I am uncomfortably numb, and I’m tired of it

Last weekend I got to see someone I love very much for the first time in six months. There was so much I wanted to say to her and so little time in which to say it, and most of the conversations I wanted to have with her that day have been shuffled off into the future some more. As we stood together on the front porch, twin trails of cancerous smoke leaking into the frigid night air from our cigarettes, I asked if she was cold; with a resigned smile she told me, “No, I’ve gone numb.”

Though I held my tongue, my first instinct on hearing her say that was to respond, “Me too,” for the truth of the matter is that I have gone numb, physically, emotionally and psychologically; at the risk of sounding melodramatic and emo, I’ve lost a good deal of my ability to feel anything the past decade. Regaining my ability to feel has become one of my major goals in life over the past year. But of course I didn’t say that to her–instead I finished my smoke and got her inside and started a fire to warm her. But should I have seized the moment to express what I’m about to lay down now? Ah well. Better late than never.

The truth is that I have become a prisoner within my own mind. My natural introversion has colluded with my depressive nature over the years to drive my conscious focus further and further inward. It’s at the point now where I’m no longer just lost in thought while walking about town or when I’m drifting off to sleep. No, I’m stuck with an endless parade of thoughts, a string of unrelated cacophonies that make concentration on and appreciation of the moment impossible, even when I’m having conversations, when I try to read for any amount of time, certainly when I attempt to write… everything. I find it impossible to finish anything these days, and so I have largely (if to this point mostly unconsciously) given up starting anything. My attention span has become more of an attention inch, and it seems that even though I am physically present at the events of my life, I’m not really there.

The symptoms of this issue go beyond the mental–they manifest physiologically. My breathing is shallow and hurried, like I’m always under stress; likewise, that same unrecognized stress is expressed in the way I hunch my shoulders and cross my legs under my torso when I sit, drawing my body into a tight position like an animal under attack. The more I think about it, the more it seems I’m expressing the physical posture of a creature in flight-or-fight mode 24/7, and I have to imagine my mind, were I capable of objectively examining it, is in a similar state.

My senses seem impacted as well. I have only a weak sense of smell and/or taste, and I’ve begun to wonder if that isn’t a symptom of my excessive introversion. Certainly I suspect the dullness of my sense of touch is related to that wider problem; I find it has become harder over the years for me to register either pleasure or pain through my skin, a physical numbness to match my mental and emotional state. Once in a while, if I don’t pay attention, I’ll drop an object from my hand because I don’t feel it there. This issue of my clumsiness becomes especially concerning when I’m in a depressive state, which is what suggests to me that its root is psychological rather than neurological (if my fellow materialists will excuse me the distinction). No, I don’t buy that these senses are well and truly damaged so much as censored because their dysfunction is inconsistent–sometimes, especially in my manic stage, my senses burst open like a flower in spring, drinking in the sensory input with a Jonny 5 gusto.

Putting my gripes and symptoms out like this makes me feel a bit like the narrator of Notes From the Underground, except I do not accept these issues as parts of me to be celebrated; I do not revel in misery or guard as precious my complaints. I want out of this bubble; it’s a lonely, soul-devouring place to be, and I’ve already spent too many unrecoverable, wasted years within it. My brain has spent years turned in on itself, observer-observee, like a set of nesting dolls standing between two mirrors reflecting back at each other in an endless feedback loop–and at this point I just want to smash the goddamn mirrors. Being so self-aware all the time, and yet so dissociated, has driven me a little nuts.

Is dissociated a good word for it? I suppose it is, the way I mean it. Like I said above, I’m a materialist–I don’t believe in a mind-body distinction; I don’t believe in the soul–but anymore my body has taken on the feel of Other. Often I am struck with the impression that what I’m doing–physical activity, or even holding a conversation–is somehow separate from “me,” the inner-self, the consciousness supposedly in this body’s driver seat. I watch dispassionately, in control but still somehow removed, as the creature that is my physical self goes through the motions of living. And even when I try to take the stage, to be and to feel in the moment–a wall is there, invisible but insistent, silent but unanswerable. Those moments when I do manage to take the stage are often the best of my life, but they feel random, and they can be sparse, and they rarely last long.

So what is there to be done? This past year, I’ve come to recognize the emotional, psychological and physical depths to which I’ve sunk, and I’ve done a decent job of beginning the climb out of them, though I’m still nowhere near the top. My goal is fitness and enlightenment; so far I’m just barely clinging to sanity and self-support. But I do believe I can make it out of these holes… and even in my worst hours, like the ones I’ve lived this past week, I don’t really want to give up and die, even if the thought briefly flashes to my mind; I’m not sure if I can explain how glad I am to be able to say that. I want to live; fuck, I want to win, to borrow a phrase from another crazy dude. Or perhaps in a way more poetic, as Alexander Pope set it down:

Hope springs eternal in the human breast;
Man never Is, but always To be blest

(I’m familiar with that line because of the Lunar 2 ads back in the day, by the way. Yeah, gaming can be educational!)

