Probably seems a bit odd that someone who has a blog titled Man, ALL the Feels would have a book titled Unemotional. But getting to this point in my life was a giant ride on the emotional struggle bus. I haven’t always been so ‘feely’. In fact, I have only been so for about 10% of my life. I hope you’ll follow along as I do my best to tell you how all that played out. Maybe it’ll help you or someone you know feel something as well.
Be sure to follow the blog so that you don’t miss the next chapter.
Why is it that we can only open up emotionally, completely, trustingly to others through writing and song? Why aren’t we allowed our humanity in the company of other humans?
Chapter 1 – Chronologically Feeling
Lots of stories start at the beginning, some fast forward to the end, but I honestly couldn’t tell you where this story begins or what will happen at the end. Instead, I’ll just tell you what I’ve learned and how that came about.
For the first 30 odd years of my life, 10,657 days to be exact, I was incapable of entirely feeling pretty much anything. For myself or for others. I would underline the word entirely here if I was writing this to myself, because although I felt every emotion I just couldn’t feel the whole spectrum of any emotion during that time. I mean there were always feelings, I just couldn’t really feel any of them if that makes any sense. I damn sure couldn’t share any of them with anyone else. The connection that I needed to do so, between my inner self and my cognitive/physical self, was just never established growing up. Or, there were things that maybe more accurately hindered that connection from being forged during my development. So I guess you could say in many ways I was spared, or I spared myself, from feelings as a result. Feelings, however, are something you never want to be spared from.
The funny thing is, the consequences of not feeling things completely and the path of destruction that that left behind oddly brought about my current ability to feel. I just wouldn’t recommend a similar route to others if you have a choice. But I suppose if it were that easy – to choose to feel – we’d all be perfectly healthy emotional beings.
It’s not that I didn’t want to feel growing up, or that I didn’t want to show people that I felt things. I just couldn’t.
Looking back, I didn’t even realize that I wasn’t feeling something the way I should, the way many others do, the way I needed to, or the way I do now. Even if I was aware of my inability to feel more, I just accepted that that was who I was, or how I was made, or that that was just how I processed things. Those were my beliefs (excuses) and I was a pro at using them ironically to make others feel bad about any insinuation to my lack of feeling or caring there of. Making it appear as if they just didn’t know me well enough, weren’t acceptive of who I was, were just simply expecting unfair things of me, or; admittedly, that in my mind they were just weaker than me because they allowed their feelings to affect them and I didn’t.
I looked down upon such touchy feel types for the majority of my life when I was growing up. In my head, or to their face, I would call such men pussies, such women weak, and such correlating sects of society soft.
But that was the way I had to see things, because I had no way of reconciling that I myself was flawed or emotionally inept. So I had to see other people’s ability to feel or be emotional as flawed. Otherwise, I would’ve been left living in a world with problems I had yet to even understand.
I used to be told all the time growing up that I didn’t care, because I didn’t show emotion or wear my feelings on my sleeve like others did. Like others wanted me to. Or, for the stated fact that I just couldn’t feel things deeply enough to do so. Nothing used to piss me off more. I believed I cared. A lot. In some ways maybe I even did, but I couldn’t show it. So I just reconciled that everyone else was wrong, and that I just didn’t make as big of a deal about things as they did. What I know now, is that because of my inability to feel things completely, and to be able to connect to the full spectrum of my emotional self, I was affectively unable to show others the impact of anything in my life. I always painted a picture that things didn’t actually impact me, that they impacted me too little, or I presented the total opposite reaction than what was to be expected (which just complicated things further). So basically no one ever really knew if I cared about anything even if I thought I did.
Yeah, that was a fun world to live in. But it wasn’t their fault for thinking I didn’t care because I didn’t show that I cared, and it wasn’t my fault either because I was unable to grasp that I wasn’t caring, and therefore; how to even begin to remedy my problem of not caring.
Regardless of fault, though, this was the prison that I lived in for the majority of my life. One where the real me, the full me, was kept locked up inside and was forbidden from fully feeling anything that was on the outside. At times, I was allowed to see the daylight that was out there and have some real feelings come to the surface. But only for a brief second before they were forced back down again.
Even if the sun shines in prison it doesn’t make you free.
In congruence with this thought I would like to also say that I have learned the hard way – through letting myself and so many other people down – that even if you are capable of completely feeling something it really doesn’t matter what you ‘feel’ or ‘think’ only what you show or do. If others aren’t parallely impacted by your actions in the manner with which you intended (or can’t see the purpose of your actions) then all the caring in the world means nothing. Back then I couldn’t do much of either.
It’s hard to see things that way, the way others do, when you’re in those moments. It always confused me how someone could think that way of me then. I’d get so pissed when someone asked me why I wasn’t excited about something (as if me being there was enough to justify my enjoyment). In my mind I thought what kind of idiot just jumps around and gets excited about stuff all the time? A completely happy one apparently.
