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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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.

mediocrity is the new black

“He probably was mediocre after all, though in a very honorable sense of that word.”
― Thomas Mann

I’ve been thinking a lot. The wheels have been turning, as some would say. I’ve been trying to figure out how I measure my own life. Is it in daylights, in sunsets, in cups of coffee? Or is in in paychecks, investments, and assets? The reasons I ask myself these questions is because I don’t think where I am right now is where I need to be, and therefore, I’ve been taking steps towards change. But, as with any change, there is fear and anxiety and second-guessing. I am more terrified than I’ve been in years.

I have made the mistake in the past of thinking I am the only person in the world plagued by anxiety, which I know now is laughable. Our generation is plagued by it. It took me until now to realize why.

We all want to be great. We want to take trips across the world, to write best-selling novels, to be famous. Maybe not in the typical Taylor-Swift kind of way, but we want to be remembered for something, because if we aren’t, than what was the point?

Most of our generation is God-less, at least from my experience. If there is no God, and no afterlife, than we need to make the most of our lives here on earth. If we don’t do that, then what? If there is nothing after this, than we need to do something that will make a lasting impact. We need something for people to remember us by.

Although this in itself is very anxiety-provoking, I could see how it is a noble quest to have. Who doesn’t want to change the world? The thing is, most people are thinking large-scale. Small-scale changes and contributions mean nothing to us, which is sad.

Do you want to know what impacted my life over the past few months?

That moment when I was worried about making a big change, and a friend who I haven’t seen in over a year called me on the phone and talked me through it.

That moment when an old high school friend and I reconnected, and she showed me how much it pays off to have passion about a cause and plan events to work towards a greater cause.

That moment when I told someone the nitty-gritty of the past few years of my life and they took my hand and thanked me for sharing.

That moment in church when a complete stranger paid it forward and as a result 25+ people got a free cup of coffee.

That moment when my mom made me soup and gave me a hug while I was sick.

All these moments are seemingly insignificant, but not to me. If those people were too busy writing books and traveling the world, I may not have gotten those moments. Not to sound selfish and say that they shouldn’t follow their dreams, that’s not it. The point is, we need the small, every-day, boring stuff to make our lives complete. Those things make more of a difference than people realize.

So, I’ve started realizing that my life might be destined for mediocrity and for the first time in probably my entire 25 years on this earth that feels more than okay. Because in my simple, mundane life, I do not think I am mediocre just because I may never write a best-selling novel or see my face on the cover of Rolling Stone. No, I will not be written about in history books, like the majority of human beings. It’s not that I don’t think we should strive for more, it’s just that I think we should also be comfortable with less as well.

What I will do is continue to take action on the causes I find most important. These causes include, but are not limited to, being a great friend and caring family member, contributing to society in simple ways like attending church and working, and working hard to continue learning and growing as a human. When my time here is done, I hope to have so many memories imprinted in my brain that the idea of needing my name in a history book doesn’t even have the tiniest space to grow.