01: The devil baby ?
I have had to spend a lot of time thinking about my emotions recently. Heads up: this isn’t about to be one of those emotional posts where I share some life-changing event and the resulting emotions. I might lack the range but I definitely lack the desire so that’s definitely not happening. Not today. Now that that’s out of the way, we can talk about this unspoken expectation that women should experience and express emotions in one way. I want to talk about it because of how it makes my life just a little, bit, more difficult.
I was recently prompted to ask my mum what I had been like on my first day of school. My prompt? A cute thread of mummies sharing experiences of their toddlers (mostly first borns) going off to preschool for the first time. The common theme was the reassurance that no matter how hard or how long these children cried, they would eventually settle in at school. I remembered that I had heard similar stories about my brothers but none about myself. I didn’t want to assume anything so I asked pointedly, if I had cried on my first day of school.
Who? You must be asking abouut someone else. No such thing ever happened with you. O mo pe ati kekere lo ti d’aju?
My mum’s response mostly tickled me but it also bothered me, ever so slightly. I suspect it might have had something to do with repeated, albeit playful, accusations that I lacked empathy. A thing, I clearly I know to be a lie but hearing my mum imply that, even as a baby, I had little or no regard for the feelings of others, was slightly unnerving. I mean, it appears to be true on the surface but it isn’t really true. At least not entirely. She said it so matter of factly that I almost felt sorry for being the way that I am till I remembered that I hadn’t actually done anything wrong. I am just slightly different. That isn’t and shouldn’t be a crime. I’ve always had this weird relationship with emotions and I think a huge part of it was based on the fact that I didn’t understand why I was so different. It took a long time, a lot of introspection and a number of online self assessment tools. I can’t remember a time where I haven’t suffered the dissonance thats comes from being made out to be this cold, unfeeling bitch while I was dealing with my emotions in the way that I knew how to. The irony being that I felt everything. So what is this mysterious situation and how did it come about?
It turns out that for me, certain emotions come with this overpowering sense of being overwhelmed and that scares me. I often liken emotions to waves. With easy emotions, its like being by the sea shore and having weakened waves wash over your feet. It’s enjoyable and controlled and I love control. I do not aim to control everything or even the things I am already aware that I cannot control. For me, logic has always been my comfort zone. The sweet spot where I know how to handle things or at least make correct assessments of unfamiliar situations. Then, there were those emotions that were like typhoon winds threatening to uproot me and drag me out to sea and toss me around in endless confusion till I could feel myself drowning. They would eventually toss me back on shore but only after I was ready to drown after being ravaged by the loss of control. I noticed that giving into these set of emotions, without engaging them on a logical level first, always brought me more grief and disappointment than I would like to admit or even recall. As an angsty teenager, I pulled through by ignoring my emotions for as long as I could. That translated to long bouts of inflicting wounds on the unlucky casualties, often unsuspecting friends and foe alike. I was brutal. My cuts had an almost surgical quality to them. They would heal nice and clean. My family and friends would forgive me and the issues would be resolved. Except that the sickening stench of guilt stayed with me and made me so critical of myself, to the point of being unsure of myself. Did I mention, the unexplained crying sessions? The ones where I wasn’t even sure what was happening. The ones where I’d cry for all the jacked up things I’d done over the past three to six months. They were rare but regular enough to let me know ‘this’ wasn’t working. I hated failing. Hated feeling like I wasn’t in control. Hated apologizing for shit I could have avoided if I had just taken some time to process. I resolved to…actually I learnt to sit with my emotions and work through them.
And now, here we are. I don’t have complete control over my emotions but I have a system that works. I’m still learning and tweaking but at least I’m not inadvertently, tearing everything and everyone down. I’m more intentional about the things I say. I’m measured. I am silent. I may come off as cold when hurt. If you can read my body language then you know that it’s there but it’s steeled behind locked lips and a rapidly beating heart. Locked until I can analyze why I’m feeling that way and decide on a reasonable course of action. I am cautious about who I let in and the power I give them to potentially start these storms. I’ll be honest and say that I struggle with vulnerability to an extent but that’s collateral damage from having my moments of openness thrown back in my face like they were moments of weakness. I am happier now, more than before, so I wouldn’t give this up for anyone. Not even the ones who birthed me. They know it. I know it. I am at peace with this.
I’m not sure where I was going with this but along the way, I realized that I need to do this for myself. For the next time I unnerve a man with my brand of measured expression and he dubs me cold or savage or Satan. Not because I have hurt him. Dear God, no but simply because he realizes I am selfish with my expression of the emotions I feel. For the next time I clash with my mum because my will refuses to bow to emotional manipulation. For the time when I respond to betrayal, stoically. For the time, a friend is surprised by the fact that I have feelings too. Being surprised at the mundane because a reputation I had no part in making, precedes me. I want it written down so I don’t always have to do the difficult work of battling myself for finding a way (my own way) to flourish. I deserve to be understood even if I’m the only one doing the understanding. Thankfully, I’m not the only one.
PS: Thank you to everyone who actually gets me and doesn’t try to shape or shame me for not being like the women you’re used to. I love you,immensely.