“I’m a grenade. I just want to stay away from people and read books and think…”
Hazel, The Fault in Our Stars by John Green.
Some people I have known this past year and beyond have recognised the grenade in me. Some tried to be there for me without losing themselves, mired in the bog of no return. How gobsmackingly horrid would that be? To be so tied to a person you know may be taken from you without warning. And boy, would what Hazel said in the book and movie be so much easier to manage emotionally for Mr/Ms/Mrs. Grenade! When one even entertains the thought of being a recluse, it is a big indicator one needs to do some hard self evaluation.
I have found myself being overly cautious and somewhat poker faced when meeting new people this past couple of months. I keep trying to be true to the me I know, to live authentically. Being shut down by ones closest to me in the recent past has taught me not all who want to be with you really want to be with you. To want to invest their time in you. To want to educate themselves about what you go through which means they want to understand you. To be all they can be to you as a means of support without thinking you are a burden or just ‘too much’ to be bothered with. I have, thankfully, made a pretty good recovery from all things bad physically and seem to be in some form of remission that have my doctors stumped. I am still unable to do too much and do occasionally get winded. I am getting out and meeting new people, all the while being upfront and open about who I am. I do occasionally see eyes glaze over as I explain what I have, what it could mean long term, so on and so forth. Months later, I have come to the conclusion that what I felt initially at the start of my separation has only evolved. I had felt disposable. Now I feel somewhat of a tradable commodity – something men think they can buy or trade using nice dinners, smooth words and channeling Casanova. They do this while possessing the power to choose to want the woman for whatever period of time or place her on hold as if she were in some kind of human Kmart. No respect, no decency. If you don’t put out, you’re out. How did that effing eff happen?! Why did that effing eff happen??!!
The short answer? I do not freaking know. And I have, for the sake of sanity and what smidgen of it is left in me, given up trying to know. Trying – key word. It is pretty darn difficult not to succumb to the spiral of echoing negatives and what your mind perceives as fact pointing towards failure. Equally hard to lose is the feeling of a large L, instead of the traditional S for the Scarlet letter, painted on your chest (or Fruit of the Loom crew neck tee, or Hanes or if you’re in that income bracket, a bloody Gucci tee, which retails at USD 2000 ….. uh huh, yup. Like whatever already one percenter), announcing to the world you are a big ass Loser. Rejection seems to be the great equaliser across all social strata. I have also gotten to the point where I want to, as Mark Nepo says in one of his poems, ‘insist that friends don’t …. look at you as sentenced or contagious. To slap the thought from their eyes with your heart.’ I feel that because I do not want charity or pity. I want and need the authentic person I am spending time with. Who has empathy. Why does it seem like I am asking too much?
What is equally difficult to come to terms with is the task of accepting the lesson of pain which lingers. Not just from the dissolution of a relationship I had accepted would withstand the worst of storms till I returned to the earth to be another biodegradable element, but also from friends who I accepted would be open and honest, to have the tenacity and authenticity to approach me with any issue. And you read it right: I accepted not expected. I accepted their whole presence into my life, with no expectation of them ever leaving. I lost two best friends in the span of two years. Something must be wrong with me, right?
Someone I met for drinks in the past months in my quest to broaden my social life commented that women just seem to over-react to what he claimed to be honesty from men. I asked if his ideal would be a woman who had no response at all regardless of what was shared or confessed to? If that honesty included an admission of wrongdoing, then yes, there will be a reaction. Newton’s Third Law, dude! Depending on individual women, that reaction can take the form of visible and verbal outrage or the silent treatment till one day, it erupts. ‘Hell has no fury…..’ Or she could erupt for fifteen minutes then calm down to have a discussion on how to approach healing together. To dismiss women as bitches, as dramatic or as high maintenance is just callous. If a woman does not care, she will not react. She has mentally and emotionally disengaged. At the same time, I as a woman had to learn the lessons to remain openhearted although I felt utterly brokenhearted. I wanted that door kept shut against further hurt and pain which together felt more like devastation. I have had so many relational hurt in my past that especially when I was – and sometimes, still am – physically ill, I could and can not, differentiate between what I idealised and a person’s true self which naturally included both the man’s wholeness and brokenness.
