Yep, it’s happening now.
Life sometimes has a way of piling up behind–and on top of–me.
The old familiar sensation creeps up on me. Something I can’t describe jiggles loose from deep inside a cavern I can’t localize.
After the jiggling comes the welling up. It swells inside, and finally overflows, washing over me bidirectionally–simultaneously from the top down and the bottom up.
The first tears sting the most. Good lord, do they burn. I can’t wipe them away fast enough.
My only desire is to be alone, except for the select occasions in which I prefer to bathe in the company of my partner. Increasingly, I’m self-reliant, taking care of internal affairs on my own, but sometimes it’s good to have a spotter-partner at the gym of Life.
My aloneness is the only thought I’m sure of; everything else is a mystery.
Why do I feel like shedding tears just now? What exactly is it that insisted upon welling up inside me in so pronounced an entrance?
The interesting reality is, I can’t tell.
Sometimes I probe myself. Tonight is one of those nights.
Is it the fact that the interesting neurological symptoms that seemed to leave no lasting mark on my friend was actually a stroke in progress?
Is it the large, looming exam I have coming up in two weeks that I’m feeling the rising panic hiding just around the corner?
Is it loneliness?
Is it an imbalance among the foundational facets of my life as of late? (I’m sensitive that way; unless I have struck a palatable balance between the major areas of life, such as work, partnership, activities, etc, I can get pretty insidiously unhappy.)
The wrinkle is, despite the tears, this may not even be due to pain, fear, or any other negative emotion.
The bigger wrinkle is, I can’t even tell. I feel no particular, specific emotion. I can’t even pin it down to the four basics – happy, sad, angry, or scared. Really–I can’t even get that far. Even the elementary category eludes me. I can’t even pin down a parent-category, much less a hair-splitting subcategory.
Is it the beauty in the waning twilight, which chose to tinge the clean blue with hints of teal and green just before fading to pitch-black?
Is it the fact that a beautiful friend has just given their vehicle to my partner, who, despite legal blindness is staring at the palpable possibility of being able to get a driver’s license for the first time in his life?
So many possibilities.
It’s easier to tell what it’s not. At least, I think so. Maybe I can start there instead, and arrive at clearer-cut answers by working backwards.
I can securely say that it’s not coming from conflict at the office. Not from coworkers, not from clientele.
I can solidly eliminate any worry about my immediate family. (Extended family is another story.)
I’m certain that it doesn’t involve my marriage/partnership, or my partner himself, in any way. We’re pretty stable at this point.
There are no medications in the picture, nor did I get exposed to gluten, which, in my form of Celiac Disease, actually affects my brain more than it ever did my abdomen. And over seven years into a gluten-free diet, the original near-vertical learning curve has flattened out pretty well.
So, what are we looking at?
I still can’t tell. I don’t know why I’m crying. No idea, no clue.
I do know that this particular release isn’t flavored with any of the emotions that sometimes come as a bundled package. I can tell you that this time, I feel neutral.
Or do I?
My brain is no puzzle piece, but my heart is a riddle. My brain asks me semi-aggravating questions like “what’s the sound of one hand clapping?”, but my heart says, “what’s the sound of one Aspie feeling?” and although it already knows the answer, my brain doesn’t, and my brain is what counts, and my heart keeps mum.
I can’t even Phone a Friend. Not figuratively (to keep with the “help! I’m stuck!” half-joke), nor literally (what would I say? “Um, I’m feeling something, but I don’t know what”. Yeah, that would be an interesting conversation).
Sometimes, the sky, no matter how pretty and infinite it is, doesn’t have the answers; in cases like these, looking up at it doesn’t do any good. Sometimes it does; this time is not one of them.
Sometimes I have to turn inward. Soul-searching time.
When was the last time I didn’t feel like this? Maybe I can identify a triggering event. Most of the time, I can pinpoint a particular turning point, before which I was fine, and after which I was not.
Not this time. The feeling, whatever it is, sort of crept up in stages. When did it start? It happened so gradually that I’m not sure I can tell.
