Sometimes, I feel like I can’t feel my life.
I observe it happening, and my brain keeps track of everything — the wins, the losses, the drama, the bliss. I register how I feel; I can speak to how I feel (at length to my therapist and friends); but I can’t experience my feelings.
I used to be a kid who cried a lot. I moved schools in fourth grade because I cried every day at school and was teased mercilessly for it. I cried in the classroom, on the playground, walking home from school — sometimes for no reason at all. I can’t remember if I froze those feelings when I switched schools, but I do know I stopped being bullied. I stopped feeling much of anything but a constant need to fit in. To manage the social situation, to make people laugh, to make myself popular, to make myself harmless, to make myself not a target because of my emotions.
I haven’t cried much since third grade. Only in rare moments: when my mom died on my 27th birthday, on the last day of my high school musical The Music Man during our Jesuit closing prayer ceremony where I launched into sobbing monologue about how I felt I’d missed out on high school experiences with my wonderful cast-mates and only now was appreciating this community of peers, when my first dog Iris died and I was away at college, when I was re-assigned at a job I loved even though I agreed with the logic behind the decision, when my therapist told me she could see that I carried buried pain, when I was on acid in The Temple at Burning Man and a Temple Guardian who had my mother’s eyes hugged me for no reason. But my tears are few and far between.
I fell in love with theater in fifth grade. When I’m onstage in front of an audience, I can feel my life again. As an adult, my brand of stand-up is rooted in sincerity — I speak to and celebrate my horrifying and wonderful experiences. When I’m in the spotlight, I can see my shadow and understand the shape of how I feel in it’s outline. When I’m not performing, I can’t see myself at all.
I worry this is all a lack of self-practice. Any muscle that isn’t worked atrophies over time. I don’t work at my feelings offstage. I usually avoid them:
- I drink and dampen them.
- I smoke pot and experience them ten-fold, to the point where I’m huddled in a bathtub, overwhelmed, and just want to sleep.
- I take pills and experience a translucent high, like skating on the surface of an ice pond. The pain is visible underneath, distracting me, waiting until the drug-induced freeze melts, and I sink back down.
- I smoke cigarettes for no reason; I don’t even like them, but it’s one of the rare moments where I halt doing things and just be for a bit. Breathing. Even if I’m breathing carcinogenic air.
I know what the answer is — to meditate, to slow down, to create space by myself, to hold space with friends. And, I worry I don’t know what the answer is — because I’ve been doing all this (albeit not often enough) for a long time, and I’m still lonely and sad most days underneath the veneer of busyness I exude.
This writing was triggered by a best friend needing to remove me from his life last week. He said he still cared for me, but for reasons personal to him and past trauma in his life, he couldn’t be close with me anymore. I still don’t understand the decision, and it broke my heart. But I haven’t cried once. I’ve just been grinding my teeth, bitter and angry. This writing bubbled out of me today, a week after the shit hit the fan, and it’s the closest I can come to wringing tears through text.
This writing was also triggered by the frenzy of opening a new theater company: the Brooklyn Comedy Collective. It has been a tremendous success, but every moment of elation has passed as suddenly as the next worry creeps up. I feel at times like I’ve been a spectator, watching and loving what I’m seeing, but not feeling the gratitude and glory in my bones.
I want to feel my life. I want to not miss out on, as my friend Nik said, “this one, beautiful, short trip I have around the sun.” My friend Carly put it this way: “You can’t run from your life.” I don’t want to run anymore, and I am going to learn how to sit still with my pain and joy.