in defense of those who ‘feel too much’

A doctor once told me I feel too much. I said, so does god. that’s why you can see the grand canyon from the moon. – Andrea Gibson

If you were a female who grew up in the early 2000’s as I did, you have most likely seen Mean Girls twenty times over. If you are anything like me at all, your life is still speckled with references from the movie, because let’s admit it, it was highly entertaining. Still, I thought it was a bit culturally damaging, if I could be quite honest. I still remember the impact it had on my peers – mean lines from the movie were repeated again and again, as jokes of course. We were all old enough to know how socially unacceptable and perhaps bitchy Regina George was, but because we had this intelligence and knew better, it made it okay for us to jokingly mimic her behavior. We were just joking.

I often wonder how pop culture effects our behavior. Are movies based on our actual behavior as humans, or as humans, do we base our behavior on what we see in the movies?

This question is one that has created so much anxiety within me that I tend to often not watch many movies or television shows, because I believe that we do base our behavior off of movies more than we like to admit. How many females have watched No String Attached and believed that the guy they are hooking up with was just one month away from making you period mixed tapes and realizing he can’t live without you?

The problem is, people who write and produce movies have an ability to manipulate situations and feelings in a controlled environment while also making them appear to be incredibly realistic. We don’t have that ability in real life.

Which, by the way, means horrible things for me.

Let me back up a little.

I recently listened to This American Life’s latest episode on the bliss of ignorance. How sometimes it’s for the best. The episode featured a man who was diagnosed with HSAM or highly superior autobiographical memory. Basically, he has an intensely accurate memory. In the episode, he spoke about how when he dates people, even if for just a short time, his emotions latch on to his very vivid memories and as a result of HSAM, he finds it very hard to let go if it doesn’t work out. After reading some other interviews that he has done, I learned that this has become an issue for him, as he is constantly looking for closure when the other person has already moved on.

Here’s an excerpt that struck me from his interview with New York Magazine:

“Alternatively, if it’s a bad breakup or unrequited love then the memories of that linger and hurt when I think about them — especially if there’s no closure. I’m thinking, What did I do? I’m forced to pick back through it. I can remember the last time I saw the person. I can remember where we were. I can remember a funny face they made or a thought or a feeling however fleeting or however lasting it was; I can remember those things. Even if the person ended up doing something wrong or ditches me, the initial positive memory is so strong it’s hard for me to separate: ‘How can you be this way now, when I remember you so vividly as something different?’

“What I do a lot is try and force conversations with people, which clearly they aren’t interested in, in the name of closure. I’ll try and seek a person out just to set the record straight, and I feel really awkward about it because I know it’s something that’s not socially acceptable and even therapists have told me it’s not worth it. But it’s very hard for me to not do that. In the case of a colleague I recently had a brief thing with, I tried a few times to sit them down, to get their attention, and they’re almost militantly, like, No! You have to leave me alone; you can’t talk to me about this. I’m putting myself out there in the name of closure and I end up looking like a fool. Or I end up making the person even more angry. They’ve already moved on and they aren’t even concerned with having closure.”

This struck a chord with me. It’s not that I have HSAM, but I have always been a very emotional person. But that word — “emotional” — sounds horrible. It sounds like that girl in the corner crying over a puppy that died in a commercial for dog food. (Okay, there has probably never been a commercial for dog food in which the dog dies, but you know what I mean.) It sounds like I lose my wits at the drop of a dime. It sounds like that girl in Mean Girls who crashes the self-esteem workshop because she “has so many feelings.”

But I want people to understand that’s not what I mean when I say I’m emotional. Or maybe it is, but it doesn’t have to be so stigmatized. When I think of my patterns over the past 26 years, I’d have to say that maybe I just feel things a little more strongly than other people. It took me almost as long to realize that sometimes, other people don’t. But I’ve always just expected that everyone was the same way as me, and so I would be that girl writing letters to the guy who screwed me over – because if that memory of us playing our favorite song while driving downtown could evoke such strong emotion in me, it must do the same for him, right?

