Thursday, November 5, 2015

Micro-essay on emotion

My mother would do anything for me. I feel as if I have been certain of that my entire life. I have no real memories with her involving feeling neglected of any sort of emotional response I wanted or needed until later in life. I cannot say the same of my father. When I was very young, 4 or so, I went to Disney World with my parents and my brothers, who were 15 and 17 at the time. My brothers, father and I went on a 4-D simulator ride of Honey! I Shrunk the Audience, and so the story goes that when the cat jumped into a lion through my 3D glasses, I lost it. My dad refused to take me out of the room, and my more sympathetic brother (was it Josh or Stephen?) went outside to calm me down.

I rarely got upset growing up. Given this is probably because I was a gifted, affluent student with loving parents and friends. My elementary school janitor nicknamed me Smiles. As far as I was concerned, I was the luckiest kids in the world. I rarely was denied the things I wanted, whether they were clothing, toys or dance lessons. I played several instruments. I was part of the Gifted and Talented Summit education program in my middle school. I very rarely cried, even at sad movies or when I fell off my bike and scraped myself along the pavement. My father taught me there was pride in being "tough" (this terrified my mother). Negative emotional response (meaning sadness, laziness, rage) were not really tolerated in my childhood. My mom made it her goal that I was never upset, and my dad that I was never unproductive. Therefore, being happy and busy were very important to me. When I fell short of those expectations is the only time I released those emotions. I have very vivid memories of yelling "I hate myself" over and over again when I did something wrong, like overslept for school. My mother would get so upset, pleading me to stop. I started to develop extreme anxiety over being late and less than prepared. This kind of extreme perfectionist-thinking only got worse when I became a competitive dancer at 14. I would have a panic attack if my bun wasn't centered or my costume didn't fit just right. 

When I was 17 I was hospitalized for an eating disorder, released to an outpatient program shortly after. When I arrive home from my initial hospitalization, my father asked to talk to me. I had just had the most difficult, exhausting, emotional week of my life...the weigh ins, the body checks, the meds and the meals. I was proud of myself by the end of it and,  for the first time since the onset of my disease, was fully invested in getting my life back. I don't know exactly what kind of response I needed from him emotionally at this point. He paid the hospital bill, and the way my father spends his money is how you can see what he cares about. This has been true all my life. What I didn't need nor want nor expect was the first thing out of his mouth that evening: "How are you going to make sure this doesn't happen again?" 

I have never expected much emotional response from men, being taught by my father at a young age that "all boys are dogs." But I had a very long relationship in high school with one of the most emotionally unavailable people I have ever met. He, much like my father, took much pride in his 'toughness.' He refused to be known to have a girlfriend, and refrained from being seen with me in public, however well aquatinted we were privately at the time. He would never speak to me about his family life (he was adopted) or any of his emotional interior. Looking back now, I really have no idea how I had any semblance of who he was as a person. 

I really have no idea what my father's emotional life is like. I've seen him cry three times: once watching A Beautiful Mind, a second time talking about his deceased father, and again at my brother's wedding. Ironically, at my brother's wedding, my father cried (and I mean CRIED) throughout his entire speech. He actually had to cut it short, because we couldn't understand what he was saying. I swear in that moment he let out tears he had been holding back for years. 

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