Steeling Myself

Forget it, nothing I change changes anything

“Walk It Back,” The National

Just come outside and leave with me

“The Day I Die,” The National

Yesterday I met with my four classes for the last time this semester. The classes include about 75% first-year students, something I very much enjoy about teaching at the college level.

As I have started doing more purposefully, I ended these last class sessions by telling the students I feel very fortunate to have taught them, that I love them, and that I am always here to help if they need anything since once they have been my students, they are always my students.

While I was telling the first class of the day, my foundations education course, all of this, I felt myself flushed with cold chills, the urge to cry rising up through my chest toward my eyes.

This is nothing unusual because I am a world-class crier, but except for people very close to me, my crying is usually reserved for times when I am alone—often in the car listening to music and being very melodramatically maudlin.

I toyed with that this morning, in fact, as I sang along to The National’s Sleep Well Beast; the rising music of the opening of the album, “Nobody Else Will Be There,” always pulls at my chest and then by “Hey baby,” the wonderful sadness of wanting to cry.

It’s a hobby of mine, sadness and crying; the type of hobby that is a purging and starting over.

But it isn’t something I have chosen to do or the person I have decided to be.

I am simply the victim of hyper-awareness. I am perpetually aware of everything, and I feel the entirety of the universe far too deeply and incessantly.

When I told my education class I love them, they moaned with genuine affection. I could see each one of them, and all of them, and I felt it all far too deeply. My unscientific hypothesis is that when humans become overfull with feelings, the body must purge something, and that something is usually tears.

We humans are biologically and genetically predisposed to equilibrium, I think.

Stasis, calm, and maybe even peace.

These are conditions I understand at only an intellectual level. I suspect there are conditions like peace, and happiness. But my hyper-awareness, my proclivity for depression, my (likely) ADHD and OCD, among many other labels I am sure—these have an intersection called “anxiety.”

I live, then, in a constant state of impending doom, or more rightly explained, in a constant state of anticipating impending doom.

Living is a perpetual series of mild to severe electrical shocks to my emotional self. Therefore, as a coping mechanism, I steel myself, intellectually and physically, pushing my frail and exhausted emotional self well below the surface, far away from others and with any luck myself.

As a consequence, many people find me stoic, reserved, uncaring, distant, arrogant, aloof—I could go on.

I practiced the art of steeling myself for about 40 years before it all fell apart. And then briefly, I was a participant in prescription pharmaceuticals until I decided:

The more level they have me
The more I cannot stand me
I have helpless friendships
And bad taste in liquids (“I’ll Still Destroy You,” The National)

After about four years of a peach-colored pill that had me level and gaining weight, I have since then self-medicated. I have somewhat low-brow but nevertheless discerning taste in beer.

Of course, the problem with self-medicating is proper dosage, and I suspect as with prescription drugs, over time, our medications come to do us more harm than good.

I stood there feeling the urge to cry after telling my class I love them, in part, because the end of fall semester always comes between Thanksgiving and Christmas—by far my worst time of the year.

I feel a tug of fear at Summer Solstice each June. By Halloween and the end of daylight savings time, I am deeply aware of the most inevitable impending doom, the contracting of daylight around me at both morning and evening.

Thanksgiving signals for me the downward spiral toward Christmas, which corresponds with the Winter Solstice, the shortest daylight of the year. Darkness, cold weather, dead leaves cover over everything.

I really hate the holidays, especially Christmas, but it took me many years after naming my hyper-awareness, anxiety, and Sundowner’s syndrome to really understand why.

Three of us sat together this past Saturday afternoon at a local taphouse. We share varying spectrums of anxiety and depression; most importantly we have some community in our shared outlier qualities.

One friend noted this is the closest he comes to being happy; we have joked about our goal being just not being depressed or sad. The absence of sadness is quite enough. No need to push it.

Later, after the exhaustion had set in from a hard cycling ride earlier in the day and the creeping weight of a few beers, we found ourselves watching Elf. We are not religious, not the types who will be found watching Christmas movies.

We laughed, justified the watching because it is a Will Ferrell movie (oddly, we had caught the end of Talladega Nights right before Elf).

Sometimes in our separateness we find a sort of solace by our proximity.

And laughing, I think, is very similar yet distinct from crying. A sudden laugh is a purging, like crying, but it is also a much different kind of oasis, itself a burst that is briefly static but fleeting.

The unselfconsciousness of laughing is quite peaceful for the anxious.

Until we return to life, to living, to the universe brilliantly around us.

I am quite glad I take the time to tell my students I love them. I regret I have not done that more intentionally and throughout my career.

It is a way to steel myself against the impending doom of things being over.

I really hate Christmas and the contracting daylight surrounding me, however, as another semester is also coming to a close.

“Nothing I do makes me feel different,” I sang alone driving to work this morning, considering a good cry to make up for steeling myself yesterday as I spoke to my students for the last time this semester.