I always felt that this was something I needed to hide. Well, mainly, because I couldn’t come to terms with it. And everyone was telling me to stop. Don’t write the guy. Stop telling every person how much they mean to you. So, why did I feel so deeply? Why could I remember what he was wearing that time when he told me he loved me for the first time? And worse, why couldn’t I just forget?

To make things worse, other people had those same questions for me, too. It seemed to me that other people were better at moving on, forgot more readily, and looked at me as if I was some sort of overly-obsessed alien missing a backbone. Get over it.

It was hard for me to explain that if I could just “get over it” that would be the first thing I would do, because the intense emotions weren’t exactly welcome visitors. I wanted to explain to them it was like a mother-in-law that came to visit for a weekend and decided to stay for the rest of her life. I couldn’t get away.

But how do you explain something like that when emotions are so mocked in the media? No one wants to be Ted Mosby pining over Robin or Ross Gellar pining over Rachel. No one wants to be the person with intense emotions. But what happens when you are?

Nothing.

It took me 26 years to realize this and it will probably take me the rest of my life to understand it.

Some people hardly feel things at all and some people feel things with such intensity it may drive them to insanity. It has nothing to do with you as a human being, it has to do with how you were wired. Just as some people are prone to stomach pain while others could eat greasy foods and caffeine for the rest of their life and their stomachs can be fine. People with allergies may love flowers but the pollen is too intense for their nose, while their friends only sneeze when they get a cold.

Sometimes I get overwhelmed by things other people don’t see as a big deal and I cry. So fucking what? Let me cry. Unless my teardrops are comprised of poison, I’m not hurting anyone. Sometimes I look at a flower hanging upside down and think its unconventional beauty is a metaphor for my life. So fucking what? Let me write a poem about it. Sometimes I think about all of the people I have ever loved and how much I will miss them when they are gone. Sometimes I try to hold on too tight because I know how intensely I feel and love and care. So fucking what? Let me tell them how much they mean to me.

But what I don’t do often enough is look at the beauty that presents itself in this wonderful arrangement. I mean, if given the choice, I’d rather feel too much than not enough – wouldn’t you? It’s a strength, not a weakness.

What I’m saying is, we are all made differently and we ought to stop hating ourselves for it. I mean, I think my dog feels too much when he runs full speed into the kitchen cabinets because I said “treat” from 5 rooms over. And coincidentally, that’s precisely why I love him.

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thrift store finds: when you are looking for more than just clothes

“What should young people do with their lives today? Many things, obviously. But the most daring thing is to create stable communities in which the terrible disease of loneliness can be cured.”
Kurt Vonnegut

I could feel myself start to annoy my best friend.

“They have everything. So many clothes and books. The room in the back has records, you should check it out. Upstairs there is a room dedicated to all vintage clothes…”

My sentences all ran together because I wanted her to know this was my place.

But then even I started getting annoyed with myself for repeating the same story over and over again. “I used to volunteer here, when I lived in the city. It was far from my apartment so I…”

It would be the first time I visited the store since I moved away in 2014. And while I do love thrift stores, I was having a hard time wondering why I was so excited to visit this particular place again.

It had been so long since I left Philly, or so it seemed. I guess in the grand scheme of life, a year and a half isn’t that long, but my life is a tenfold different now. The scared person I was at 23 seems lightyears away. Maybe the main difference is now I have money in my bank account (ahem, not a lot). But at that point in my life, overdraft letters showed up at my house through every crack, window, wall – not unlike Harry Potter’s Hogwarts acceptance letters. Intangibly (and perhaps more importantly, at least in my book), I am no longer as god-awfully lonely as I was then.