Part of it has been happening for months. Another part has only been there a few weeks. And there’s a third part, of course–the part that surfaced today.
OK, good. So what was transpiring during that time that might have taken its toll on me?
The longer ago the triggering event and the longer the feeling’s presence within me, the harder it is for me to trace and pick out the source. But I’ll try.
I know two people who are terminally ill; I found out about the second one about five months ago. There were also some trolls and bullies back then.
Maybe certain platforms of social media are getting empty and beginning to resemble a swirling vortex, around and around which you move, but never really get anywhere except sucked in. But that can’t be the truth, because there are still so many people for whom I care deeply and with whom I love to interact. There are others, however, whom I found out the hard way, that I don’t. Maybe I’m being stretched too thin, trying to be too many things to too many people. (If you’re reading this, you’re not among those people; I’m not referring to you in any way when I say this stuff.)
Maybe my concern for several loved ones who are terminally-or-otherwise-chronically ill and a few other friends and family members is overwhelming to me. Maybe trying to make sense of their situation and its significance is taxing my last brain battery-pack. Maybe ensuring that everyone else is fairing OK is depleting my own energy account, fraying my system and dripping me dry.
Or maybe emotions can fall under that “shades of gray” dome, and maybe this is one of those instances in which I live up to the stereotypical playbook after all, finding it difficult to mould the non-black-and-white into something recognizable and concrete.
This happens every so often. I sit in a stairwell or a slice of curbside underneath the sprawling Live Oak trees on the grounds of our apartment complex, look up at the sky through those trees, and do “absurd” things like attempt to distinguish between four elementary emotional categories.
I sift through available emotions like files on a hard drive, using the proverbial “preview”function to try the emotion on for size, and see if it fits.
Happiness? No, that doesn’t seem right.
Anxiety or fear? Yeah, that’s probably a front-runner right now. I’ll tag that one for the “short list”.
OK, what else? Irritability? Nah.
Grief? Yep, that seems to fit, too. .
Guilt? Regret? For once, no.
Overwhelm? Another front-runner, although I’m not sure how it ranks next to the other two.
And so on…
Sometimes I use existing songs to describe how I’m feeling. Their melodies, harmonies, instrumentation, tempo, style, lyrics, and other attributes are phenomenal at capturing nebulous emotions more precisely, completely, and vividly. Given music’s additional dimensions, there’s much greater potential for accuracy. It’s kind of like Feelings Pictionary for Aspies.
The tears have long evaporated, leaving a mild, tolerable salty residue on my face that ever-so-mildly restricts the minutest of facial muscle movements, such as the involvement of the cheeks in the activity of eye-blinking. And still I’m not all that much closer to teasing out the driving force of those tears, the engine behind the jigging loose, welling up, and washing over. I have a few ideas, but nothing I’d bet anything substantial on.
Sometimes that happens, too – the emotions are expressed and released without actually being felt in the process. According to conventional thinking, it’s an unspoken given that the experience of one’s emotions themselves and the expression thereof would occur simultaneously–such a given, in fact, that the idea that any other possible alternative exists never enters the average mind.
In fact, if the question were ever raised, brace yourself for the indignant “Of course an emotion would be felt and experienced as it’s being expressed!” from the vast majority of the world. “How could it not?”
Score one more for neurotypical reciprocal theory of mind deficit.
Because the striking reality is, the two–the expression of an emotion and the experience of that emotion–can indeed be separated, disconnected. Perhaps by minutes, perhaps by days, or possibly even longer. To express an emotion, I don’t necessarily have to experience it or feel it consciously myself; if I am actually feeling it as I’m expressing it, then I’m not aware of it. But because of the processing delays that densely dot my life on the Asperger’s/autism spectrum, I wouldn’t be surprised if the experience of an emotion lags behind my act of expressing it…
…or maybe the Cosmos was nice to me and let me off the hook once, allowing me to bypass having to feel the emotion by simply expressing it in a particular way.
If that’s the case, bring it on. Jiggle, well up, and wash away. 🙂
An excellent, comprehensive definition of Alexithymia can be found here.