I discovered the word “alexithymia” like, ten years ago with my friend Meg at the Barnes and Noble between our houses.
For the longest time, she was the only person I knew in the real world (not from treatment) who struggled with mental illness like I did. We connected immediately, skipping most of the normal pleasantries required of new friendships and got right into the deeper, and usually darker, stuff. We talked for hours about the ins and outs of anorexia and bulimia, the nitty-gritty of what went on in our eating disordered lives. We talked about how, as a result of crashing into the brick wall of mental illnesses so intensely we were completely flattened by it, we nearly had our lives stolen from us. We talked about what we survived. What we were still surviving.
Anyway, I digress. In the middle of what was a time of great self-discovery, exploration, and reflection, we came across the word “alexithymia.” I don’t know what we were looking up to stumble upon it, or what we were even talking about specifically. But we were sitting in the bookstore (our favorite meeting spot and general happy place) when we tried the word out in our mouths and tested the meaning in our minds, and we had to stop and think about it.
It’s apparently the inability to identify and articulate your emotions to other people. It’s like an actual thing, and neither of us actually have it, but after getting together nearly every day for an entire summer discuss our struggles as philosophically and knowledgeably as teenagers could, I guess we’d somehow been halted.
Again, we shouldn’t really be described as really having it, but I’m trying to make a point and citing this memory is the best entrance into it I could come up with. So yeah, let’s get to my point.
Meg and I both felt suuuuuper self-aware. We figured out why we did what we did and had lengthy conversations dissecting our actions. We were honest with ourselves and each other. The typically elusive reasons for engaging in eating disordered behaviors suddenly seemed so obvious to us. Looking back, we were a little conceited in our thinking that if a person had no insight into what they were doing, they’d better get their shit together and quick. Like, calm down young Laura and Meg.
That still isn’t my point. But this next sentence is, I promise you.
Even though we “had awareness of our character, feelings, motives, and desires,” we were also still fucking clueless. I guess it’s one of those things where there’s always more to learn?
I don’t know, but the reason I’m thinking about that one random situation so intensely right now is that I’ve been sucking at talking about my actual feelings lately. I’ve always felt like I was so great at getting myself. But do I actually get myself?
Spoiler: I don’t.
I dunnooooo, maybe I used to be good at it but stopped being good at it for some reason. If I was self-aware I’d probably know the reason. But I’m not. I don’t think? Fuck, this is confusing.
(Sidenote, I legit just googles “self-awareness test” and tried to complete it and it only proved to me that I have some emotional and mental sorting out to do)
I was diagnosed bipolar around the time Meg and I spent that summer in that bookstore. And ten years later, I’m literally sitting right here in that same store typing a long-winded analysis of what I thought I was so good at when I was 18.
The problem I’m facing right now is that I’ve been all over the place with my moods for so damn long and I think I’m just sick of trying to figure them out. It requires a lot of effort. I mean, I know when I’m crippled with depression. And I know when I’m irritable and agitated and violent, when I’m in a Hulk-like bipolar rage. I know when I’m flying high, riding on the adrenaline from too much energy in too small a space. I have apps on my phone that track the mood fluctuations, my symptoms, when I take my meds, and the like. I journal pretty obsessively. I do it all and I thought it was enough.
Maybe I’m confused about what I’m confused about. ‘Cause my therapist always asks for me to describe how I feel and I can’t do it. And I just had a psychiatrist appointment where I babbled for 20 minutes without saying anything productive or useful. Can I just not describe this shit under the pressure of someone watching me? I’m tryinggggg. A while back I made a list of emotion words for me to use when I need to come up with a word for what I’m feeling. I haven’t really referenced the list. But still. I have a scale I made up, a 0-10 rating scale that I use to conceptualize how I’m feeling. The problem with that is that my moods change over the course of the day. Oh, and a while ago I realized that what I feel as mood fluctuations might really be my anxiety going up and down. And all of that could be situational. And maybe it’s just a normal thing that normal people feel on a normal bunch of days. Not everyone is happy all the time. Ahhhhhh. And maybe what I’m feeling now is just NOT MANIC and NOT DEPRESSED and I’m not fuckin’ used to it.
I was so fricken excited about June and July. I kept telling everyone how great it was to have nearly two months of stability. It wasn’t too great. Meaning it wasn’t painfully great, precariously great. It was just stable.
Or was I actually manic? Because there’s a marked difference between what I feel now and what I was feeling then.
It’s a constant struggle to determine what the truth of the situation is. I wrote in a poem the other day that I can’t tell the difference between what’s reality and what’s “overdramatic, over-imagined hyperbole.” Good line, if I do say so myself. But seriously.
I have nothing to measure my life against. I’ve only ever existed the way I exist. I have nothing to compare it to as a test. I have no control group in this scientific experiment. All I have is my bewildering take on things.
Alright, this is one of those posts that don’t necessarily help me solve the problem. It’s probably a start, though. To be thinking in this way and at least trying. I’m gonna keep journaling, keep doing what I tried to do here. And I’m gonna make those journal entries more than what they normally are (to-do lists and random shit I did that day). Gotta get back to that self-aware life.
Wish me luck.