Writing by Sophie van Bastelaer // Photograph by Ariel Leung
I wish that when I was younger someone had told me that having lots of feelings was okay. That all the crazy things churning and exploding and marinating and wallowing and sparkling and yelling and whimpering and simmering in my head and my heart didn’t make me lame or stupid, and didn’t mean I was less capable or less powerful or less strong. I wish feeling so much didn’t spurn a clenching fear that I wasn’t normal, that I might not ever be normal.
I wish feeling all those things wasn’t disdained and condescended to by society; maybe then the people I interacted with during my adolescent life, the people I still interact with, wouldn’t disdain and condescend me because of them; wouldn’t disregard me (albeit often subconsciously), because they assume I am weak, confused, or in need of assistance. I wish they wouldn’t justify their actions by convincing themselves they are doing me a favor by talking down to me, because I can’t figure things out on my own, because I have a random, dissonant, sad mind…those are assumptions I resent. Because yes, all the craziness going on in my mind makes me feel insane sometimes, but acting as if I am a lost child in need of sage guidance is elitist, and uneducated, and not okay. Instead of assuming you know what’s best for my deluded mind, ask me what I want. Ask me what I need.
I wish our education system wasn’t quite so focused on emotional repression. Frustration abounds from many of my friends who, like me, are penalized for having been born with minds that work differently. From a young age, we’re taught to exhibit creativity only in certain classrooms or during the certain hours that allocate time for it. Outside those classrooms and those hours we must stick to the endless guidelines, schedules, rubrics, and structures that end up denying success to the more creatively-minded children. In-class tests, county examinations, SATs, ACTs, LSATs, GREs, GSCEs, AP exams, the list goes on– our current and future worth is determined by rigidly standardized tests that allow no real room for expression or curiosity, allow no lenience for odd ducks like me, and that shouldn’t be accepted.
I wish those close to me could hear me when I try to explain my feelings. I do my best to describe how it is to live with a flittering mind that is constantly calculating, worrying, preparing, philosophizing, and worrying some more; one that may simultaneously soar with ecstasy and weep with misery. Being constantly plagued and gifted with so much feeling makes a tiny little thing a massive little thing. It makes everyday life tasks harder. It means trying and often failing to shove emotions down to humor practicality. It means being ridiculously sensitive to other people’s emotions and to how I make them feel. It means trying to take care of me and take care of all the other people I care about. It means having to recognize when I’m exhausted and drained by someone who is, I realize, no longer deserving of my energy. It makes decisions heartbreaking, makes loving stunning, makes goodbyes impossible, makes change unfathomable, makes reunions euphoric, makes rejection deep. It makes a huge heart fiercely heavy. So sometimes I need time to focus on helping myself instead of helping others, or I need time to spend a night alone with a glass of wine rather than out on the town with friends. It is by no means a value judgment on anyone or anything; it is me making myself a promise to take better care of my head and my heart. Sometimes managing my health and my sanity means being selfish, and that has to be okay.
I wish learning to accept feelings as they come and as they are was taught in a book or a class or an online forum, because maybe I’d have hurt less people if I’d been taught this skill sooner. Maybe I’d be better understood that way. Being understood wouldn’t change the extent of my feelings, but it might be a small step towards the empathy we so desperately are lacking as humans. Maybe it would encourage other people to embrace their own emotions, and it might help all of us on earth see one another in brighter beams. It might help us embrace difference. Less violence, less misogyny, less racism, less cruelty, more optimism, more acceptance, and more compassion could be aspects of this new society, and wouldn’t that be a great place to be? If we were all required to take Feelings 101, I’d still be shy, and I’d still have anxiety, and I’d still be self-conscious, and I’d still be all the other things my feelings bring to the table. But maybe those wouldn’t be the things everyone focused on. Maybe I wouldn’t be scoffed at for putting emotion over reason. Maybe I’d be heralded for my abstract approaches. Maybe I’d be accepted for my creativity, and my thoughtfulness, and my sensitivity, and the fact that I always try really, really hard to be there when it matters. Because those are all things that make up the core of my being and they are all things I am teaching myself to be proud of. But I have no doubt we’d live in a nicer world if all of us could be proud of those things.
I wish that when I was younger someone had told me that having lots of feelings is okay, because it is. Not having emotions is often classified as “cool;” aloof detachedness often observed with awe, jealousy, and general admiration. Having a lot of emotions is classified as childish and dangerous vulnerability and is often observed with avoidance, rudeness, and general derision. And that’s something that needs to change. There are a lot of us out here who feel to (what we have been taught is) an absurd degree and we are alive and we are fighting and we are amazing. Your feelings and what you choose to do with them are what make you special, because at the end of the day emotions are all we have. I’ve learned through twenty one years of trial and error that denying them, warping them, or shoving them away for rationality sake does nothing positive for me or for those I surround myself with. The people who are already in your life will be with you regardless. Those who would grow to love you will love you for who you are. Those who would treat you poorly or reject you for your feeling are a product of society’s patriarchal fixation on “manliness” and “macho” behavior and they often maintain the absurd belief that having a lot of emotions equates with neediness and “baggage” and “not worth” their time. Those are the kinds of people I find myself feeling sorry for. Having emotions does not make me needy and it does not make me a lesser person– it just means I have more strength and love to give. It means I can make a difference, not necessarily through money or prestige, but through the fire that lights me up every second of every day. It’s something to be proud of and feel blessed for, because so many people will never be able to feel the degree of joy that we can.[share]