Last night, I came home from work early. I was having panic attacks and couldn’t stop crying. Some people think they’re dying when they have panic attacks because dying seems like the worst case scenario. For me, death would be a blessed relief, but my worst fear is letting people know how I really feel. Anyway, I said I wasn’t feeling well and left.
I stopped by Smart & Final on the way home because I knew there was no food in the house, although I wasn’t really hungry, which is unusual for me. The cashier asked me how I was and I made a noise somewhere between a moan and a grunt. And he was very nice about it. Sometimes — no, most of the time — if I express any kind of negative emotion, the other person reacts as though I am personally attacking them, and they put their hands up as though my sadness is contagious. And it is, I guess.
But I think that there’s a level of emotional intelligence at which people can let you feel how you feel without it destroying them. Therapists have to have this level of emotional intelligence. I’m working on it, myself. But he was very nice. And it’s been, like five years since I worked there, and as I walked home, I was thinking about the two years I was there, in which I forced myself into a good mood, thrust all of the bad thoughts away, made myself focus on who and what was in front of me — and I remembered when that muscle tore down from overuse.
I don’t have it anymore. I have SOME ability to be pleasant when I’m not okay, but I can’t put on the full mask anymore, and to be honest, I don’t want to. It was SO exhausting. I would cry on my breaks, on the way to work, on the way home, at home for hours, but in public, I was all smiles.
Now, like, I’m having a rough time and I definitely feel some pressure to maintain my composure in public — mostly self-induced, honestly, right? If I just broke down and started crying in front of a co-worker, they would comfort me, I would feel better, and then later, I would be embarrassed, but I’d have a sense of closeness and acceptance with that co-worker that I didn’t have before. And they wouldn’t necessarily think that I was unstable and couldn’t be trusted, most likely they would just think I was human and having a bad day. Maybe they’d even feel more comfortable being less than perfect in front of me.
But I still have trouble being vulnerable in front of other people. Madlen was having a bad week last week, and she cried a LOT, and asked me if that made her weak. I told her that allowing yourself an honest reaction to stress is very brave. Sometimes I learn from the things I tell her. But I’ll say this: I have to leave for work in about an hour, and if I didn’t think I could hold my shit together, I’d be calling in sick today.
And it makes me SO angry. I was agoraphobic for 10 years and then I decided that I would never stay home again just because I was scared or overwhelmed. And I kept that vow for about 5 years. After my mom died, I missed a couple of days of school, just because I couldn’t go.
To be fair, after my mom died, all bets were off. All of the things I had “figured out”, all of my little formulas for walking around the world feeling safe — exploded. My belief in God, in cosmic balance, in good winning over evil all went kablooey. So, if I missed a couple of days of school a month after my mom died, so what?
But, you know, that was 7 years ago. Part of me thinks that I should have my shit put together again, by now, and part of me realizes that I know that I’m still shattered and that I just want to SEEM like I’ve managed to fit all of the pieces back together. Who am I trying to fool? And why is it so important that I fool anyone?
And then I think about all of the terrible advice I’ve gotten, like, “don’t be sad” or “you’re torturing your mother in Heaven” or “you’re going to die alone” and I”m like, no fucking wonder I have a hard time expressing myself, when that’s the result I get. And then I get defensive and clam up and I have to remind myself that the worst examples of dealing with people a reflection of most of my interactions.
At the store last night, the cashier asked me how I was doing, and I responded with a moan-grunt and he just looked up at me and said he hoped my night would improve. He didn’t dismiss my mood or try to guilt me into pretending to be okay, he was just kind. Be kind, people.