I am incredibly independent. To a fault.
You see, several failed relationships plus living alone has led me to feel like I need to be completely self-reliant. This can be a good thing sometimes because I am very capable, and it’s nice to know I can live on my own. The flip side, however, is that I hold everything inside. I don’t want to bother anyone with my little problems, and so I keep them to myself. Inevitably, this leads to me pretty much collapse in on myself.
In trying to be so independent, I somehow began to equate that with not letting out my feelings. Instead of talking to someone about what’s on my mind when I’m down, I hold it in.
I’m not sure how I got this way; I don’t think it was always so. But in the last 5 years, this has very much become my way of coping. I’m a private person to begin with, but I’m starting to realize that I don’t need to keep everything private, especially not when it comes to bad feelings, and especially not when I have people that care about me that want to listen.
I worry so much about inconveniencing others with my feelings; I don’t want to bother them, don’t want them to worry about me. I pretend that everything is ok because somewhere along the way I got it into my head that my feelings aren’t as important as the feelings of others. Or, that I will be judged by the way I feel. I couldn’t give myself permission to admit my feelings out loud because they were constantly being invalidated. They were wrong, inconvenient, unfair in some way.
And so I pushed everything down. I pushed and pushed and pushed. I compacted my hurt so many times. I folded it up and tried to make it small, tried to make myself believe that it was insignificant, that it didn’t matter.
And then the bottom fell out.
In the past few months, I’ve been working so incredibly hard to change this habit. I know that I need to talk about my feelings, to ask for help sometimes. The thing is, I hate it. I’m not a particularly touchy-feely person. It’s not that I’m not sympathetic, but I hate whining. Especially when I’m the one doing it. But I know that if I want to be whole and healthy and comfortable with me, I need to talk things out. I need to say what I’m feeling. And I need to reach out and ask for help.
The phrase “reach out” is one of my least favorite phrases in the English language. I detest it. I abhor it. I loathe “reaching out.” But the fact of the matter is, regardless of what I call it, I have to do it. For someone who has put all of their bad feelings in a box for the last several years, it’s a difficult thing. Necessary, but difficult.
A few weeks ago, I had an argument with a friend. She said that I was “dead inside.” It hurt.
I’m not dead inside, not even a little. I feel things, maybe more than most people, because I force myself to feel them alone. While it takes me longer to process and articulate my feelings, it doesn’t mean I feel them any less, and it doesn’t mean they aren’t real or valid.
So I’m trying to change. I’m trying to ask for help. My poor mother has borne the brunt of this, listening to every teary phone call and supporting me while I’m trying to find my feelings again. She does it unselfishly, the picture and definition of unconditional love.
But I’ve started to talk to friends about it, too. Not just any friends, but close friends, friends who care more about me than I ever really realized. The craziest part is that they actually want to listen. They don’t clam up or shy away when my voice breaks in tears. They don’t tell me I’m being silly or that the way I’m feeling is my fault. They don’t blow me off or try to squash my feelings with some cliché. They listen. They murmur sympathetic things. They tell me they’re glad I told them. They tell me to call anytime. They are there. And I’m a little less alone.
It’s not easy, finding your feelings and acknowledging them after pretending for so long that they don’t exist. After being told for so long that they were somehow the wrong feelings to have or that they didn’t matter, it feels different to have someone listen. It feels different to be validated. I can’t say it feels better; sometimes it feels like hell. But after, it is always cathartic in some way. Like a little battle I’ve won in some larger war.
What I’m learning is that my feelings are important. I need to talk about them. I need someone to listen, to hear me without judging or offering feedback. I need to be with these feelings and acknowledge them for myself. Being alone with them has been killing me. It’s been isolating me. And I have done it to myself. But that doesn’t mean I can’t be different, smarter, better, and kinder to the me I want to become.