How often are my feelings not my own?
They make fun of me for the way I reach out to the plateau-like cliffs behind the building and start tying up the stones. They poke fun at the way my eyes glaze over, the way I seem so far removed from the conversation happening right next to me, the way I can’t care about the words floating into the air beside me. They aren’t always talking to me so it’s not like I’m being rude. Sometimes, they just smoke. Sometimes, I can’t find the value in the words because I know that’s not what the real feelings want to say. Sometimes, I just have no patience for the socially appropriate, the masks, the facades of “fine,” so I climb up the mountain with my eyes, and vow to carry all its weight. I stand there on the back terrace of the rehab center with a nurse who’s tough outer shell used to scare me shitless (but somehow now I light up when I see her and want nothing more than to make her laugh), and a man who actually sees me when he looks, and they watch the way I wrap my eyes around a rock too big for this little body to fully digest. They say, “There she goes again, carrying the Rock of Ace.” They tell me to put it down, for once, just put down the rock. I sit on the steps to rest my legs, eyes still fixed so far away. We laugh at my burden… because it’s just a fun little metaphor.
When I’m standing in the center of my room in the middle of the day, hair in a sloppy bun, pajama pants dragging on the ground below my sock monkey slippers, and I lose my eyes in the wound of the highway behind my house, painted white with snow, I wonder which feelings are my own. Cars coast by carrying the burdens of every aching body that floats inside. They are so close. I can feel the heartbeat of the road.
When I read about trauma day in and day out, when I feel the way his pulse speeds up in a tiny windowless room when he says his brother killed himself last year and he hasn’t really stopped drinking since, when I know I could have done the same, when I can read story after story after story on the internet of all the horrible things people are willing to do to each other, how do I know when what I feel is my own? When I can look into a pair of eyes, reach in with my own, and see what it is that hurts them, feel the way it drags down their limbs, how do I sort out what is mine and what is theirs?
This world is a shared living space. We treat it as if we are quarreling roommates. We put tape lines on the floor, “Do not cross here, this side is mine,” we say. We throw down our baggage on our side and expect that the line will hold, expect to keep safe and hidden what matters, expect our pain to always always always be only ours. The thing is, our hearts are in our eyes, our wounds are in our breath. The stench of the baggage laces the air and has no regard for those enemy lines, like mustard gas we breach each other’s air, poison their lungs, and invade their blood.
There is no amount of tape on the ground that can put a barrier between me and my capacity for human empathy. There is no amount of defense mechanism that can keep at bay the broken beating heart of the world I walk in every single day. Sometimes, I just have to lay here and hurt. I used to think this was about me, used to think that I was defective for the way I continue to feel. No matter how many blessings I have, no matter how much love is in my bones, I still get incapacitated by the weight of invisible wounds. There was so much shame around that. How could someone with so much goodness in her life somehow manage to feel so heavy?
I’m realizing that this isn’t about me. This world does not abide by the barriers of bedroom boundaries. The blood that runs inside my veins is not always my own. So, when I get that faraway look, when you see me trudging along with my mountain-sized stone, don’t tell me that I need to put it down. I can’t put it down. This is a part of life that I refuse to relinquish. I will not sit soundly on my side of the room and pretend your pain does not exist just because it is not technically my own. This planet is a shared space, your burdens are mine, I will always offer my hand when I see someone carrying a heavy stone of their own. Feelings are not something you can carve your name into. They don’t ever belong to just you.