What surprised you this year?

I’ve been sitting here for a while, unsure of how to respond to this topic. There wasn’t any one specific event or even a series of happenings that caught me off guard, but I won’t say that this year was entirely predictable either. However, it’s not what what has happened on the outside that has me taken aback, but how I’ve been responding and reacting to it inwardly.

I can’t hide the fact that I’ve been an angry person, regardless of whether it was justified or not. Part of it did relate to my parents’ situation, along with both my personal and professional lives looking nothing like I had envisioned  as time went on. I had a lot of outbursts, and each time I asked myself why the hell I’d get so worked up, since some of it had no bearing on me. It might have been something specific in the heat of the moment, but the cause went much deeper.

A few days after Thanksgiving, we all gathered at my mom’s house to watch football and eat leftovers for the majority of the day. I was sitting on the couch and happened to overhear a conversation involving a subject that makes me uncomfortable at best, and has me seeing red at worst. It was like I had become The Hulk, except I had to shove down my feelings down and keep my mouth shut. And whenever I hold back, my defenses go up and I snap pretty easily.

Even after there were plenty of opportunities to talk, I was still crabby and stubborn. I cursed and cried and thought a lot of things that I wouldn’t dare say out loud.

What on earth was wrong with me? 

Anger is healthy. Sadness is healthy. But eventually I began to grow tired of what was now becoming a ball and chain, and just wanted it to go away. Don’t think, don’t feel…just stop.

But I couldn’t do that, at least not in the long run. I finally wrote it down it my journal:

When I can’t express my feelings, I get cranky.
When I’m ashamed, I get defensive.
When I can’t connect with other people, I get depressed.
And when I sense that anyone is trying to change me (or change how I feel), I lash out.

Who am I? What have I become? 

I would admit to my therapist a week later that I didn’t recognize myself anymore, and that I didn’t like what I saw. My heart was as hard and cold as it had ever been, and I often wanted to project a “Don’t Mess With Me” attitude toward anyone I came into contact with. I’ve always had a bit of a rough and tumble side, a warrior spirit, which has kept me going through numerous surgeries and obstacles. However, my mindset was beginning to cross over to some pretty dark places, and I was a little afraid of where it would lead.

I’m not a controlling person, but I did wish that I had some influence over how everything was being handled. Though no longer a child, I resented not getting the kind of protection that kids usually have when their parents are splitting up. I was hurting not just because of what was happening, but because I felt like I couldn’t be honest about it. I lost a large part of my identity, and had no clue what to do except sit there and grieve. These feelings dominated most of the summer, apart from wanting to escape from them. And despite was it looked like, I kept a lot to myself; most of my support system was from a distance, and I didn’t want to risk the pain of trying to make everyone else understand my experience. 

Being stuck inside my own head made relationships somewhat difficult, and at this moment I’m wrestling with an interesting mixture of gratitude and regret. I’m not going to speak for anyone, but there are probably some that were upset by the way I acted. I can’t imagine the kind of impression I made on those that I was just getting to know, and might have pushed away as a result. I’m not sure whether to apologize or simply say, “thank you” for being there when I was not in the best place. Maybe it’s a balance of both.

There’s freedom in taking a step back, in realizing that I can’t be responsible for others’ choices or happiness. I’ll have to set boundaries when appropriate, and there are still triggers that need to be dealt with. But I feel a lot calmer now, a lot more at peace. It’s all on a day by day basis, baby steps and then some.

And that’s why I’m looking forward to starting over.

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