Contributed by Dustin L. Hadfield. Check out more of their posts from this summer here.
NOTE: I talk about someone else in this post, and I’m keeping their identity very anonymous. I’m sorry, but no matter how close of friends we are, I cannot and will not share their identity. Thank you so much in advance for your understanding.
In early May of this year, someone very close to me experienced a life-threatening trauma.
They say that you always have a choice, right? I definitely had a choice: I could do nothing and hope for this person’s safe recovery, without my help. I was in the midst of finals at the time, and I still had a couple more final projects to finish up before my semester would be officially complete. I didn’t have the time and energy to deal with this absolute rain of shit that was pattering at my window.
You know what, though–I did have the time and energy. And that’s the choice I made. I emailed my professors a brief “sorry, emergency” email, and I spent the next three days feeling feelings I’ve never felt before, feeling so wholly and completely saddened that I felt like I was going to melt out of my skin and into a puddle on the floor. (And I wasn’t even the one going through the trauma.)
But I helped. No matter how downright poopy I felt during those days that I helped this person unravel their trauma, that’s still what I did–I helped this person. I truly believe I did.
As an overachiever–and as a white male, a Duke student, a sexual minority (the list goes on)–I feel like I have to prove something. I want to be perfect. I want to do everything right. I want to be sleep deprived and a straight-A student and sociable and pretty and still have time to watch all of my favorite tv shows. I make these rigorous schedules for myself, schedules where it’s impossible to get everything done–yet, when I (inevitably) don’t get everything done, I get upset and unsatisfied and I’m automatically a failure. I live every day as a failure, because I’m not getting every single thing on my to-do list accomplished.
And I want to scream as I write this because I know that the fact that I’m a failure is the most preposterous thing ever. I know I’m not a failure. I’ve accomplished a damn lot in my life, and I’m damn proud of it. (And I’ve also made about a thousand times as many mistakes for every minor accomplishment I have. Which is damn awesome too.)
Why can’t I live in joy, then? I have so much to be thankful for, and I just focus on the deficit. I focus on what I haven’t done, what I don’t have, what can’t happen. Don’t I deserve–don’t we all deserve–to have a few moments to enjoy all that we’ve accomplished?
I’m not able to live in my own joy, I think, because I numb myself. After my friend’s trauma, I let myself truly feel every goddamned emotion on the face of this Earth–for about three days. And then I had to finish up school and go home and deal with everything else in my life…so I numbed. I had to let it go. I had shit to do and I had to force myself to forget everything that this person and I had just been through, because I had other shit I needed to do.
And that numbing hasn’t stopped. I’ve felt an undertone of melancholy this entire trip to Serbia, deep down in my heart of hearts, peppering each and every one of the experiences I’ve had here.
Last night, I was on the phone with my mom, and for the first time since May, I truly revisited this traumatic experience. I really thought through everything I did and felt. And I cried. I also cried for the first time since the numbing. But I was feeling. And oh, what it is to feel. To really feel something. Wow.
This morning, on my way to work, I thought about the awfulness of early May once again. And it was just a little bit easier than last night. And I felt sad still. I felt very sad. But at the same time…I felt joy. I felt the first joy I’d felt since…since who knows when. I was sad but I was happy. I listened to music and walked to work, and I was happy.
We can’t selectively numb, folks. No matter how great you think you are at shutting yourself out from just one thing, you just can’t do it. You can’t cut out the bad without cutting out the good. We have to feel it all. And we get to feel it all. What a gift that is, to feel. To feel everything.
I’m giving you something to do, right now. Think about something sad. Think about the worst thing that’s happened to you to or to someone else in the past year. Spoiler alert: it’s going to hurt. You’re going to feel real, real shitty. But go off by yourself (lock your door, if you have to), and just really let yourself feel that sadness. If that event was awful, there’s a good chance you’ve numbed, too. That you’ve tried your best not to delve deep into those memories because you just didn’t have the time or energy to feel sad.
Right now, I’m giving you that time. I’m giving you that energy. We all need to give ourselves space to feel. So I’m inviting you, right now, with me, to feel. Let’s feel sad. Right now. Because when we let ourselves feel sad…that’s when we can also let ourselves feel happy.
Until next time,
(Note: This post was also published on my personal blog. Check it out here.)