How to explain what goes on inside my head, the way I think and experience the world?
Most of the time I am existing in a state of near-exhaustion. I know that everyone is tired, especially parents; and most especially, parents of children with special needs, because they often have disrupted sleep patterns.
I sleep just fine, which is to say, I could easily sleep for 14 hours a day. Normal daily encounters leave me drained. I don’t like talking on the phone, yet I do it all day at work. I feel tense when the phone rings because I don’t know what the person calling is going to want, and I don’t like not being prepared with an answer. If I have to talk to coworkers to gather information, that’s even more tiring. It’s not that I can’t talk to them, and sometimes I even enjoy it, it’s just that it demands so much energy. I’m hearing what they say, listening for the tone and trying to take in the body language.
My brain never stops working. I put great thought into the most mundane of tasks. Before I drive to the post office to drop something in the mailbox, I think about the drive there. I consider what I’m dropping off, whether I’ve addressed it properly and affixed the correct amount of postage. I think about where I will be driving afterward. All of the thinking and planning I put in leaves me fatigued before I’ve even started the car.
Getting together with friends is especially challenging. I enjoy being with friends, for the most part. But again, I have to think about where we are going, what I will eat at the restaurant, what I will wear, what we will talk about. I consider what questions I will ask my friends about their lives and families. How will I respond if they’ve had bad news recently? How will I reply if they ask my advice about something? My mind busies itself with all the possible conversation scenarios. And what about my life? What do I feel comfortable sharing with them, and what do I hold back? Do I tell them about the stress of having my mother live with us, or will I sound callous and uncaring? How much do I share about Connor without being disrespectful of his autonomy?
This is the reason I have few friends. There’s so much effort that goes into a relationship, I couldn’t possibly keep up with any more. My husband and I have known each other for so long that it’s a comfortable space, a place where I don’t have to think so much about everything I’m saying and doing. I envy others that feel that sense of ease throughout their day, without over-thinking and analyzing every encounter.
As I exited the bathroom stall at work today, I saw a coworker from another department at the sink. I felt the anxious knot tighten in my throat as I realized I would need to make small talk. I remind myself not to blurt out that my job makes me feel like a factory worker, but takes place at a desk with virtual paper instead of at a conveyor belt filled with parts of widgets to be assembled. I remember not to say that I feel like my soul is slowly being leached from my body every day. Saying those things would be “inappropriate.” Instead I ruminate over how we inquire how the other is doing, and always receive a reply of “fine” in return. It’s ironic to me that we consider those conversations to be “normal” when they’re built on white lies.
I try to focus in on her hair and her clothes. Maybe there’s something different there that I can use to pay her a compliment. I catch myself staring at her hair and immediately feel like my gaze lingered just a moment too long, and now I’m sure she’s thinking I’m really very strange.
As I dry my hands, I want to comment about how wasteful we all are when we know full well we’re destroying our planet and that global warming is a fact accepted by most of the world. To me, that seems much more pressing (and interesting) than a new pair of sandals. But I know better than to say that, because I will get that look I’ve seen before, where I’m being sized up behind the person’s eyes and they are judging me to be a weirdo.
Fine. Keep destroying the planet then, you’ll be sorry eventually.
“Cute sandals,” I say.
“Oh, thanks! I got them on sale at Macy’s,” she replies.
I fumble around internally for an appropriate response. “Oh, I LOVE Macy’s!” There. That should be okay.
And I leave the restroom, exhausted.
But it’s not just all the effort and thinking that goes into every conversation and task that leaves me forever on the verge of collapse. I don’t know if it’s like this for other people, because I’ve never asked. That would, of course, involve a complicated conversation that I’d rather not have. The other thing, for me, is that I have this…I don’t know…condition? where I sort of absorb other people’s feelings.
And how to explain that? If someone is angry, I can feel it inside. It rattles me and distracts me. It’s almost like the air around me is charged with the emotion they feel. The same goes for other emotions, such as sadness. I suppose I could say that it’s like I absorb those feelings like a sponge. I wrestle around with them inside me, fighting over control of my own emotions. But I always lose the fight, and my own feelings are wrested away from me as I’m forced to exist within the anger or confusion or embarrassment of someone else. And they don’t even know this is happening, that their feelings have taken me hostage. It’s not their fault, really, so why should I tell them?
I can’t help but think that none of what I’ve described even comes close to really conveying my internal processes. I just don’t have the ability to put into words the complexity of and relentlessness of my thoughts. But here’s what I do know: I would change it in a second if I could. To be a freer version of myself, without being bogged down by anxiety and worry would be sweet release. I would still be the same me, but a better, less exhausted me.
I would like that very much.