When I was little, I cried all the time. I mean all the time. According to my parents, I’d cry to get my way (even though it never actually worked). But I was also brittle emotionally. Watching my sister or a peer punished was usually enough to set me off. And if I was the one in trouble, prepare for the waterworks. Any little argument with friends had me claiming that my eyes were watering because of my allergies. Because I was embarrassed. Because I was brittle. Because I was overly emotional and that was bad; I was weak.
I didn’t want to cry in public and over the years I somehow managed to stem the flow of tears. Somewhere during elementary school I learned how to control my reactions. Rather than being an overemotional crier I became the solid rock who never cried. By my teenage years I had mastered my emotions; only reacting intentionally. Never caught off guard; never startled; never giving a genuine reaction – only a measured response.
I’d mastered the art of appearing to react perfectly in every situation… without ever showing my true feelings. If I didn’t know how to react I simply didn’t, preferring a cold exterior to the vulnerability necessary to display what I was actually feeling inside.
It wasn’t until recently that I realized that this wasn’t the whole story. It wasn’t a choice anymore. This wasn’t about hiding my emotions from other people. This was about hiding my emotions from myself.
The longer I kept up my façade of perfect reactions the less I knew what a genuine reaction would be. The less I felt the real reactions fighting to get out. The less I felt anything.
As I worked to come to terms with this realization, (trying to decide how to react, obviously), I mentioned it to my parents. My mom thought it might have something to do with my probable-though-undiagnosed high-functioning autism, which, though possibly a cause, in my opinion should not be taken as an excuse for anything.
My dad called me Spock.
And it wasn’t an insult – it was an analogy. A pretty accurate analogy. If you’re too young to be familiar with Star-Trek (or living under a rock), let me explain: Spock is a member of an alien race from the planet Vulcan who, for many generations, have made it their practice to avoid all emotions, in the belief that they are weak and illogical and lead to poor decisions. Whether it is the case or not, it appears that, as a race, Vulcans have lost the ability to feel any emotion.
And I knew that my dad was right: after all those years of controlling my external reactions, pushing down my emotions so that they wouldn’t ruin my carefully crafted façade, I’d lost touch with the reality of my own feelings… just like a Vulcan.
But this newfound understanding came with a question: how could I get them back? There wasn’t a switch that could turn emotions back on in my life. (And before you ask, no, this wasn’t a form of clinical depression – I’ve grown up around plenty of that and know what it looks like. This was different.) This was me, working so hard to slow down my overactive emotions that I’d shut them off completely. And now I didn’t know how to get back.
The image came to me, one day a few weeks later, of a single tear, bound in chains. This was my tear – my emotions – locked away so deeply that even I couldn’t find it. And I finally did what I should have done all along:
I know it sounds cliché – maybe even superficial – but that’s what I did. I cried out to God to release my emotions – my tears – from the prison where I had locked them away. Because I knew that He would know where it was, even if I didn’t have any idea.
And I started to feel things. Gradually, at first, as if God knew that I couldn’t handle that many emotions piling on me at once. And it’s been a struggle. Each new feeling is unfamiliar, pulling my heart in new directions that I don’t yet understand. And maybe I never will fully understand… but I’m learning to embrace the joy and the pain together. I’ve felt more pain in the past few months than I can remember feeling in my entire life up to this point. But I’ve also felt the real joy which had previously been reserved for special occasions.
Yet this is still a journey. I have no doubt that I’ve only scratched the surface of the emotional wealth that I’ve hidden away for so many years. I expect it will be several years before this process is complete – after all, I didn’t lock my emotions away in a day, why should the return as quickly?
But for now, I’ll content myself to experience life as a former Vulcan.