letters to poets (part v), this one’s called: three kinds of feelings

one.

it’s november. everything happens in november. the month everyone chooses for everything to happen in. deadlines. events. applications. plans. i’m a third year, you think, this is my third year in university and i have yet to learn my lesson of knowing when to compromise in the month of november. 

so you live day to day as systematically as you can by your schedule, important dates consolidated into physical obstacles in your mind’s eye. some days you’re productive, and you end the day by rewarding yourself with a tv episode or two. some days you’ve done shit all, and you force yourself to stay put in your seat in the learning commons even though it’s one in the morning and your eyes are strained to the highest degree. the thing is, your ratio of both types of days is so heavily unbalanced tilting towards the latter, so much so that a good majority of your time is spent in a building filled with equally weary and exhausted students, chasing the same things you’re chasing, worrying the same things you’re worrying.

you’ve lost count of how many sandwich meals you’ve had. always ham or bacon or if you’re lucky enough, some exotic asian-flavour-inspired chicken that’s always left in either twos or threes on the shelves in morrison’s. you’ve also lost count of how many mcdonald’s suppers you’ve had well late into the night, head full of guilt and self-reproach of all the late night habits that you are, once again, cultivating merely two months into the new academic year, yet there’s nothing i can do about it, you tell yourself. it’s a necessity. live a little.

and so one wednesday, you find yourself in the exact same position again, back hunched over your bible-sized textbook and computer, a slave to the mind-numbingly rigid examination system just like everyone else in the same premise as you are seated in. the times new roman 12pt words on your screen are starting to blur; you’ve been here for hours, punctuated by meetings and society responsibilities. and sandwiches, you recall. those sandwiches were the only meal you had for the day. so, despite your fatigue, despite it already being the morning of the next day, you call up a friend for supper (again), wolf down three dishes, and that’s when it starts to hit.

exhaustion like no other.

an exhaustion that makes you feel dizzy even though you aren’t even standing up. one that makes you reach for the healed scab on your scalp again after such a long time of avoiding anxiety. it feels like a haze, slowing down your movements and thoughts and you worry you might just fall off your chair if you continue staying up any longer. so you pay the bill and hurry home, an automated routine until you fall onto your bed and sink into your duvet. sleep at last, sleep at last.

and yet. you’ve always had a problem with getting what you want, huh

sleep evades you. somehow. for some reason. your body is ready to sleep. your mind is ready to sleep. you feel relaxed. you feel the familiar tendrils of unconsciousness pulling at you leisurely, yet there’s something in your mind that’s stubbornly keeping you anchored to the here and now. it isn’t anxiety, your chest isn’t thumping erratically, your palms dry without sweat.

it’s a floating awareness, lethargic and uncalculated, quiet and unknowing, in the dark of what feels to be between three and four am.

two.

it’s no longer news to the people who know you that you are a sad person. that doesn’t mean you’re sad all the time (not anymore, anyway), but by default, sadness is your go-to emotion. the first emotion that your alcohol-ridden cortex triggers is sadness. you dislike feeling angry so you choose to be sad instead. you’ve gotten so used to sadness that you don’t even view it as a negative thing in certain circumstances anymore. you know sadness. it’s familiar. it’s almost comfortable.

so when your first few months of your third year pummelled you with fist after fist of sadness, you barely feel the shock anymore. sure, you still fall. you’re still not strong enough to withstand a punch to the face without sinking to the ground, but you’ve been on the ground long enough for you to recognise every groove and scratch of the surface underneath you; you’re not even surprised anymore. you’re sad again! no one around you is even surprised anymore.

but after being sad for so long, you’ve become able to differentiate between your own sadnesses. the first type is the most straightforward. something or someone makes you sad, you feel sad, and the mechanics and gears of your brain, hormones and nervous system identify this specific emotion, wasting no time in propelling your tears through their glands, down the vast barren lands of your cheeks until you’re a sobbing, hiccupping mess that feels like it can ooze sorrow through its very pores alone.

crying is a good thing. it has always been your number one coping mechanism. there are few circumstances where you don’t emerge from an emotional bawling flush feeling at least five times better than you were pre-cry.

no, the greater evil isn’t crying for five hours straight to an array of people about an array of things. it isn’t having to wash your sweater the next day because you’d been soaking its sleeves with your own uncontrollably overflowing snot.