To be quite honest, when I left, my time in Philadelphia was a chapter I wanted to close. I loved the people I met and the places I got to experience. I loved having my own apartment I could decorate any way I wanted. But my life and mental wellbeing could use some help. On its best days, Philly was an adventure and taught me how to live on my own and survive. On its worst days, I would pinpoint it on the map as the city where I went through the worst depression of my life.

But here in the present, Philadelphia was my city again, just for today. I visited all my favorite places in the thrift shop starting with the room with the mugs, cups, and plates. It was in this very room that I scrounged around, looking for matching sets of dishes and cutlery. After finding the perfect un-matching but charmingly rustic set, I would go home and soak them in bleach for hours. At the time, it was the only thing I could afford, but in my eyes, it was still as special as any expensive set I could find.

Next, I visited the dollar room where I used to look for clothes to refashion with my sewing machine on boring Saturdays in my apartment. Then I (somewhat shamefully and somewhat proudly) visited the Self Help section of the book room where I had found books upon books that were there to help me get over my ex-boyfriend or give suggestions on how to cope with my anxiety. And I did the work, too, because at that time, I had all the time in the world to dedicate to my own sanity. I’m proud of that today.

Being a volunteer there gave me three-hour chunks of time where I wouldn’t be lonely, but instead could hang out with the cool people who worked there. I often would look around the room and realize that these people would never know how much the simple task of returning clothes to their proper place in the store was saving my life. I remember once they told me I was one of the few volunteers that actually did work. It wasn’t work to me, though. It was kind of the only thing I had at the time. I would look at the clock knowing I would be parking for three hours in a two-hour spot, but yet, I never did get a ticket. Maybe god just knew that place is what I needed.

It was funny being back. When I touched the clothes, I remembered what it felt like to find an over-sized sweater that I hoped would keep me warm in my always-cold apartment. I missed the girl I was back then, looking wishfully at any cute guy who entered the store, hoping that maybe we’d fall in love over worn out smelly shoes. And how at the end of the night when it was time to pack up the store, I’d hoped that one of the cool volunteers would invite me to go out with them for drinks. They never did, but that was probably because they were as broke as I was.

I get so nostalgic when I visit places from my past not because I miss the place itself so much, but because I miss who I was at the time. So lost and confused and broke. But living in my own apartment in a big city nonetheless. Picking out a basket from the thrift store to hold my dishrags in the kitchen, finding old picture frames to hold the images of people I missed most from home, and buying old rustic coffee mugs that would keep me warm on Saturdays when I was so lonely I could burst.

That was my life then, and strangely, sometimes I miss it.

when bagels become a big fucking deal

Atticus said that Jem was trying hard to forget something, but what he was really doing was storing it away for a while, until enough time passed. Then he would be able to think about it and sort things out. When he was able to think about it, Jem would be himself again. – To Kill a Mockingbird

The past few days I’ve been stressed. Abnormally stressed. The type of stressed that makes its way deep into your bones and, no matter what, will not shake itself free. I’ve tried running, listening to sad songs so I could maybe cry it out, and long drives in my car. I’ve tried distracting myself with TV shows or hanging out with my friends. And, honestly, I don’t have the time for all that. My bills are falling behind, my room is a mess, and my to-do list seems to double itself every half hour.

On the way to work I listened to angst-y punk rock bands hoping it would be cathartic. Then I switched to Adele and belted out sad tunes. When that failed, I pulled up to Dunkin’ Donuts thinking a French Vanilla coffee and a bagel would help. I had fifteen minutes until work but the store was right around the corner, I’d make it in plenty of time.

The line was longer than usual. I practiced my order ahead of time, since I usually get nervous and blank when I get to the counter (much to the annoyance of the people behind me in line.) When it was my turn to order, I gave a flawless delivery and even gave myself a mental pat on the back for making great time. I haven’t ordered a bagel this well since before I was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder in 2007. Things were looking up.