The thing is, I knew deep down in my heart that I did feel things even if I couldn’t connect to them, show them, feel feel them, or even act upon them. But I suppose when you’re less than 30 years old you don’t really do too much soul searching to figure it out. You just rationalize things the best you can (make excuses) and then move on.
What made matters even worse for me then and now, is that I’ve always been terrible at faking things, so I couldn’t even pretend to feel something. I just always appeared as though I was unaffected; I was always indifferent; I was always just there. Something I would not highly recommend.
I remember at our football banquet my senior year one of our team captains got up and gave this speech about all the seniors, making lots of inside jokes about each one of us along the way. The banquet was at some sort of cliche banquet hall. You know the ones with the round tables scattered around the room that make it really hard to look at the speaker, because only one person has a good angle. Anywho, each time he’d get to a senior everyone would awkwardly look their way and listen as he told the joke and then all laugh together in good fun. You could see on every one of the seniors’ faces before me that they each knew the truth behind the joke directed at them, and they all accepted it in stride for the most part. As for me, being that my last name started with a P, I had a good bit of time to imagine something pretty interesting and funny he might have to say about me beforehand. The kind of stuff unemotional/unattached types like myself only see themselves, and are always let down when others don’t recognize the same. We don’t realize it’s not something everyone else can see because we keep all those things inside. So when he got to me and he said something instead of what I was expecting, something like my happy face was my angry face was my (you get the point), everyone else laughed and I did not. They all knew my truth and could see it clearly. However, it would take another decade and change before I could do the same.
I did actually try though at times to show those emotions to others and to myself. God did I try to feel and show those things. No matter how hard I tried, though, I just honestly couldn’t connect to them and present them outwardly. I had no idea how, or what, was preventing me from doing so. I just knew I couldn’t give people the show they wanted.
I used to want to cry so badly. To connect to those things that I could feel deep inside. To show them to the world. I would consciously beg myself over and over again to do so at different times in my life: sad parts in movies, when I publicly witnessed something extremely beautiful, when I lost many people I cared about, etc. I would tell myself, “Cry!” “Let it out!” “Just tear up please!”. I wanted to feel, or more accurately express all those feelings to the world so that people would know I cared. That I felt them too. That they affected me also. I wanted to release the flood that was building inside me during those times and share those feelings with the world. But, the dam never broke. I was a stone wall, and no one could ever truly tell how I felt, and I could never really connect to anyone or anything as a result.
It was as if my emotions were always rendered mute, but were silently screaming deep inside in hopes that one day they’d make a sound.
A part of me wants to believe though that some people close to me may have even been able to see that struggle or that potential within, and held on to hope that I would one day become the full man I am today. Sadly, a lot of those people gave everything they had before that ever came true. The people that are still around and witnessed it all, I am thankful every day for them in my life.
It’s become apparent to me since then that no one actually tries to go about life the wrong way or incompletely. We just go about our way of life and the way we do things until life stops us and forces us to realize that we need to do things differently.
If we knew how to do things better, I mean really fully grasped it, I’d like to believe that we would.
It may sound crazy coming from a man, but I really would have given anything at one point in my life to cry just once. To unload all that pain and frustration. To feel. To be human. Consequently, that’s what makes me really happy today when I do get to feel all those things. It really does feel good to cry. To let it all out. To fully connect to an emotional sensation. There is nothing more human, and it really is what real men do – cry.
For a multitude of reasons, though, that wasn’t the norm for me growing up and my emotions were muted for the vast part of my life. A lot of that I have later realized has to do with how our society raises men, and a lot of it just had to do with the experiences I had in life before I actually became a man, how I internalized them, and how they affected me afterwards.
To be fair, though, I did actually fully succumb to my emotions and cry once before now. One time in 30 years did those walls get overrun. However, like some fucking sci-fi regenerative monster that just grows back whatever you chop off, they sealed right back up and remained in tack long after it happened. So it was almost as if it didn’t happen.
This is a bit of a side note so feel free to skip past the italicization, but here’s what happened…
My grandparents died in a car crash while leaving their house a few days before their 50th anniversary. I was a senior in college when it happened, and was in the midst of the first week of football practice when I came home to an abnormally full voicemail box. Upon returning the first call I soon realized what had happened, but that’s not when I cried. To this day though I still get nervous when I have an unusual amount of missed calls or calls from certain people.
Leading up to this point I had spent almost the entire summer with my grandparents. My grandfather in particular. We were pretty much inseparable back then. I was his fishing buddy, his chauffeur, and his everyday apprentice. His mini-me really. And he was my idol for a multitude of reasons.
It’s a damn shame more people I know didn’t get to meet him.
I’m going to fast forward a bit in this story, because I don’t remember much pre-funeral. But when I finally drove back to where they lived (I was about 5 hours away) I was probably still unsure as what to think or expect when I arrived for the wake/funeral. I knew it was going to be a heavy, heavy time but I wasn’t quite sure how it was going to affect me.
Many people were already in town for the anniversary party so I knew a good amount of people were going to be there; although, there probably would have been anyways. You see, my grandparents, my grandfather in particular, were very well respected and loved in both our family and in the community in general, so the impact on both I knew would be quite large. To sum it up, their death made the evening news in a capital city.