the greater evil is feeling that hollow, sinking feeling in your chest but being unable to cry the sadness away. it’s sensing an emotional blockage that manifests in an actual blockage in your throat, accompanied by a suffocating feeling and a churning gut. it’s feeling lost and helpless because you can’t pinpoint the source of your sadness, but you still feel it everywhere that is within your capability to feel, like an itch you can’t reach no matter how hard you try. it’s actually actively searching for external stimuli to make you cry, because that’s all you’ve ever known to deal with sadness. it’s telling someone “i’m sad” but being unable to answer the subsequent response of “why?” with a rational reason. it’s, thus, being coerced into swallowing the blockage down as best you can and attempt to keep busy with real life tasks, filling your brain with things and hoping that the brimming capacity of your brain will push the unidentifiable sadness out.

it’s wondering when you will stop being immersed in sadness for so long that you have all the time and brain space in the world to analyse your own sadness for the world to comprehend.

three.

now this one. you can’t really wrap your head around this one. this feeling has observed some rather drastic changes over the years, and each time, you have rather solid reasons and justifications for what you were feeling at the time, so it’s not like you can pointedly label one to be better than the other.

you remember a conversation you once had with a close friend who was far away: how you used to yearn company so much but at that time, you could understand completely her previous desire to be left alone and to carry out her own plans at her own pace. to your surprise, she responded similarly, but with a directly opposite view in reference to her current craving for human companionship.

four years ago, there was little you would say no to. it’s not like you’d completely abandoned your personal space, but having people around was mostly always better than none. you wanted to be invited to everything, and you were. you wanted to participate in all the conversations, and you did. “do you really always want to talk to [your friends]?” “yes. definitely.” you couldn’t understand why anyone would want differently.

two years later, whether it was due to circumstance, or just a very drastic self-inflicted change of mindset, you chose solitude. sure, you still felt lonely as hell, probably even the loneliest you’ve ever been, but you constantly felt the incessant need to get out. get out of places. get out of crowds of people. but maybe you were just getting out of being the person you were around people, which wasn’t a very good version of yourself at the time. if i’m not with people, then i won’t have to witness the painfully inadequate and incompetent person that i am in relation to everyone else. it made sense. in front of everyone else, you felt like a loser. in front of just yourself…well, you might still be a loser, but at least you can do and say the things you want without worrying about what other people might think of you.

you found things to occupy yourself with. anime. books. studying. these were things you looked forward to going home to everyday, and honestly, they made you feel wholly yourself. you were in your own headspace all the time, making you hyper-aware of your own desires and thoughts. if anything, this gave you a rather firm grip on your own self. you’ve never felt as self-realised as you did then.

well guess what. you’ve also never felt as lonely as you did then.

because the world is full of people, right? and people are always interconnecting, right? no matter how comfortable one feels in their own skin, cohabitation and communal living are inherently human. and why wouldn’t they be, when there’s such an unimaginably massive sample space of specimens out there to discover and learn about. when it’s all the media ever feeds you with. when you can’t even go anywhere on campus without being reminded of your lack of connections.

so you try again. try to get back into that mentality of wanting to surround yourself around people. it’s difficult at first, because you’re technically peeling off a hard shell that has hardened with age over the past year, and you scream and you cry but you don’t stop trying. and along the way you still have doubts as to whether this is the correct path after all but you still continue anyway because what else was there to do?

but amidst the uncertainties and apprehension, there finally comes a time when you get to say with confidence that you are reaping what you’ve sowed. and this time, you don’t get to say that it’s just simply wishful thinking, when it’s right in front of your eyes. you actually cannot believe it. you start to feel the yawning distance between who you were and who you are now even more palpably. and frankly, this disparity leaves you feeling quite intoxicated. you allow yourself to feel pride and triumph at achieving a desired milestone. you allow yourself the giddiness of doing things you’ve never done before, meeting people you’ve never met before. you think to yourself, it’s been a long and arduous journey, but i’ve made it.

and yet, that nagging voice at the back of your head whispers sinisterly. you understand immediately.

and yet, you are still lonely.

in the pursuit of otherness, you’ve forgotten to retain the core of what it means to be by yourself, with yourself. so you’re always leaving, leaving to go somewhere else, leaving to meet someone else, until some days, you forgot what it’s like to have a home to come back to.

and at the same time, as you walk along streets filled with people, hands buried deep in your pockets from the inching winter, hoping to catch a glimpse of any familiar face in your mental database, you still wonder what it’s like to have the ultimate connection that everyone around you seems to have, a milestone left unaccomplished, unattainable.

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Author: Michelle Teoh

21-year-old cynical Asian, book enthusiast and purveyor of fine sarcasm.

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