My therapist asks me this a lot. Not because she’s a stereotype (she isn’t) or because she likes to ask things ironically (she doesn’t), but because we are both learning that I don’t really let myself feel anything. I’m really great at taking care of other people and looking after their emotional needs, and I’m pretty sure I’m great at it because it means I don’t have to deal with mine.
My family and I went to Hawaii last week and scattered my dad’s ashes in two tide pools and at the beach where we all used to look for shells. It was beautiful and it was sad and it was funny, because my family is aces at finding the funny. It’s definitely a little funny when you dump your dad’s ashes into the ocean but then the breeze blows them all over your shorts.
Do you often use humor as a coping mechanism? was the first question my therapist asked me. Like duh humor is my coping mechanism. Would I be alive if I couldn’t laugh at this shit? No, I probably wouldn’t be. I would’ve drowned myself in chocolate and self-loathing years ago. Thankfully I really enjoy the “this makes a good story” approach, because that and my humor have made things bearable.
I told her all of what happened on the trip and she stopped me and said, “Whitney, I know you’re worried about your family, but how do you feel about it?” Instantly I started to cry.
I am really fucking sad. Like the kind of sad that’s inappropriate to demonstrate around other people. The kind of sad that makes you resent people who are happy. The kind of sad that turns you into Tobey Maguire in the shitty third Spiderman, or into Frodo from The Return of The King, or into Harry Potter in the third movie. You know, the annoying kind of sad. And it’s always lurking underneath the “I’m doing pretty well,” or “I am surprisingly happy,” or “I’m ok” responses I give people when they ask. Like a really annoying zit that you know is gonna be big and red and painful and probably right by your lip so people think you have herpes.
I just don’t want to feel that sadness all the time, and there are a lot of wonderful things going on in my life right now that tamp down the sadness until something jars it loose.
I have a hard time admitting what I feel about things because then I have to actually express those emotions, and that usually prevents me from taking care of the people in my life. I’m scared of expressing this sadness because I know that once I start, I’ll collapse under its weight and I don’t want to do that to the people I love. I can’t afford to let go; there’s too much riding on me keeping it together.
That’s why I find the funny in everything, why I support my friends anyway they need me to, and why I am constantly doing things to cheer other people up. People don’t want to hear how devastated I am because my father killed himself–especially because he and I didn’t have a good relationship. People don’t know what to do with that. It’s like when an acquaintance asks how you are and you say “good” because do they really want to know? Of course not. They don’t care. It’s just the polite thing to say to someone when you run into them at the grocery store or gym or dentist or movie theatre or strip club.
So I swallow it and try to act like Harry Potter in the first two movies: innocent and full of wonder. Not at all like the little asshole he is in The Prisoner of Azkaban.