When I arrived at the wake, though, all I knew was that I was going to be front and center of it all. It’s not as if there was any doubt that their deaths had impacted me, but as I stood there in the funeral home that day all I could really show anyone was my typical blank stare and a cordial smile.
The thing is, by that point in my life (I was 20 or 21) I had already had quite a few significant people die in my life — my father, a best friend, and some other people I knew well — which made me almost numb to death by then. That, and I guess I never really knew how to react in those moments because I never really learned how, or because I kept reinforcing whatever bullshit macho walls I thought were necessary in order to ‘stay strong’ each time.
At the wake, however, I suppose even the strongest of walls have a breaking point.
As I said before, my grandfather was my idol. The way he treated people and the respect others had for him was unmatched by anyone I’ve ever known. That in and of itself may be an understatement. He went out of his way every day to make people smile, never had a harsh word for anyone, and was admired by everyone I knew for his work ethic. He was a man that grew up in the Great Depression, started multiple businesses from scratch, could fix anything with a coat hanger, quit smoking cold turkey in his late 50’s, had a garden way too big for his needs so that he could give away food to other people he knew, and was a man who ingrained in me (after I tried to cheat a bit pulling weeds one day) that, “If you’re not going to do something right, don’t bother doing it at all.”
He was a man who walked the walk.
Because of that, because of who he and my grandmother were, there was a line of people well over a thousand strong that day waiting to give their condolences. Volunteering to do so when the temperature was well over 90 degrees outside the funeral home.
It took hours for those people to come through and see us, as there was only room for about 50 people or less to be inside at a time. If I could only live to be the kind of person who people wait to say goodbye to in similar conditions, I will have lived to be a good man.
Many of the people at the wake that day were people I knew my grandfather didn’t really know at all, but that I knew he had just done something small in his daily routine to brighten their day. That’s just the kind of affect he had on people. To make them feel special, and to make them want to be around him. People like the bank ladies he brought candy to and flirted with each morning, local law enforcement officers he picked up meal tabs for, or just people he stopped and talked to on a regular basis just because.
With every one that came through and shook my hand I relived a little bit more of my summer days together with him. I relived a little bit more of him. I remembered his smile, his words, his face, everything. I saw in their eyes his touch on them. I almost saw his smile in their smile, and remembered what it had felt like to be a part of that on a daily basis. The memories and emotions piled on one after another, after another, after another. There seemed to be no end in sight; literally. And I had no plan for escape either. I was in there for the long haul, and as usual all I kept telling myself whatever stupid things I did back then like “Be strong!”, “Don’t lose it!”, “Keep it together!”, etc.
It would be those damn bank ladies that finally did me in. Women who I knew didn’t know him at all outside of those brief moments he spent with them every morning when he picked up some cash for the building supply and dropped off some other stuff. But that’s all it took for them to be impacted by his charm, and he was a hell of a charmer. He would flatter them and bring them hershey kisses everyday (probably would’ve been weird with real kisses), and just be that one person they could always count on to brighten their day.
He didn’t actually give them money personally, but he gave them genuine kindness and that was enough. Enough that they were willing to stand in line in the middle of the summer for hours just to shake our hands and say they were sorry for our loss. And I absolutely knew that they meant every word of it, and that they would sincerely miss his smile every morning almost as much as I would.
At that moment, at the moment the first one of them shook my hand (I’m not even sure if she had time to say anything) my walls crashed down to the floor for the first time in my life, and I rushed out the door not wanting to let anyone see my weakness. As soon as I got outside, I sobbed for probably the smallest amount of time; for the first time; for the only time, but harder than I hopefully will ever cry again. It was uncontrollable. I couldn’t breathe. And my emotions had for the first time ever, finally, completely come to the surface. But just as quickly as they had escaped, I regained ‘control’ shortly after and was able to go back in and finish the hand shaking without another hiccup.
That pain was never gone though. But it had once again gone to a place where I could no longer feel it. For months after, I would wake up in the middle of the night sobbing in my sleep. But only in my sleep, because I suppose only then was I no longer able to consciously control everything that I was feeling. That was it though. For the rest of those 30 odd years I was pretty much entirely inept emotionally. At least emotional in the sense of feeling, caring, and loving outwardly.
Picture: Me and my grandfather at our favorite place in the whole world.
So, I suppose you could say the only thing I probably did feel back then was frustration; which showed itself in many forms looking back. Through countless relationships (well, maybe not countless), major life events, and other important moments something was just always missing. I couldn’t even be satisfied, because I was always incomplete. I was always lost. I didn’t know what it was, and I really didn’t even know that I didn’t know or what I didn’t know. I’ll give you a second to reread that. There was just always something that prevented me from feeling and being fully present in my life, consciously or subconsciously, and I was helpless to remedy it.
For now though, I can hardly even imagine that ‘man’, or boy, I was before. In the following chapters I will do my best to tell you how I, the real me, came to be. How I escaped my prison, and how the whole world opened up to me like never before.