However, there was a new employee behind the counter who didn’t know how to use the computer yet. I repeated my bagel order 3x and immediately all of the stress I was trying to run from started bubbling up within me. This morning “treat” was supposed to help my stress, not aggravate it! Still, I kept calm knowing in my head that everyone has to learn when they first start a job. It wasn’t that I was rude to her and I didn’t completely lose my shit like you might see in a movie, I just didn’t like the way this minor road bump made me feel. But I guess that’s why people tell you that it’s valuable to learn how to sit with negative emotions rather than always acting on them.

After three people who were behind me in line got their orders before me, I realized that my bagel was taking a very long time. And while fifteen minutes is usually long enough to grab a coffee and bagel in the morning, I was now three minutes late to work. But, from the way my blood was boiling, you’d think it took a half hour.

It must have been written on my face, because the guy behind the counter apologized 20 times, even though I really hadn’t complained.

As I got into my car and drove to work it hit me. The man behind the counter apologized so many times because some customers would probably lose their shit about it. Knowing how close I was even though I’m usually a relatively calm person made me a little bit scared.

I started to think about why our society is so high strung over simple, minuscule things like bagels, and I realized that our society isn’t strung out about bagels. We are strung out over the stress we endure at jobs we hate every day. We are strung out because between all of our obligations we don’t have time to take care of ourselves. We are strung out because we want people to like us but it’s exhausting to always be on our best behavior. So, when the poor guy behind the counter messes up our order, it’s easier to take everything out on him rather than take it out on someone we actually know and love, like our family members.

I thought about the night before when I laid in my bed and actually tried to cry, hoping it would release some of the stress. But when it wasn’t really working, I decided that I could better spend my time watching New Girl or sleeping so I could get up and run at 6 am.

I don’t know where it stops. I don’t know when “giving ourselves a break” becomes a normal habit. Maybe sometimes people get depressed because sinking into a deep depression is the only way we can call off the shots for a while and recuperate. I’m not sure. I can’t even figure out how to relieve my own stress, let along solve the problem for society at large.

But for the sake of bagel makers everywhere, I hope we can all figure it out soon.

snot-hanging-out-of-your-nose ugly crying

“I realized these were all the snapshots which our children would look at someday with wonder, thinking their parents had lived smooth, well-ordered lives and got up in the morning to walk proudly on the sidewalks of life, never dreaming the raggedy madness and riot of our actual lives, our actual night, the hell of it, the senseless emptiness.” ― Jack KerouacOn the Road

Do you know what it’s like to be human? I’m talking the straight-up, soul-bearing, snot-hanging-out-of-your-nose ugly crying, scared, sad and real human. None of that I-laugh-all-the-time and life-is-too-short-to-waste-one-moment-of-happiness bullshit. It’s bullshit and it’s fake. People can’t live that way, we weren’t made to. That’s why our favorite television characters cry and get hurt and we relate to it. That’s why it’s so dreadfully damaging that we all post happy shit on Facebook all the damn time and then retreat to our beds alone and cry.

I’m so god awfully beaten down and tired, and I look out the window and know that I can’t feel this way. I’m not entitled to feel this way. Poor Monica, with her car and her social life and her smart phone and her iPad and her ever-growing wardrobe… what a freaking tough life. Complaining about the hurt in her heart… what a bore!

I often wonder why cigarettes can’t be decorated in white paper with light pink flowers and pink nicotine. I wonder why they have to be so awfully terrible for you. Can’t there be one thing in life that is enjoyable and good for you all at once?

I wonder if life would be easier if we were all dumb and we didn’t know what is good for us and what is bad; if we all just worried a little less. If we didn’t all sit on our asses and stare at the internet as it tells us it’s so bad for us to sit on our asses.

I like someone and I feel terribly guilty for it. It strikes me that having admiration for another human being shouldn’t cause so much distress. It makes sense that you may feel for someone who doesn’t feel the same way back, and that’s going to suck, but that’s not what I’m so concerned about. Rejection I can deal with. However, what’s worse is I feel like I’m a moron for even having feelings at all.