Tomorrow (well, today now, I suppose) I leave the home I’ve known for the past few years and set out to find a new path. I’m not sure where I’ll end up or who will be there with me when I reach whatever destination I’m headed toward. What I do know is that the time has come to stand on my own two feet… and I want nothing more than to break down these goddamn walls that have climbed round my mind and heart, but it’s going to take time yet before my bubble pops, even if I want so badly for it to dissipate now. I refuse to be trapped in my head anymore. I know what I am–I am a conscious piece of the greater Universe; I (like you) am the way that the very fabric of reality has evolved to perceive itself and to affect changes to itself in order to bring about even more evolution on a cosmic scale; but I am also me, a lonely, somewhat neurotic naked ape, who has spent his life too often wanting for closeness with others and is still trying to learn how to achieve it by letting down his often subconscious defenses, and who has little problem forgiving others their trespasses against him, but never seems able to forgive himself.

A couple years ago now I wrote down an epiphany–I realized that I had stopped wanting anything, that I had lost desire as a motivating force. That is no longer the case; I’ve learned to want things again. I want the future I’ve dreamed of; I want success, and stability, and wisdom, and love. But above all, right now, I want to learn again how to feel–I want to stop being so damned numb and disconnected most of the time. The recognition that I’ve come to this point fills me with anger, sorrow and determination… and you know, that feels like something right there–it feels like a start. Or perhaps, since I am already a ways down the road and have come to understand that fact more and more the past year, it’s more of a resumption.

After all, there ain’t no gettin’ offa this train we’re on! Or to put it another way, courtesy of Glenn Yarbrough:

One thought on “I am uncomfortably numb, and I’m tired of it

  1. Dude, I appreciate your honest writings–it’s kinda eery how we’ve been through some of the same situations. Earlier this year, I finally got out of a long-distance relationship that was on/off again for several years. I can relate to your scenario of spending a brief few days w/ a girl I cared intensely about, but not being able to say all I wanted to say. And since this particular girl preferred to keep herself out of the online grid (probably smart in some ways), she did not have email or facebook. So I was limited to text messages if I wanted to write, which we both know are too short for serious topics. She would avoid phone calls for a spell, then we would go back to talking for a long period.

    But I could never say all I wanted to–it’s funny, because I used to watch movies where one person would not just come out and be honest with the other person, and I’d get mad because it seemed unrealistic. But holy smokes, I guess I was wrong. For people like you and me who tend to “over-think” things, we feel like we have to have the perfect words and the perfect timing. I’ve since learned that it’s because smart/thoughtful people tend to underrate themselves and overrate others (one reason the birth rate is down so much among the educated middle class). Really we just need to practice having more confidence, if that makes sense =] We can do this by simple things like upgrading our wardrobe, hairstyle, and being more active. (I try to go biking every week, and I now use a stand-up desk at work.) Then when it comes to the opposite sex, instead of focusing only on how perfect/gorgeous/amazing the girl is, we need to keep in mind that we have things that SHE wants–and not only our “tool set” but other attributes like charm, thoughtfulness, and strength (whether inner, outer, or both).

    These are realizations that have only crystallized for me this year, in fact, and I’m 33 now. So I know the ordeal of things taking a longer time than I would like. The “long distance” girl and I finally broke things off for good, but thankfully it went as well as could be expected. I finally got an email address, was able to write longer letters about my feelings, and we met for a dinner date this past August. It went so well that I thought there was still a glimmer of hope for us, but at the same time she was honest about the fact she was seeing someone else, and a month or so later, we had a final conversation over email and texts that put things to an end. But honestly I felt great about the fact that I finally was able to be honest w/ her and hold nothing back. And I also felt great about being able to “move on” for good.

    Fast forward to today. I’ve recently met someone else who moved to my town a few months ago. Using my aforementioned lessons, we have already had several dates which have been tons of fun. There has already been a little physicality involved, so there is real attraction there. BUT because things can never be as easy for me as most people, one of my friends (who I normally hang out with kinda frequently) also likes this girl and has asked her out a few times. So yeah, just another obstacle that I will have deal with, huh? The good thing is that this girl and I had some really good up-front discussions about where we stand on things–we both have been through some serious crap not only in the past year but during our lives. So we agreed that we would be friends right now and not push each other toward exclusive dating. And that other friend and I have not really broached the topic of the girl we both like, even though we’ve hung out in the same group a couple times recently. It’s a bit of a minefield right now, but on the most basic Zen level, I simply know that this girl makes me very happy right now, and I make her happy. And I’m trying to appreciate that as much as I can and push aside any angst. A beer or two usually helps with this =]

    You and I, in my opinion, suffer from a psychological tendency to “close the loops” in our lives. We really hate unfinished threads in our lives, so we tend to obsess over them until they reach a conclusion. It’s a difficult problem, but I believe it can be dealt with by finding (and doing) other things that bring joy, so we can offset that anxiety. This can be as simple as reading a good book, or doing volunteer work, or learning a hobby. Basically we need to have some things that we CAN control in order to feel better about the things we can’t control.

    I hope you and that girl have a chance for your moment of honesty 😉 But whatever happens, keep trucking. We both share the urge to “keep going” despite feelings of depression that have come over us. I have decided in 2012 to take on a few new challenges, so that whatever happens with this girl I’m seeing right now, I can still feel good about myself no matter what.

    Here are two great books I’ve read this year, written by two guys from the same general time period, but from greatly different circumstances. Both had to deal with lots of discouragement, but they found the answers they were looking for. And both authors have a great mix of intelligence and practicality:

    William James: “The Varieties of Religious Experience”
    Booker T. Washington: “Up From Slavery”


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