I once said to a dude that I’m not very good at having feelings, that I don’t like them. Based on what happened next, I don’t think I was explaining myself very well.
The dude in question rolled his eyes. “You LOVE feelings!” he said. I got butt-hurt and in my stubbornness refused to talk about it anymore. For a talkative person, I can be silent as the proverbial grave when I get my hackles up, which, coincidentally, happens a lot around assholes.
Now, with some distance, I understand what this asshole in question was actually saying. Because, yeah, feelings fascinate me. I am an excellent ear when it comes to helping my friends wade through the morass of their own emotions. I love reading books and watching TV and movies because they are forums where feelings are allowed to strut their stuff. For the most part in these mediums, feelings are on display, running the full spectrum of what they are capable of, and, before the last page is turned, the credits rolled, or the lights in the theater come up, they have resolved themselves, for better or worse. What’s not to love about that?
This is probably why I was so into musicals (also I was into them because I am a goddamn baller singer, y’all, and youthful Becca loved a chance to show off). In the world of musical theater people are so comfortable with their emotions that they literally stand around singing about them with enough earnestness to fell a horse, should horses be felled by earnestness.
It has never worked that way for me. I cannot feel happy or angry or sad or worried or guilty or nervous or excited, not anything, not without getting stuck there, interminably examining my state of being. There’s a beauty to it, in a way, I guess, if I want to navel-gaze.
It’s like this — someone gives me a beautiful, icy draught beer and instead of taking a sip, I stare at it, marveling at the bubbles, paralyzed by the bubbles. I die of thirst. The beer goes flat. But I’ve written a really, really great essay about it: I’m very good at holding my feelings up to the light and examining them. But it’s the next part, the trusting the feelings, the sitting with them, the ability to let them go, that’s where I fail utterly.
Imagine a hamster wheel. Imagine my fleshy chipper self is a hamster. Imagine I am running on that wheel. I should have said this first — I want you to try and remove the preconceptions you have about that wheel and the animal in it from your mind. I know this is hard. It is, after all, a common expression, to describe obsessive thoughts as being like a hamster (or a mouse, but ew) on a wheel. But that’s not quite what I mean.
It isn’t my thoughts that are caught on the wheel: It’s me. I’ve hit a comfortable stride, I’ve got my heart rate going. My little hamster claw-feet have found the perfect pattern of putting one down and then another and then another on the metal bars in a way that for a moment makes me feel weightless. For that instant, it feels good. Because it’s what I know. It feels good because for an instance I feel strong and in control and weightless and full of purpose. It’s the rest of the time on the wheel that’s a challenge. Because while elevating your heart rate is good for you, it’s not good to have it speeding all the time. Because while there will never be anything that feels as good as the single-mindedness and the familiarity of running on this wheel, I get tired. I stare at my water dispenser with a longing that’s almost sexual. My beady little lobster eyes lock upon the bowl of pellets topped with a mostly dried out carrot waiting for me in the corner.
When you persevervate this way, you’re only ever thinking about maintaining speed. I keep going, going, going on the wheel because it’s the only way I know how to be. Later, once I hop off, exhausted, presumably near death, I’ll eat the pellets in one go without tasting them and drink the water so fast and so thoroughly that I’ll practically drown.
I do things in joyless extremes because the only feeling that has ever been comfortable for me is repetition and consistency and routine. That’s part of why people are so hard for me. God, that makes me sound like an android or Jack Nicholson in As Good As It Gets, that’s not it — I can be social and goddamn charming as hell! But my interpersonal relationships are challenging because, ha, I can’t control them.
Of course I am getting better. In a way, it was a tremendous relief not to make every encounter I had with a friend an opportunity for me to fail them and for them to hate me. I thought I was being so selfless and intuitive when really instead I was just, you know, not allowing the people around me uh, free will? That’s not sexy. But you know where it’s still challenging as hell? When I date — especially when I date someone more than once and then twice and then, Oh hey guy, you seem pretty cool!
This happens and I fight the urge to get on the wheel constantly. I put one rodent-foot up onto the cool familiar bars and my muscles go tight, ready to start running and worrying and playing all the old familiar games. But I’m not doing that now, and it’s weird. I’ve got the temptation to do it brewing constantly. It actually reminds me a lot of what it was like when I quit smoking: I’m never not thinking about it and it will go on that way forever until it doesn’t anymore.
Now someone says they’d like to me see again, and I say, “Okay, I’d like that too” and that’s where it lives. The wheel may squeak invitingly, but living a life where there are unknown elements is proving to be just as exciting as it terrifying, which is a balance I deal with.