By Rathika Sheila.
Isn’t it weird that I can be stressed without realising it? On the surface, I feel calm. I’m peachy, that’s what my tagline is. But there was something eating at me for the past week; it disrupted my sleep, it made it harder for me to breathe, and when I thought about what it might be, I would tear up. I didn’t know what it was, and I believed I failed myself.
“Has the 6 months of therapy really been working if I can’t figure this out?”
I had all the tools I needed, and still, I couldn’t understand my feelings on my own. I felt guilty because I couldn’t take care of myself. But I had overlooked one of the important things to do when feeling some type of way: asking for emotional support from your loved ones. I’m still struggling to do it. When I go to them with the same scenario, it seems as though I haven’t made much progress. I feel embarrassed. I worry my feelings are too much, and they’re going to get tired of it, and want to leave. My friends have never said that, and they always give me a safe space to talk, but 10-year-old Rathika is still learning to trust that not everyone will leave, and most importantly, that it’s not weak to show emotions. We recently passed the One Month mark of the Movement Control Order (MCO) over the weekend. My heart ached. I had plans to have dinner with a man-friend who I like quite a bit, we’ll call him Judy, exactly a month ago. It didn’t happen, of course, and I gave myself room to be upset about not being able to see the person who makes me laugh the most.
The first time we called each other during the MCO, we had talked for about an hour when he said he had to go because he was going to have dinner. My heart sank to my stomach, “We’re not going to see each other for some time and he’s okay with only talking for an hour?,” I thought to myself. I was so upset, and got mad that he didn’t understand why I felt that way. I said ‘bye’ in the most passive-aggressive manner imaginable, and sobbed myself to sleep.
My brain then took it upon itself to create stories to keep me entertained throughout the week. Some of my favourites are:
1. Notice how no one is as excited to talk to you as you are about them
2. Look, Judy replied to a friend on Instagram who said she missed him, he said he missed her too, but he obviously wouldn’t say that about you on the social platform because you’re not pretty enough
3. Hey you ever wonder why Judy doesn’t tell you he misses you unprompted? It can’t be that he’s shy, it’s got to be that you don’t mean anything to him
4. Y’all haven’t been texting a lot, he’s distancing himself from you
5. Maybe you should sabotage this by ending it so you don’t get hurt, what a fun concept!
That really should have been my indicator of how upset I was about being in quarantine but better late than never, right? I was teary-eyed a few days after that call. Whenever I thought about how I couldn’t see him, or remembered what his hugs were like, I would sob. I thought I was going mad, honestly. Who cries thinking about a hug? It’s a hug. But there I was, curled up in bed, crying over A HUG.
A HUG, Y’ALL.
I did my best to challenge those thoughts with the evidence I had. But my brain was more interested in throwing a tantrum than wanting to understand what was really bothering me. It only recently dawned on me after seeing this tweet about love languages that I’ve been upset because I haven’t had attention and physical affection, for what feels like a whole ass century, but is really a month. This is another case of me mislabelling Intimacy as Not A Big Deal. I’m still working on practicing it myself, and believing I’m worthy of it. It makes so much sense now when I think of how I dismissed affection as an issue considering I’ve believed it was weak to be affected by love for most of my life.
But it’s not, is it? It’s what makes us humans. Our ability to relate, to empathise, to feel. It’s what helps us create deeper connections with people. But I often forget how the super-human feelings (i.e: sadness, anxiety, being open) is what makes us human too. My friend, Darren, had checked-in with me on Friday, and said very gently, not to give him a PR reply on how I was (one of the many things I’m skilled at). After 3 days of thinking about what to say, I told him I was in a funk, and that I may be more stressed about the isolation than I thought I was.
I panicked after pressing send. Would this change how he saw me? My brain said: yes, nobody wants to see you be vulnerable. But Darren came back with words of affirmation equivalent of a hug, and some iced tea (maybe it was a jug of long island?). I drank it all up. He reminded me that it was courageous to be vulnerable. That it would be unnatural to be peachy all the time, and that I can’t be a human being if I’m always performing, and not, being. And that was a hard pill to swallow.
I’m not being patient or kind to myself; I’m not allowing myself to be human. Some days I can name all the qualities about myself that I love, some days I look in the mirror and the only phrase that comes to mind is Not Good Enough. Some days I feel on top of the world; some days I wish the ground would open up and swallow me whole. I guess that’s the human experience.
I’m idealistic and impatient. I genuinely hoped I could love myself entirely after going to therapy, like it’s something that happens overnight, and wouldn’t feel insecure or unworthy of love anymore. I’ve talked about it, I’m putting in the work, surely it’s going to work out, right? That’s the formula! I forget that it’s a journey. It’s going to take so much more time to build a relationship with myself after not giving myself the attention, and care, I needed for years.
My best friend, Kate, sent me a timely reminder today, she said, “It’s okay if it feels like two steps forward, one step back — that’s still one step forward.” And she’s absolutely right. It does matter that I’m still trying to move forward, and if it means I have to salsa my way to learn how to take care of myself, I’ll do it — and my legs will look good too. It looks as though we’ll have another extension, which means I’m probably going to have more of these moments. I’m going to try my best to not disregard my human feelings, or feel weak when I want affection. I will try to ask for emotional support, now that I know this is what I need (and that it’s okay to need it) — I’ve scheduled a session with my therapist on Wednesday, and I’m going to talk to Kate after that too. I’m probably going to cry but I’ll have their support. I’ll feel safe.
I’m wondering if I should tell Judy about how I’ve been feeling too — my throat is already closing up at the thought of it — but I do deserve to feel reassured that the stories my brain’s been writing are fictional, right? Plus, talking to him, and hearing his voice makes my day.
Hopefully we’ll get through the MCO soon, then, maybe I’ll be able to give Judy the biggest hug in the history of human affection (might hang onto him like a koala does to a branch), and have dinner with him so the conversation doesn’t get cut short. Taking care of feelings is painful, and it can get ugly sometimes, but the results are beautiful. And as my friend, Zoé, put it, “Everything needs to be worked through, and sometimes you need to work through it with someone. But it’s a process that gets better if you just give yourself what you need to get better.”