Updated: Sep 20, 2021
(written mostly in first person because I can only speak from my own experience)
To feel. What is it “to feel”? Why feel when we can desensitise to this wordless, swirling sensation writhing around by looking the other way, Face ID’ing to instead open up to something outside? Wouldn’t it be better to walk a step behind the actual and pretend that it doesn’t really belong to the situation we find ourselves within?
Think, I can do thinking. I laughably ‘think’ I have control over my thoughts. But feeling is another ballgame. A game without rules, boundaries, or a known opponent. Thoughts have a vocabulary, these words I’ve known forever, feelings are sensation that seems to be closer to colours and patterns than to the currency of rationality: words. If I cannot coherently describe what the fuck is going on in my body, then what’s the point in even feeling it? You cannot understand because I cannot even begin to understand which crevice this sensation has just arisen from. And if I look a bit too closely, then whoosh, I’m gone, I’ve lost it to the unforeseen depths. I fear I’ll become one of those hysterical women immortalised in Freud’s diaries, a Dante’s Inferno of cycling through feeling after fucking feeling ad infinitum.
This is as close as I can get to describe my fear of feeling.
Like many children, I equipped myself with a whole host of what Gestalt calls ‘creative adjustments’ to prevent the seemingly enemy of genuine feeling that pertains to the actual situation. I blamed someone else, I turned it against myself, I made rules. Even the good stuff. Life felt safer, more predictable if I could flatline, preventing the downfall from elation, and the misery of the wallowing in the pits. Yet it never fully worked out. For those days, weeks when the routine was strong, the meetings back-to-back, the to-dos reassuringly long, I faultlessly flatlined. But then came those entirely empty days whereupon the obstacles of productivity were removed and the feelings came gushing in: the red, the black, the yellow, the turquoise of sensation washed through me, I’m blindsided by this uncalled for wave.
And I’m using past tense to protect myself from the fact that it’s still happening but I like to think that it’s consigned to the old Charlene. The one that knew nothing of her psyche compared to the present one who has conquered the unknown and lavishes herself with raw feelings. This is of course a protective mechanism from the fact that I’m still hiding, I simply have a self-edifying cover story of basking in feeling.
I may still hide, but I’m slowly becoming better at tracing the breadcrumb trail of my behaviour and thoughts. The blaming, constraining, self-reproaching, judging, and scrolling are no longer independent actions but signals, actions of an ineffable feeling. One that is vying to be known, yet is pushed down, paved over and still is growing through the cracks.
Feeling feels like a synonym for uncertainty, which is why the the Period of Great Uncertainty, the pandemic, has seen so many us feeling things we never thought were possible and after all this, can we honestly say with certainty we know who we are? I no longer know who I am. It scares me at times, I cannot see a concrete formula, there are certain ingredients offer a taste of Charlene but the taste is evolving. And yet is it really realistic to entirely know ourselves if we also subscribe to life and self as an ever-changing process?
I no longer believe the two can co-exist.
Opening up to feeling, whether it’s luxuriating in the warmth of the sun on my back, the satisfaction at the tip of the inhale, or the failure of not knowing, is the only place I can say "I exist now.” However it feels.