Is it too much for me to just be able to make myself as small as possible so as not to disturb anyone?

What right do I have to like someone who doesn’t like me back? I hate the thought of putting a person in the uncomfortable situation of having to deal with a silly girl who won’t get it through her thick, thick skull.

At long last I realize, I can’t make myself any smaller than I already am and goddamn it, I’m sure tired of trying. Still, I am so very, very scared of being big and brave. I’m scared of the idea that life isn’t a Facebook page. I cannot always pick the pieces of me that I want people to see. Maybe worse yet, I can’t pick the pieces of myself that I like the best in my own mind.

It’s true what people are writing about; these almost relationships of our generation. They are enough to drive a person crazy. I don’t want to be a cliché; I want to be stronger. I want to be strong enough to not even want a relationship. I don’t want a heart at all. I want to be the bravest, most independent person I know. I want all of this until it’s 1 a.m. and raining and my teddy bear is being hugged so tight even it wants to run away.

Marriage is dumb, no? I mean, isn’t it really? To be monogamous in 2015 seems almost impossible and even more unnecessary. I have a job, I make money, I’m a feminist. So what is this nagging feeling in my gut when it’s dark and I’m all alone? Is that what they call loneliness? It’s confusing to me because how could I be lonely when I have everything I need in life. I’m not going to die without a hug before bed. If years of evolution are making me feel like I need someone just to make sure the human race doesn’t die off, why does it seem so real?

I don’t know. I don’t have the answers, man. I can’t put into words what it feels like to try to be as genuine as possible in a world where it’s easier to be fake. I’ll keep trying.

rosy noses

“Every one suspects himself of at least one of the cardinal virtues, and this is mine: I am one of the few honest people that I have ever known.” – F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

First things first, although I would love to be the most honest person in the world, I’m not. But I chose this quote because I believe all great novels have an element of human honesty that we all want to achieve but can’t. Even if you hate Holden Caulfield, you have to admit the guy was true to himself. How interesting would Catcher in the Rye be if Caulfield just put on a smile and waltzed through life, anyway? I dare say not very.

Take me for example. From the outside, you’d expect roses to start blooming from my nose at any given second because my demeanor is cheerful. I remember saying to a coworker once, “I love sunny days!” He just grumbled, “I know. You have a sunny disposition.” The thing is, with all the time I spend with myself and my thoughts, I’m not sure sunny is the right world. I’ve always been mostly cheerful, mostly happy, mostly put together. My hair is messy, but just a little bit. My make-up is smeared, but just a little bit. These are not signs of mental chaos, just sloppiness. I’m a girl who cares enough to put make-up on, but doesn’t care enough to make sure not to smear it. Well, hey, I have more important things to do!

Alright, I’ll back up out of fear I’m not making sense. I mean, I will if I can. It’s just a tad bit difficult for me to “back up” because how would I know how far to go? It’s not like there was ever a beginning or an end. Life is just a stream of intertwined stories and tales and it’s not neat. It’s not whiskey on the rocks. It’s more like a long island iced tea – a whole laundry list of strong liquors that come together to make an amazing tasting drink or a shitty tasting drink, depending on who makes it. Isn’t that a lot like life? You have all these thoughts and feelings, and depending on who you are, you can make them taste good or make them taste awful. Ah, the power of optimism.

There are no rules; one story doesn’t have to end before another one starts. A person doesn’t become depressed and then get over it and start a new story. No, rather, you get depressed and while that’s happening, while you are working on not falling apart, picking yourself back up, etc., you still have to attend weddings and try to figure out if you want to fall in love with the guy you’re dating and make sure you can pay your bills. So, while you’re busy telling your sad sob story to anyone that will listen, twenty other stories begin and you don’t really have time to sit down and write it all out.

Okay, hold on, let me start here…

Am I happy?

