes I barely register the actions or teasing that are intended to provoke the response, or my manifestation of the response itself. I'm so used to playing this role, it comes unthinkingly - it's part of my version of phatic chatter, the daily pitter patter.
And I've been trying to think why. What is the reason for this change in access to proper feeling? It's not that I'm emotionless. I feel - but I remember feeling more intensely. I have 3 explanations, working in tandem.
The Physiological Explanation: Anyone who knew me from the ages of 13 - 16 would have said I was an emotional teenager. Crying, daily at points, often not knowing why. Happiness was flying; sadness, total despondency. Part of me thinks this new life could just be life in the absence of teenage hormones. That the former intensity of emotion is, in an odd way, drug induced. Now I understand, a little, relapse. Sobriety brings a fading, a dulling of life, and with time, memories of colour become ever more embellished. It's strange. I remember feeling absolutely wretched, the world collapsing in on me, and yet part of me does want to experience that sheer force, that power of emotion. Is its absence just adult life?
The Psychological Explanation: When something bad happens, the body can just refuse to process. Abdicating responsibility by wrapping you in a shroud of indiscriminate numbness. Feeling a step removed from everything isn't that unusual, and it is possible this is some sort of coping mechanism in response to certain events. Seeing, observing, producing a response has allowed me to function as normal but it seems a teetering, sticky-tape-and-hope solution. It's only been four months, but even now I feel like anything other than an easing back into emotion would be overwhelming. And just like I didn't have control over the initial response, I doubt I'll have control over how it leaves.
The Fiction Explanation: Finally, I think a part of it could be because of the amount I read, particularly as a child. I embodied the Matilda, the Jo March - the weird kid who disappeared at friends houses to read. The caricature of a vociferous reader beloved by middle class parents. I've always been good at middle reading. An in-between of skimming, and the slow, concentrated remember-every-detail sort. I'll remember the key details, plot and characters - broad, quick brushstrokes.
As a result, I've always seen the world through stories. I fit people into archetypes. Boxes of heroes, villians, wronged and wrongdoers. I've read enough that the templates are varied and nuanced. Nonetheless, they will never be expansive enough to include quite how complex people actually are. That's one risk - when you're confronted with deviations, it's tempting to try and fit people into the way the story should flow. Actions are pulled in different directions under a filter.
And in some ways that is always going to be a necessary part of fiction. The number of inane thoughts that run through your brain - the nature of writing stuff down. It is the nature of the medium, in part, that causes this. To communicate something through printed text you have to evoke something stronger than what is present - what exists. As a result everything has to be more colourful.
This creates its own problems. If expectations of life, of the world are derived from fiction, from things you actively choose to read because they are sufficiently enrapturing/ interesting/ enthralling, the inability to choose a sufficiently enrapturing/ interesting/ enthralling life can be galling. Expectations are for someone to sweep you off your feet, for crushing lows and dizzying highs. Oscillating between images of yourself as beautiful and hideous (never a 7.5); as angel and as monster; 'special' and crushingly quotidian. 'Moderate', 'okay', 'pretty good' - no one ever made stories about those. Even if they do it is a sort of hyper-normalcy. To be written is to merit being pointed out.
And I think in part this is the problem. The real world can never really live up to the bright colours of stories and emotions that you can find in a book and it will take time to realise that these metaphors, these climactic show downs are limited to those pages.
I'd be really interested to hear what people think of the Fiction Explanation I alluded to. In more depth, I think that part of the problem is our only attempts to access the minds of others is through books, stories, words on an online journal. With this as our benchmark, is it inevitable that the real world will always fail to meet that standard?