22 February 2020

0 resilience is bullshit

a therapist once said i have an amazingly high threshold for withstanding emotional discomfort.

at the time, i took this in the spirit in which it was given—as praise. apparently it didn't occur to either of us that this might be something we probably should have spent the remainder of our sessions working to unpack.

i'm meant to be writing a talk on anger and politics and women.

i can't afford therapy so this is a therapy of sorts. thinking through the anger i myself have at the moment. anger against men, myself, and the past.

it's funny how much we forget, how much we blot out.

i've been thinking about the thing that happened in college, trying to put it into context. only just last night, for some reason i don't fully understand, did another piece slid into place.

for years, i've made a joke out of how bad my freshman year of college was. i've laughed about how i had no friends and how i read 78 books instead.

it was a year that radically changed my relationship to reading. but i've not thought about how radically it might have changed my relationship to other people.

i was so fucking lonely. and yeah, the next year, first thing, i met KBG and fur and these amazing friendships bloomed, but for that first year, my freshman year, i was so fucking lonely.

outside of time spent in class, i was very nearly always alone.

much as i enjoy my own company, it was too much.

and yes, i had a thriving friend group stretched across the south at various universities and we were all in near constant touch, but i did not have a single friend at school.

there was a desperation in that isolation, which i've rather lost touch with.

a desperation in the way i would get dressed up and leave the dorm on sunday mornings during church time, and sit in the car in the church parking lot, reading a magazine, until the service was ended, at which point i went back home. a weird farce enacted because, while i did not feel at home in the first baptist church of starkville, mississippi, there was, nonetheless, a church shaped hole in my sunday mornings that needed to be filled. not going to church was a front on which i did not want to fail, at a time when it felt i was failing at everything else.

a desperation in the way i would hide a loaf of bread in my closet, only allowing myself the pleasure of eating a piece when i couldn't bear the hunger any longer, a pleasure diminished by my keen awareness of the calories involved.

a desperation in the way in which i looked forward to going to the subway in the student union for dinner every night. even though i would return to my dorm and eat in my room, picking up my nightly sandwich was an event i would dress for, because the guy working behind the counter-- the flirty guy who looked a little like jordan catalano, the guy i would later go on to date, the guy who would do so many of the things with which i'm now wrestling-- seemed to see me.

the desperation i felt on the nights he wasn't there was alarming. not straight-forwardly because i was attracted to him, but because it was an absence that meant i was robbed of one of the only moments of human contact in my day.

i always thought it was funny that the two men i went on dates with sophomore year were the only two people who paid any attention to me when i was a freshman. looking back now, that looks less coincidental than it did then.

i have hated myself plenty but i've never been suicidal. but there was a moment driving back to school from nashville, sometime in the fall of my freshman year-- when i was failing chemistry, and things with steven were unclear, and i did not know what would happen to me, and i was living on 12 grams of fat a day-- when i spent the entire drive avoiding the temptation to wreck the car.

i didn't want to die. i didn't even want to be hurt. i just did not want to go back. and i could not figure out how to communicate how bad things were. i knew how bad things were but i was too ashamed. and so i fashioned for myself a way of existing within that, within both the shame and the awful.

i went back.

and i sat on a hillside with a notebook watching the sunset-- which was a thing i did every night for a time there, because it gave me a routine task but also because it rendered my isolation somehow both romantic and more of a choice.

when one of my cousins transferred colleges after his horrible freshman year a few years ago, my family marveled at this. my parents had known my freshman year was difficult, though i concealed from them the details, the desperation described here. and yet it had never occurred to any of us that this might be an option.

yes, i got through. yes, in spite of being in a quite violent, abusive relationship for the remaining three years, i would still argue that college got better. it was never as bad as my freshman year again. but at what cost?

i have an amazingly high threshold for withstanding emotional discomfort. bully for me.

but that's not something one is born with. it's a thing developed through practice, over time. it's a way of being wrought by having been emotionally uncomfortable for a hell of a long time.

throughout the end of my phd and the year after, during the immigration disaster, i bragged about my high threshold for emotional discomfort, like it was a thing of pride. better yet-- a life skill. something for the CV!

but i wonder how things would be different, if anything would be different, if i could've seen then that this maybe wasn't the compliment i thought it was. that it was, in reality, a sign of how wrong things were, how wrong they'd been for nigh on decades.

i remember the sunsets though.

in chicago, later, and in london, later still, i would flip the equation, waking up early, instead, to watch the sun rise.

because i wanted to see something new. 

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