Last night I had an interesting experience that I would like to share, and that subsequently got me thinking about dissociated emotions, and in this case specifically, grief.
I was “saddened” to hear about Whitney Houston’s death. I put saddened in quotation marks, because I’m not sure if I was really sad, or if I was thinking that I should be feeling sad when I really wasn’t. You see, when it comes to sadness and grief, I feel very little. Often I will watch a sad scene in a movie and think, “that is sad,” but feel nothing, while my partner is sitting next to me balling her eyes out.
It’s not that I don’t feel sadness, it’s just that the feeling of sadness is compartmentalized. Often, when it does come up, it comes up seemingly out of the blue and unexpectedly.
What happened last night was, my partner and I were getting ready to watch a movie. She turned the news on while I was finishing up doing what I needed to do. The news was covering further details of Whitney Houston’s death. As the coverage continued, I felt this pressure pushing up from inside my body. I didn’t know what it was or why it was happening. All I knew is that I needed to turn the tv off – NOW. However, I felt that was silly, and talked myself out of it, and the news coverage continued while the pressure inside me became intolerable. Finally I did take action, and said very abruptly, can we turn this off please??? My partner, a little taken aback, said, “I was just waiting for you to be ready.”
I sat down, and the next thing I knew, I was sobbing and repeating over and over again, “I love her so much. I love her so much. I’m so sad.”
Then, as quickly as it had come, it was gone. All sadness, all grief, every last little feeling got swept up into the vacuum of my mind. It’s like turning off Niagara Falls at the press of a button. I grabbed the remote control, and said to my partner, “Okay then, let’s watch this movie.”
My partner, who had been acting very lovingly during my twenty-second sobbing outburst, said, “It’s okay, we don’t have to rush anything. There’s no rush.”
What she didn’t know was that I wasn’t rushing. I had been thrown into the sadness and grief, and I was flung out of it, into the same state I was right before it happened: ready to watch the movie. There were zero traces of sadness left in my consciousness. Not even a single thought to Whitney Houston. Just a desire to start watching this movie.
Had there been an observer there, invisibly watching the scene, they may very well have ascertained that I was intentionally trying to “shove down” those feelings that had come up. There was no shoving down. None of this was even voluntary.
And that’s what I’m trying to get across – for someone who has their emotions compartmentalized through dissociative mechanisms, their experience of emotions feels chaotic, unpredictable, and overwhelming. I don’t simply “feel” sadness, I am flung into sadness. I don’t simply “feel” anger, I am flung into anger. My emotions pounce on me like a tiger pounces on a sheep.
The truth is, it would make sense that I would have big feelings about Whitney’s death. She was my childhood idol. I looked up to her, I revered her, I worshiped her. Her album “Whitney” was the first cassette I ever owned. However, ever since hearing of her death, I’ve felt completely numb. Devoid of any feeling or emotion. I thought the obligatory “sad thoughts” but it wasn’t genuine. It wasn’t rooted in anything substantial. Those twenty seconds of intense grieving sobs were rooted in something substantial. Something deeper. But just like that, they were taken away from me. Where did they go?
I had a similar experience last summer, my birthday weekend actually, where I got in touch with feelings regarding the death of my grandmother. My grandma, who I was extremely close to when I was younger (closer than to my own mother, in fact), died when I was thirteen. However, any feelings of sadness in relation to her death are absent from my mind. Additionally, any feelings of love and connection to her are also missing from my mind. When I think of her I feel absolutely nothing. Which is a tragedy unto itself.
One afternoon last year, I became a broken teenager mourning my grandmothers death. I spent several hours on the phone with my therapist balling, sobbing, telling her, “I miss my grandma, I miss my grandma. Why did she have to die.” As though she had just died days ago. That’s how real and how raw those emotions were.
After having spent two days in bed, crying for my grandmother, I continued on with my life as though those two days had never happened. I was completely detached and disconnected from it. Those feelings, that younger-feeling part of me, that state, had come on like a wave, and it had left like a wave, leaving me in pretty much the same place as before it came.
In some ways, I wish I could be more in touch with my feelings. Sometimes my lack of connection with people and places of my past leads me to feel empty, hollow; like a shell; like a phony. Because I can tell people how much I love them, and I can tell people how much I miss them, but when I really think about it… do I? How do you know, if those feelings are perpetually just beyond your reach, somewhere in the periphery of your mind where your conscious self doesn’t have access.
Whitney, thank you for all you have given me. For your life, for your enthusiasm, for your charisma, for your music. You died too soon. Way too soon. I wish I could rewind the tape to last night and go back into that sadness and grief that I felt ever so briefly, because your death deserves to be recognized properly, and felt properly. And I wish it could be by me. But… for now I will hold you in my memory, and your songs will be circling in my head, I am sure, for many weeks, and months, and years to come. R.I.P. young soul.