My doc asked me a tough question today. “Mark. Don’t tell me what you think. Turn off the logic. Turn off the reasoning. Tell me how you feel about that.”
Yeah. Me. I couldn’t. Me, the guy with all the words, and I couldn’t say how I felt. “Angry. Hurt, Wounded.” I rambled on, single words leaking through the filters in my head. “Denied.”
And it’s not the denial everyone knows about, everyone understands. I’m not denying the truth. I’m not denying evolution exists, or the universe is 13 billion years old. Nothing like that. I’m not denying people consider me their friend. Not denying I’m good at what I have elected to do in my life.
I’m denying me. What I feel. I’ll start my explanation with a story, like I always do.
When I was in 8th grade, we moved from Annapolis, Maryland, to Chesapeake, Virginia. With the move came a change in school systems, and a change in available classes. On the day my Father took me to Deep Creek Middle School, to register for classes, and continue my 8th grade education, I had to make decisions about classes. On the spot, in the moment decisions.
One of those decisions was specific to Math. In Annapolis, I’d been taking “Introduction to Algebra.” Chesapeake didn’t offer Introductory Algebra. So, I had to make a choice. Take regular 8th grade math, which everyone knew I’d cake walk through. Or, take Algebra. Real Algebra. Where I was 6 weeks behind the class.
I suppose a sensible human would have taken 8th grade math. But a sensible human would not have raced through the decision process I went through. I didn’t think about myself, and what I was capable of, or what I wanted to do. I didn’t consider being afraid of taking Algebra. My decision process was very direct. I considered my Mother, and my Father, and what would make them proud of me.
I picked Algebra.
By the time I was in 8th grade, my decision process already denied what I felt and wanted. What I felt and wanted was expendable. What I did was what I believed made those I felt were the important people in my life proud of me, happy with my decisions.
I told my doctor, today, I buried what I felt in my backyard, so it was hidden, and no one could see it, or find it. Not even me.
There are many more stories. I shared another one with my Doc today. Told him why I decided to get his help, and start therapy. It wasn’t a decision I made. The truth is I didn’t want to find help. Because I knew, if I found help, I’d have to deal with everything.
What did I do? How did I end up finding my Doc? I sent three e-mail messages. One to Gina. One to Judy. One to Lorrie. Three messages to the three people I trusted at work. I didn’t ask my family. I didn’t ask my friends. I couldn’t. Don’t ask me to explain why. I can’t. I don’t know why.
I cut a deal with myself. If I got no responses to the e-mails, or if I got three negative responses, or three, “It’s your choice to make” responses, I would avoid therapy. If a single response from one of those three messages said, “Yes,” I’d get help.
All three responses came back positive, declaring I needed to get help.
I kept my end of the bargain. I got help.
I’ve been asking myself lots of questions these past few weeks, because I’ve known I had another step to take in my life. Another journey to make. More to explore. And today, I’ve started into that strange world.
I don’t know what I feel. I know basic things. I know when I’m hungry. I know when I’m tired, even though I don’t always admit I am. I know when I’m in physical pain, though I don’t always admit how much.
But I don’t know what I feel.
“How do you feel about that, Mark?”
“I don’t know.”
I want to write. More than I can explain. More than I can understand. It’s an irrational thing. It doesn’t make sense. There’s not a procedure for writing. Read ten books on how to write a novel, and you still won’t know how. Writing is a personal thing. I don’t write the same way you do. I don’t write the same way my writing friends do. I write my way. My friends each write their own way.
But writing also frustrates me. Hell, it infuriates me. Because it’s not predictable. I can’t tell what I’m going to write. When I sit down to write a flash fiction story for a weekly challenge, I don’t know what will happen next. I don’t know what I’ll write.
What I write could be funny, scary, moving, touching, frightening, or infuriating. It could even be about butterflies and ants and other insects, long after humans have followed the dinosaurs into oblivion. I don’t snap my fingers, and presto, words appear on my computer screen.
In that same way, I don’t know what I feel. Oh, I know if I’m happy, or sad, excited, or bored, I now the obvious. Just don’t ask me how I feel about something. Don’t ask, “How do you feel about that, Mark?” Because I can’t answer. Because I don’t know.
And it’s going to take a while for me to change what I learned so long ago, when I learned to deny myself. When I learned to bury what I felt. When I learned to say, “I don’t care how I feel. I’ll do what I need to.” When I learned my feelings were expendable.
And they were.
Until 4 years ago.
When everything I buried in the backyard started surfacing, and I couldn’t stop it.
I wonder who I am.
I intend to find out.