The Hiss: Lessons Learned
Sure, I fancy myself a reflective and self-actualising individual, but I’m still filing my recent lessons learned in the ‘hiss’ column, because, frankly, the lessons that I have had to reflect on and learn this week have been absolute shit. If you are not familiar with my situation currently, I apologise that what follows is frustratingly vague by necessity.
Extending my leave ended up being, to my surprise, exactly the right thing to do. I knew I couldn’t return to work until I’d had a chance to process all the information that had come forward after my discovery (See? Vague!). The problem was that information continued to flow in for days, and it was not good. As I learned more, I felt more violated, more heartbroken, and even more confused. A lot of decent people were hurt, and I felt a sense of guilt and personal responsibility for not being able to prevent that pain and damage.
Finally, blessedly, there were fewer phone calls from afar, fewer texts, fewer Facebook messages revealing new and terrible information. I was no longer in the position of having to tell people things I never wanted to tell anybody. And I went from unpredictable and uncontrollable sobbing to mostly numb most of the time with only brief episodes of intense emotion.
Though the numbness felt like a reprieve from overwhelming emotion, it also opened up the painful opportunity to intellectually process what had happened. And that has sucked. The more I think, the worse I feel, the more emotion interjects, and the more resigned I become to what is disappointing reality. Acceptance is painful because it means giving up hope, giving up a vision of what I thought was true and who I thought other people were out in the world. It means understanding people I care about in a distressing new way. Sure, acceptance means there will eventually be new hope, but the dismantling that comes before rebuilding is gut-wrenching.
So here’s what I’ve been mulling over:
Love and hate do not turn on and off like switches. Interestingly, it was my brother who helped me understand this. When it seemed like everyone was asking for self-righteous anger and hatred, and I just could not achieve either, my brother told me that I might never be angry, that it was okay to still feel love, concern, and sadness instead of hatred. He told me that I would probably eventually feel pity, and that that would be okay. He saw who I am and gave me permission to feel what I feel, so that I could give myself permission to feel it, too. I still have not been able to sustain the anger I’m seeking, though I am nurturing a deep sense of injustice.
I only know how to be who I am. That’s something I actually say a lot, but usually in reference to my grating cheerfulness or constant talkativeness (I think the kindest word anyone has used to describe these parts of me is ‘indefatigable’, which, while lovely, is probably too generous…sometimes I’m just annoying). I had to appropriate that understanding of myself from the trivial to the not-so-trivial. I only know how to be who I am, and it’s not my fault that someone took advantage of my willingness to give, to work hard, and to forgive. It’s okay that I can’t feed the anger I’m supposed to sustain. It’s okay that I feel sorrow and concern instead of hatred. It’s okay that that’s who I am, even if it was exploited. There are more painful things than being betrayed, like never giving, never trying, never giving a second, third, or nineteenth chance. The only way to protect myself is to be someone who is more guarded and defensive than I know how to be. And I don’t want to be that person anyway.
Everything takes work, but things that don’t feel right probably aren’t right. I failed to follow my gut so many times. It was always out of love, but love doesn’t always make things right either. No promises made, no late night discussions, were enough to hold up to the feeling in my gut that not everything was exactly as it was meant to be. I kept trying because I wanted to keep trying, and that comes with risk. I accepted that risk. Though I often feel deeply foolish when I think about it, I am slowly coming to realise that I don’t regret the risks I took. Trying is better than not trying. Investing is better than holding back. Honesty and vulnerability feel more authentic than guardedness.
The awful things people do aren’t always personal. It’s easy to feel targeted, negated, and undervalued. It’s easy to feel put down or disposable. It’s easy to feel fat and ugly and not smart enough to be cared for. It’s easy to feel these things because I have developed more bravado over the years than self-esteem. But the mistakes people make, and the bad things they do, are not confirmation of a lack of value; they reflect things that have nothing to do with me – pain, damage, maybe a lack of empathy or the need for power, or control, or validation, or maybe something else I don’t understand because I can’t. Maybe I was easy to manipulate, but none of this was about me, no matter how painfully untrue that feels at times.
The Purr: Old Friends, New Friends
It sucks when shitty things happen. Incredible revelation, right?
It’s also incredible when shitty things happen because good shit comes out of bad shit sometimes.
Over this past week and the one that preceded it, I have received more love and support than I ever could have imagined would come my way. Holy shit, guys. Holy, holy shit. Pardon me, but I am having a moment thinking about how overwhelmingly supportive people have been.
I would never have wished for this to happen (notice how vague again?) and I would do it differently if I had to do it again, but sometimes pain is a conduit for connection.
Over the past two weeks, I have experienced something powerful. I have had phone calls and messages from friends I haven’t seen since high school, even since middle school. I have reconnected with classmates from medical school. I have been contacted by mentors and by people who I have mentored, with messages of support and encouragement. I have, remarkably, made new friends, a tiny but very real community of support based on shared hurt and confusion and concern.
I am so grateful.
There is a burden of anger that I’m not charged with carrying because others carry it for me. There is a sense of protection that comes from the most unexpected places. There is a calmness because the panic has been quelled by concern.
Thank you for texting me at 3 am while I cried, wedged on the floor between my bed and the wall, the picture of pathetic. Thank you for bringing me paneer that I stabbed with a fork but didn’t put in my mouth. Thank you for talking to me about what was happening in my life and distracting me by telling me what was happening in yours.
Today’s the start of a new week. Tomorrow’s a new day. I’m ready. Let’s go.