If you are anything like me and 99.9% of the people I know in this world, that is the million dollar question. That is the help-me-figure-this-out-before-I-self-destruct question. I would argue that a single question like that can lead you to so many places – the hospital, rehab, imaginary places fueled by chemical substances, the debt collection agency, and the casino.

And you’ll never get your answer, trust me.

Am I happy?

Okay, I’ll answer in the best way I know how. Yes and no. I was happy last night when I ate wings. I was unhappy a half hour ago when my stomach protested my choice (TMI? Sorry.) I was happy when I met the last person I really, truly liked. I was unhappy when I found out he didn’t feel the same. I will be happy in two weeks when my sister gets married. I will be unhappy in a month when I realize I’m still not even close to figuring my life out.

Hey, remember a few paragraphs ago when I said people think roses are going to grow out of my nose or some dumb shit like that? I say that because I’m really fucking good at smiling. And laughing. And making fun of myself and making fun of everyone else. I’m not saying I’m acting, because I’m not. I really enjoy all of those things and I enjoy the company of people and even my worst days turn happy when I hang out with my friends.

I hate being alone, though, and that’s where the trouble starts. Because I am 25 and single and I’m alone a lot. On average, I spend an hour and a half in my car each day. If songs are about three minutes long, that’s 30 songs. Or, that’s an episode and a half of Ira Glass’s voice if you are a podcast nerd like I am. All the time I spend with myself, driving to work and then to class and then home again, there’s always a nagging question in the back of my mind – what am I doing all of this for?

Don’t get me wrong, those songs help, especially with the thinking. And even Ira Glass’s interpretation of what makes the American society tick helps divert my thoughts. I understand why people say characters from books become their best friends. One of my favorite authors, John Green, made this observation when he said, “Books are the ultimate Dumpees: put them down and they’ll wait for you forever; pay attention to them and they always love you back.”

I have to beg you not to take this as I’m in trouble or anything. I haven’t been lonely for a long time and I don’t think I will be forever. Plus, like I said, I’m happy some of the time; I would even argue most of the time. I can’t possibly believe that no one else feels this way, either. Otherwise, why would we have movies and songs and books that give us all the feelings?

Still, how do I outwardly say this is how I feel when I know it makes me look too sensitive and too needy and too emotional? Because, yes – I am sensitive and emotional, and even needy, too, I guess. However, I’m also great at listening and I like to laugh and I’m spontaneous and adventurous and fun. I’m strong as shit. Oh, and I can make a great fucking playlist.

I guess I should also say that I hate when people think they need to save me. It’s annoying. I mean, I know there are fucked up parts of me and I’m actually okay with it. If I didn’t have those parts of myself, I wouldn’t be so interested in people like J.D. Salinger and Kurt Cobain and Alexander Supertramp. My favorite books wouldn’t be The Catcher in the Rye and The Bell Jar and The Perks of Being a Wallflower. Without those things, who would I be? I’m not sure. So, I guess what I’m trying to say is, if I’d have to sacrifice the feelings I get from reading those books and relating to those fellow fucked up humans just to be happy all the time, I wouldn’t do it. I’d keep my unhappiness and my deviant thoughts and enjoy understanding the minds of the crazy people. The crazy people are my friends. They understand.

I can’t really give you a synopsis of what this blog will be about. I write poetry and I write essays. I have good days and bad just like the rest of the universe. I am scared shitless. I am very much Sandra Bullock’s character at the end of The Proposal when she whispers to Ryan Reynolds, “I’m scared.” I’m scared of the things I feel and the way I interpret the world and most of all, I’m scared if you are reading this you won’t understand.

Still, I’ve had several people ask me when I’m going to start this blog – I got rid of my previous one because it felt like a chapter of my life I needed to close.  But if my words are even slightly in demand, maybe I’m doing something right. Maybe you don’t all understand and that’s okay, too. But one of the best things I have in this life is words. So good, bad, ugly – I guess I’ll work on sharing them with you.

-m. noelle