I have also learnt most men still struggle to disarm and to put their warrior armor away when they leave their work places. That they no longer need to hunt for prey. To thump their chests to keep the claim of the alpha male. Don’t get me wrong. I do so appreciate the role of provider and protector that many men do play and play them well with empathy and pure affection. I have learnt and continue to learn that a man can be silent and it is not about me. I have become so accustomed to being blamed that I tend to have a knee jerk reaction to any hint of displeasure in my partner. I don’t know how to deal with being with a man who himself might be dealing with stress or was struggling with a difficult situation. It breaks my heart to see a loved one struggle even though I am certain it will be resolved. We as women are instinctively nurturers and caregivers. Well, mostly. I do not have the gift of being a mother. I overly compensate for it. When I am well and have the energy, it seems to be focused on whoever is in my life the most at the time, be it a romantic interest or friends. Perhaps that perceived lack influences my personal relationships where I seem to care way too much. Invest too much. There is so much I want to give another that sometimes I see myself as a public water fountain, left turned on, watering some who are thirsty but for most of the time, seem to just be a waste. Watering an initially parched earth, then becoming too much of a good thing. A run off; a continuous flow becoming a problem. I am still learning, still evolving. Some accept me, my passionate way of loving and caring open heartedly. Others just drift away or go MIA. And that too is okay. Not everyone who comes into my life has to stay. I also learnt another lesson. To differentiate between someone who wants me as arm candy and someone who would do his darnest to keep me. I am a woman. I need to be cherished. I want to feel cherished. Is there a woman who does not? I may have an expiry date. But who does not? Sure my can is a little dented. It does not mean what’s inside isn’t usable or good anymore.
Regaining self confidence is an on going process. Being someone who is creative, I have a pretty vivid imagination and good recollective memory. I remember each bit of the past far too clearly – each accusation, each put down, each perceived failure seen with each eye roll. In the past five years, my physical health has yoyo-ed all over the chart. I had gained so much weight I waddled instead of walked when I could walk, was on anti-depressants which effed me up mentally so it made processing everything that much harder and made everything trivial not trivial. My emotions went berserk, which two doctors had warned of. I went bald in some parts of my scalp, eyebrows and eyelashes. I became a diabetic for a short while when I am usually a hypoglycemic. I lost two best friends and another two close friends. What hurts the worst, what always reduces me into a pile of pathetic pooey sobs, is that they have never once reached out. No desire to even want to talk it out, just like my ex. Their pride affects my self judgment somehow. I need to stop that cycle of abuse. Because that’s what it is, bluntly put. It’s a form of emotional manipulation. I learnt that little nugget from my counselor. Being open and vulnerable has been the bane of people like me. We ignore, choose to ignore, the social edict to not wear our hearts on our sleeves. It has also been looked at as a weakness when in actuality, it’s truly a strength. It takes courage and innate honesty to bare your soul, flaws and all.
As per my modus operandi in all things health related (four rare illnesses, etc), I always look for answers. ‘It has to make sense! There must be logic in here somewhere!’ I got tested and given the diagnosis of being in the small group of extroverts who are highly sensitive. So in a global club which holds 15 to 20 percent of human beings, I fall into a further subset of that. How so typical of me! I will not even attempt to do the math. Because. I just don’t do math. Le sigh. This quest to fulfill Gina 2.0 is taking me on a journey of learning more about myself. The real me. And as I learn, I grow. I am more understanding of others as I understand more of myself. I find my heart is in actuality, softer than before the separation. That took me aback to be honest. Shouldn’t I be angry and bitter and stay angry and bitter for months, if not years? Am I weak for not feeling that? I know that I am not. And I refuse to be labelled or placed in a box of stereotypes.
Now I live alone. I have not had the anxiety that eats inside my guts. I’m doing better physically but that too seems to be a curse. Others expect me to do so much just because I seem “normal”. Inside the walls of my little apartment, I still double over in pain, willing myself to walk to bed or couch without falling to the floor and then not move for several hours. Or to have to lie in bed for over a day which totally tests my pain threshold as I have to eat. That means I have to shut my pain receptors down for at least 15 minutes so I can drag my sorry ass out of bed, get to the kitchen to make or grab something to eat. I still deal with heart palpitations. I still have non-functioning adrenals. I still have lipomas growing in new places. I still have times when a particular spot might itch and while itching, I will feel a new lump, causing my heart to slump. I still wonder if they are growing in clusters, if they are working their way towards my heart. I still have dysautonomia (POTS). I still have to keep my inner ear opened and clear to hear what my body is saying. I still have to confront weird symptoms that make no sense or scare the living crap out of me. I still have to manage my medications because I realised awhile back I am my own best physician which empowers me not be at the mercy of doctors who have little knowledge of my rare illnesses. I may look quite normal in appearance but that is a facade which hides inner physical chaos. Hence the label: invisible disease. So living alone can become a scary reality for me in times of Dercum’s flares or Addison’s crashes.
