I am a person who feels things intensely. I don’t do neutral. This is not a conscious decision, nor something that appeared out of the ether. I’m pretty sure I was, to borrow a phrase from Lady Gaga, born this way. I love fervently, I hate vehemently. I rarely say, “I don’t care,” and when I do say it, chances are that I don’t mean it. I commit myself to things completely or not at all. I potty-trained myself when I was three-years-old because Carly Tesser called me a baby for still wearing diapers. I came home from nursery school that day and informed my mother that I would be wearing Big Girl Underpants from now on, preferably ones with Ariel from The Little Mermaid on them, thank you, you can dispose of these diapers, I have decided that I am So Over Them. And that was that. A more recent example: I did not write or create anything for months, and now I can’t seem to stop.
On Mondays, I go to therapy. I don’t think the fact that I’m In Treatment is a Big Deal, or reveals that I’m broken or a less stable person than I “should be.” I actually believe that everyone should go to therapy, at least at some point, over the course of his or her life. But it occurs to me that Monday might be a significant day to be encouraged (or forced—the verb I associate with therapy varies) to talk about my feelings for 45 to 50 minutes. (I’m not sure how long my sessions are; or, rather, how long they’re supposed to be.) I don’t know if going to therapy on Monday sets the tone for the next seven days, but part of me thinks that it has to, at least on a subconscious, or even unconscious, level. Because most of the time, it’s the very first thing on my calendar for the week. And that has to be significant somehow, right? I’m probably just looking for meaning where there is only a mutually convenient timeslot.
Today, I told my therapist that I’m having trouble being alone; specifically, being alone with my thoughts because I can’t seem to turn them off. Most of these thoughts are whispers. Others are echoes. Some are sarcastic, some are unbearably earnest, some masquerade as profound. A select few resonate as primal screams into the abyss, like that scene in Garden State where Zach Braff, Natalie Portman, and Peter Sarsgaard are wearing trash-bags and it’s raining and “The Only Living Boy in New York” by Simon & Garfunkel is playing and Natalie Portman is a Manic Pixie Dream Girl, a filmic characterization that has since been retracted, but I really don’t understand why because it’s still a thing. Also, why is there no Manic Pixie Dream Boy? There should be one, I think I could probably use one. Especially when I’m feeling directionless, like there is Something Important that I should be learning or realizing, should be doing, but I don’t know what it is. Most of these thoughts, though, regardless of their volume or tone, are along the lines of: Just how damaged am I?
The clinical part of my brain, the part planning to become a psychotherapist in the not-so-distant future, takes issue with that statement because it denies ownership and accountability. There’s a passivity to the question, a pretty explicit implication (ha) that I have been damaged by circumstances beyond my control. Or, perhaps more realistically, by people I let into my life even though I shouldn’t have and, more often than not, knew that I shouldn’t have, but let them in anyway. A former friend said something to me along the lines of, “When you’re a teenager, you don’t see the red flags. As a young-ish adult, you see the red flags, but ignore them. Part of becoming a real adult is seeing the red flags and running as fast as you can in the opposite direction.” I no longer ignore the red flags. In fact, I tend to actively look for them, even when there might not be any. I acknowledge that I not only have been damaged, but also have caused damage. In fact, I’ve been the simultaneous perpetrator and victim of damage more times than I’d like to admit. A self-perpetuating damage machine. But that’s humanity’s par for the course, isn’t it? Show me a person who claims to have not hurt or been hurt, and I’ll show you a person who needs to be in psychotherapy. Starting yesterday. (Is it becoming clear why I’m having trouble being alone with my thoughts yet?)
My parents both studied Psychology as undergraduates in the 1970s. When my mother told her father she was majoring in Psychology, he asked, “What are you going to do? Sell Psychology?” That anecdote has nothing to do with my point, but makes me smile. My point is that my parents both studied Psychology as undergraduates in the 1970s when Freudian analysis was the “it” mode of psychotherapy.
Flash-forward thirty-something years later when, at age sixteen, I was perusing the bookshelves in our basement and found their combined collection of $2 paperbacks of Freud’s works. I felt like Ariel in The Little Mermaid: “Look at this trove! Treasures untold!”
The timing was somewhat fortuitous because suddenly, Freud was everywhere. I was about to study Oedipus Rex in English class. When reading Federico García Lorca’s La Casa de Bernarda Alba in AP Spanish Literature, I struggled to adequately translate my thoughts, but was ultimately able to smugly announce that la caña de Bernarda es un símbolo fálico. One day in History, my teacher told one of the popular boys to stop playing with his lacrosse stick; I loudly offered, “Well, you know what Freud would say.”
(Note: Nearly all names have been changed. This is not to protect the men I am writing about, but to protect myself from further past, present, or future humiliation.)
Wanting what I can’t have has been a recurrent theme in my life. I’ve wanted my curly hair to be straight; I’ve wanted my practically translucent skin to be just a shade or two darker (read: not vampiric); I’ve wanted my neuroses to seem charming, not terrifying.
My romantic history is not free from this curse: I am unrequited love’s bitch.