What Am I Supposed To Feel?

This past weekend, I got angry when I meant to be something else.

Don’t ask me what — it was some concoction of frustration, sadness, anger, and melancholy — but anger has always been easiest to land on with both feet. My husband was concerned that I was distant from him, and with mental illness comes living in your own head much of the time, mulling over what’s real and what isn’t, which impulses to follow and which to ignore, what’s possible to escape.

His argument was sound, but my reaction wasn’t — I was doing my best to juggle the demands of my insurance company, the company handling my FMLA leave, my psychiatrist and therapist appointments, my magazine, my podcast, my own writing, and the hunger of the monsters in my head. I was giving him everything I could, everything I had, every piece of my lingering real self that was left, and his sadness felt like judgment.

From the judgment came frustration, which built into anger, but underneath was an unendurable fatigue, the complete exhaustion of mourning my past self: the exuberant girl who loved being out with people in dresses and conversation until all hours, happy.

I became aware, suddenly, unexpectedly, that the girl I had known for most of my life was gone. She might resurface at some point in the future, breaking the surface of the waves attempting to smother her. She might be forever lost, buried at sea with the sailors’ skeletons. She might emerge from the water completely changed, a stranger to herself and all who knew her.

And I cried. I shattered the anger and let it be what it was, whatever it was. My husband came and held me, told me that I didn’t need to be so angry, that I didn’t need to let it consume me. But I shook my head, and asked:

“What am I supposed to feel?”

His answers were vague, but Buddhist. Feel what comes, suss it out and where it comes from, then let it go. But what was coming? What exactly did I feel, do I feel, about my co-opted brain, and the monster that lives within it?

There are no answers, nothing permanent and concrete to point to: I feel sadness. I feel anger. I feel frustration. I feel hopeless. I feel nothing.

There is something inside me, nestled behind my breastbone that tightens, and I believe that’s where the emotion sits, a ball of latent energy that emerges without my permission or foresight. I never know what’s coming, what will come — the curse of bipolar, I suppose.

I pull my hair over my eyes, nestle the bridge of my nose between my two index fingers, and feel wetness percolating in my eyes. I put my hand on my chest, willing the warmth to dull the anxious pain enclosing my heart. I put another palm on my belly, trying to untangle the knots. I lay on a heating pad, alternating between my shoulders and my low back, hoping to undo the hurt.

What am I supposed to feel when so much of me has been invaded by hurt?

I look for hope, but I don’t find it. Not in the phone calls that come to tell me that my disability is unlikely to be renewed. Not in the emails telling me that my leave will be cut off because a fax didn’t go through correctly. Not in the days that pass, one by one, with draining speed. Not with all that weighs heavy.

There are too many feelings that impose, talking over each other so that I can only catch snippets of each voice. Determination is there, fighting with Defeat, and manic Purpose is arguing with a tearful Overwhelmed while Anxiety and Sadness sit in the corner, holding hands. They’re all present, every little thing, all at once.

Occasionally I break under all the voices. I shed a tear while I type, letting Grief take the podium in this moment. She’s prepared a eulogy.

But they’re all waiting for their turn to come, each making a convincing argument in the war for my undivided attention, each attempting to answer me when I ask what am I supposed to feel?

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