I’m a fairly reserved individual.
You wouldn’t know it, necessarily, from the blog. I think I write similarly to how I speak, but I don’t generally spend my time launching into several-hundred-word soliloquies. I am talkative, once I relax around someone, so that part matches. But on the blog, you’re getting a lot of uncensored, impulsive ideas, things I wouldn’t necessarily say out loud and certainly not to relative strangers; somehow I can type them and post them, no problem, but I wouldn’t necessarily say them in casual conversation.
In real life, I’m a storyteller, but not an emoter. You pick a topic, I can find something in my life that relates and figure out a way to tell (what I hope is) an entertaining tale about it. But unless you ask specifically, I don’t tend to let on to my emotional status, really in either direction. If I’m sad, angry, hurt, depressed, or otherwise upset, I keep it largely to myself, because unless I think there’s something you can do about it, then telling you is only going to come across as whining or complaining, and who needs that? I try to maintain a pleasant and contented, if somewhat placid, exterior, because usually that’s how I’m feeling, or was between when I came out of the depression last year and went into the coma last month; I don’t know what I maintain now, it’s too soon for any sense of normal. I have my giddy moments, but by and large I don’t tend to swing terribly far from baseline.
Which makes me sound all kinds of boring, and maybe that’s the case. I just don’t generally throw all my emotions out for display; I’m not a cryer, it’s rare that I laugh until it hurts, I don’t grin or scowl all day… you get the idea. Some of it’s natural inclination, and then it was reinforced when I was working as a therapist and it’s important to keep your initial impressions to yourself while you take everything in, and so it has just become part of me. Stoic, I suppose, though I tend to think of stoicism as being all the way at one end of the spectrum and I try not to be totally closed off and unreadable. Just… reserved.
The same goes for my feelings about and toward other people. Whether positive or negative, I tend to keep my thoughts to myself, especially early on. I know that there are people who were certain I disliked them when we first met, when the reality was I was just still processing, and really liked them just fine. I also know that there are people who believe we’re good buddies, and in all honesty I count the minutes until we can again be parted. By and large, I’m clear with people – if I talk with you for more than five minutes without edging toward the door, that’s a good sign, and if I don’t ever return calls or emails, and don’t apologize for it if you do catch me, then that’s not so good.
I’m pretty sure that my closest friends, especially in real life (a phrase I continue to hate more and more and will save for another post) know who they are, and I do a horrible job, in general, of letting them know just how much they mean to me and how deeply I care for them. I’ve said it before, and I mean it wholeheartedly: I believe that family is who you’re stuck with, as a child, but when you grow up, you choose your family. There are people who are technically friends, people with whom I do not share genetic or legal ties, have never lived with and would not see at a reunion, who are family to me. For whom I would drop everything to help, and who could move into my house or claim a place in the birthing room or reliably expect my uninterrupted time, whether it’s for a vacation or a monthly lunch or just an hourlong phone call.
Before I got sick, I guess I assumed these people knew who they were and accepted their status in my heart; I hoped they did, anyway. But I didn’t do much to ensure that they understood. I just wasn’t one to throw around words like “love” easily, because to me that’s a very big, strong, important word, and it’s not one I have ever dropped casually or easily. There are lots of people within my acquaintance that use it quickly and comfortably, and I admire that ease. Whether they truly feel love, just more quickly and smoothly than I do, or whether they’re more relaxed with language, either way they have this simple yet strong word at their disposal. It tends to take me a very long time to say it, even after I realize I feel strongly toward someone.
Maybe it’s not reserved. Maybe the right word is uptight. I don’t know. I try not to be, but emotional expression just doesn’t come naturally to me.
Or, rather, didn’t.
I’ve done a lot better since this whole coma nonsense. I don’t know what started it, or what brought my awareness around to it, but there came a fairly abrupt and intense realization at some point, early in the process. Early enough that I was still raspy from the ventilator and with lips so horribly chapped and scabbed from just drying out and being assaulted with various medical instruments that I made goth look lighthearted and cute. I couldn’t talk much, and had a hard time retaining a whole lot of information, but I could, and did, notice just how much my friends and family meant to me. These people had dropped everything to be with me, and I could grasp at some inkling of their fear and pain when they thought I was dying because I realized what it would do to me to lose any one of them. And life is too short to let things go unsaid.
I had been pretty consistent, the past several years, at telling my family I loved them routinely enough that it almost became rote – though, for me, it never truly did, because that word never lost its weight for me even after years of use. And now I’m learning to say it to those friends-cum-family, as well. Sometimes only as a sign-off to our time together, because I’m still too uptight reserved to just sit someone down and announce how much they mean to me and how grateful I am to have them in my life (or maybe it’s just that it all sounds so Hallmark in my head that my gag reflex acts up a little and I start to wonder if I’ll give them diabetes by sounding so sweet) (OK, maybe it’s uptight, reserved and cynical). But still, I’m learning to use that word more freely.
And you know what? It turns out, none of them have run screaming from the room, or laughed at me, or given me the, “Aw, shucks, you’re swell, too,” type brush-off. It turns out people actually like hearing it, and are even willing to say it back: people who have been friends with me almost precisely the same length of time I’ve been friends with them, so I suppose they can share the responsibility for waiting to say it, too. So I’ll keep saying it, and it will stop feeling quite so you-said-what?? and start to just feel natural… and some of my other friendships, the newer or less intense ones, can keep building in that direction.
Because I warn you, I may not be all over the emotional expression and displays, but it’s all going on inside my head. And once someone has attained family status in my head, you don’t get to shake loose, even if you piss me off. Love, for me, is a permanent thing, now that I’ve figured out what it means for me. If you’ve heard it from me lately, you’re stuck with me.