Thursday, April 9, 2015

Getting it all out there

Having a flat affect and allowing it to be what it is has been an interesting experience.

To be honest, I don't express much emotion these days--and definitely not things like enthusiasm. I don't smile unless I think to do that. I don't spontaneously speak or start conversations or share much unless I'm prompted to do so. Most striking, for others, I think, is that it appears I have no reactions to anything. It's not true that I'm not reacting; I'm just not expressing much. Flat affect at its finest.

My flat affect and lack of expression aren't bothering me. In fact, it's a huge relief to not put the energy into something my brain clearly doesn't want to do right now. The people who spend time with me, though, seem very unnerved by it. Does it get people thinking that they're doing something wrong or that I'm maybe thinking something negative about them but keeping it all to myself?

My husband seems to want to "fix" it, but there's really nothing to be fixed. I don't feel like talking, I feel no compulsion to interact. Let me be, let me sit silently and look off into space, let me clear my head and not engage.

I don't think that's a lot to ask, but apparently, there's some social contract I'm violating with my current demeanor.

Anyone who knows me should know by now that I'll come out of this eventually and that just because I'm not speaking what I'm thinking doesn't mean I'm not feeling or thinking. I'm deep inside my head, and right now, I don't have the energy or inclination to engage outside of that arena.

I recently posted on Facebook that I need a card I can hand out with the following disclaimer:
"I'm deep, deep, deep inside my own head right now. Way beyond introspection. If you say something to me and I don't respond, I'm not being rude. It probably didn't even register that you said something to me. Also, not currently able to work up anything more than a flat affect. Cut me some slack and get over it. I'm ruminating."
 That might really freak people out.

It hadn't occurred to me that this might be an issue for anyone until last week. I spent a week visiting Jolie. I had emailed her ahead of time to let her know I was profoundly depressed, exhausted, generally quiet, and not interested in much. She said that would be OK and I should just be "real." I went all-in for "real."

As the days of my visit passed, though, I could sense very clearly that my flat affect was annoying Jolie. She kept prompting me to respond when spoken to, so I don't think it had occurred to her that I either hadn't registered that something had even been said to me or I had no spontaneous response to make. At one point, a friend of hers asked if I was having a good time, and Jolie looked in my direction and said, "I don't know if she's having a good time. She hasn't said anything about it."

It hadn't occurred to me to be having a good time or not. That would have involved registering my own reactions, and those weren't checking in with me very well. I was having experiences, but I wasn't rating them on any internal satisfaction scale. I was trying to just "be." I wasn't having a bad time, I knew that. Well, maybe a little bit because I always feel like my visits are a huge intrusion, and I try to minimize the impact of my presence as much as I can when I visit, and that causes me constant anxiety.

I immediately wondered if Jolie had expected me to convey constant expressions of gratitude since it was she who had invited me to come (which got me out of a sad situation, had I stayed home) but I wasn't delivering the right level of gratitude. My split-second reaction was, she must be annoyed I'm not being gracious enough for what's expected. I assured everyone in the group that I was, in fact, having a good time. I started feeling there was pressure to speak more and react more, and that wasn't something I thought I'd have to actually do for a week. Expectations. Everyone has expectations.

For the remaining days I was there, I kept thinking that I should have followed my gut when I booked the flight and checked into a hotel for this trip. I had made a hotel reservation and then cancelled it, thinking my would-be hosts would be offended had I opted to be by myself but still nearby. The last thing I want to do--ever--is say or do something that annoys anyone else or that hurts anyone's feelings. Doing that intentionally or unintentionally makes me die of shame inside. Generally speaking, I wish others were as considerate of my feelings, but I gave up any hope of that decades ago.

I refuse to apologize for the side effects of my feeling sad, which is why I'm withdrawn and OK with hiding out right now. I'm sad, I'm doing what's recommended for someone in my situation, and that should be enough. Putting on an act takes too much effort at this point, and it's really just something other people want. It benefits me not in the least, and I only feel worse when my attempts at it fail.

I'm sure it hasn't crossed anyone's mind that my current state is causing me distress. I've almost completely lost my sense of humor. I mentioned in my previous post that I listen to the comedy channel on the radio, but in hours of doing that, I never laugh or even register a reaction that humor has happened. For me, being funny and clever are very important to my self-esteem, so the inability to find anything humorous only adds to my low self-esteem and overall depression.

I have nothing to say, and I'm no longer interesting. That hurts, too, but for the moment, those qualities have taken a hiatus from my brain. They may or may not return.

My head needs to work itself out, and I know that eventually it will and I can go back to living my life in a way that pleases everyone else. Although I structure my life and behavior around trying to get people to like me and figuring out how to make that happen, for now, I want the chance to immerse myself in having a blank facial expression and few thoughts.

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