And I still wish I could be loved as much as I love. There have been many a time I have questioned what is wrong with me, why am I not worthy of love, etc. I have come to think it is foolish to care and love for others. At least at times when my sincerity is met with the infamous Seattle freeze. If I’m to just get physically worse eventually, maybe I should not be with anyone seriously. Why put anyone through that pain of loss? Why put myself through the pain of loving someone and having to see them grieve for you while you fight daily to hang on. To see another day because it means getting to see that much loved face for another day – what a gift! – but… I am now acutely aware they could be faking concern and love like my ex towards the last years or truly do love me but are racked by the burden of seeing me in pain. So, logic asks, why bother? My past says no – shows the evidence to support it – that love runs out and I am replaceable. Or is it disposable? Aren’t they in essence the same thing? Maybe I have to learn to accept the temporal tone of my living manuscript. Maybe a person like me only can have temporary love. That acceptance comes with hurt and pain. Yet this voice within me says that cannot be. Love can be true and faithful to the end. I will hold on to the last vestiges of hope. For now.
I have learnt from my various life lessons, that no one is all good and no one is all bad. We are all broken, damaged and journeying to become whole. It is the speed of that journey that distinguishes us. Do I long for someone to just lean on? Of course. Do I want someone with whom I can bring down all those walls pain built up? Yes. Do I need the intimacy of sharing inner thoughts and be able to have a debate without any fear of being judged? Definitely! Do I yearn for a safe place to be me – silly or poised, kooky or smart arsed – to fall into a set of arms that accept all of me? Most certainly!
Yet I have to accept the fact that I am a living grenade. That in itself is a living pain. We never know when or how that pin will be pulled. No one wants to commit to that willingly, right? Why knowingly ask for more work than you want to deal with, right? Then I wonder about those who met and married, or are in long term relationships when they were both healthy only to receive a diagnosis of cancer or something else. Do men stop to think of it? What if they got such a diagnosis? Would they want no one to be with them through that part of their life journey? Rumi said,“We are pain and what cures pain, both. We are the sweet, cold water and the jar that pours.” Why can’t we as adults set aside the games, the moves across the chessboard of life to embrace each other as we are, realising we are each on a journey and the journey is made lighter with someone who loves us or simply cares deeply and with compassion for us, by our side? Does/do the illness or illnesses somehow take away the ability to be love personified to someone healthy?
May we always be bold enough to be vulnerable. May we always be courageous enough to want compromise and discard the need to be always right. May we always realise the gift we can have in each other to make each burden lighter by sharing. May we always be aware of the other as a whole person who may have some cracks or broken pieces and to know as we connect, we are made to elevate each other into filling the cracks, making us better human beings to others. May we also realise even though cracks exist, light can still shine through them. May we always see and remember each other with a heartwarming smile, not a frown or sigh. May we be strong enough to be naked in our relationships, baring our souls, as fractured and bruised as it may be, to each other and hold the other with eyes of compassion. May we endeavour always to love without expectation.
I appreciate the value of not turning away from paths and people just because it becomes uncomfortable. We cannot only remain in situations when they feel good because we may have an essential lesson to learn in the heart of the discomfort. At the same time, there seems to be a tendency—in many I know and work with—to forego common sense and remain on unhealthy paths, as if there is some merit in difficulty alone. The idea that all paths and connections carry a seed of transformation feels unhealthy and untrue. There is a meaningful difference between difficult situations that are fodder for expansion, and those where the discomfort is a sign to walk away. This is as true for love relationships as friendships. Sometimes the shadow emerges because we have something to work through. Sometimes it emerges because we are simply not where we belong. Life is so precious. We are only here for a moment. May we meet it with delight…
~ an excerpt from Jeff Brown’s Spiritual Graffiti