Saturday, December 31, 2016

2016: The Year I Realized I Was Numb

So I started my year in review. I used my favorite tip about going through and reliving the year through social media updates. I reread my January post about what I hoped for the year. I ruminated a little bit on all the jokey 2016-needs-to-be-over memes and the slew of celebrity deaths. I think I have a word for the year that just passed: Numb. 2016 was the year I could no longer maintain my level of numb. 

2016 was big. I started writing for Book Riot and bought a new house. Both of these events honestly brought out the worst in my personality, and that was something huge for me-- to recognize that trying times show off my ugly, and to actively wonder about how to change that. Trying times have made me a little monstrous my whole life, but I worked up a cocoon of numb. When the bad moments passed, I would paste my smile back on and move forward. This year, the numb started getting worn down in places. I couldn't shove my own crappiness away easily. Things that hurt me hurt me harder, or longer. 

Writing for Book Riot was easily the most growth-inducing thing that happened to me this year. When I got word that they were considering me for a contributor position, I was over the moon. Then I became part of the back channel conversation, and I promptly experienced high anxiety for about three months. Part of it was realizing that writing for the site was about much more than benignly enjoying reading. Part of it was realizing that I am not as smart, worldly, or well-read as I allowed myself to think I was. Part of it was that this place did not allow for numb. Writing there this year, and observing the conversations of other contributors and our editors, I have learned a stupid amount, and very little of it is about writing. I've practiced listening to learn, and keeping my mind open enough (and my numb dialed down enough) to recognize when I know nothing about something. I've encountered clashing opinions, seen ways to validly justify them, and juuusssst started edging into forming my own, as opposed to accepting the opinion of someone I know to be more versed in the issue. This might seem like beginner stuff, but I have been numb for a very long time. The most important thing I learned from Book Riot this year is that everything is political. The most important thing I saw confirmed is that books can be lifelines. 

Buying a house was harder, and I was more numb. Ben took care of SO MANY of the details, because I was really struggling with leaving our little house at all. It was too small for us. There wasn't space to breathe or grow. We couldn't fit toys for our kids or BEDS THAT WERE COMFORTABLE but I kept saying "We're fine, this is fine, it doesn't hurt because I'm numb!" There were so many sweet memories in that little house. Leaving it was nearly impossible, and then we hit snags in the logistics, which is SO COMMON in house-buying but I could barely handle it. Being on medication helped, but I'm going to be honest- at times, it made me feel a little numb. We had support every step of the way, people helping us pack, people listening to my vent, dear friends letting us live RENT FREE until situations were ironed out. We put things in storage and took things out of storage and finally we signed the papers and passed our first home to the sweetest little family in the universe. Then we signed the papers and came here. And now this is home. I know that I can't be numb about this new place because there is so much work to do and I want to be a part of it. I want to be connected to the paint colors and the way we set up the outdoor living spaces and I want the fireplace to be in working order and if I don't fight for that- if I just mention it to Ben and go back to being numb about where I live- it won't happen. Which is fine! If I want to be numb about things. But if I want to read in front of the fire. I have to call a chimney sweep. I have to reject being numb.

Being numb has been a coping strategy that I have used my entire life. When kids picked on me in elementary school, when my dad died and I had to go back to conversations where his name might pop up, when my high school boyfriend used to scream at me in the halls between classes, when I knew that I hurt my friends but was too embarrassed to apologize (this is a recurring pattern that I have experienced everywhere I've ever lived, childhood thru college and on), when I look back on the shitty way I treated my sisters when I was younger, when I recall every single time I've ever gotten blackout drunk and depended on someone else to take care of me, when I think of some of the terrible fights I've had with my husband. Whenever something bad happens, I go numb. Whenever I am faced with my own mistakes, I go numb. Pretend not to care, or even more pointedly, pretend the problem does not exist. This year, I realized how much I go numb. I started seeing some of the patterns I use to duck my head and keep my feelings shoved DOWN. Uncomfortably, I started realizing that none of it goes away. It's all still there. Shoved really far down. READY TO BLOW.

In 2016, I wrote the same story over and over. I watched the same three TV shows hundreds of times. I escaped into HOURS of mindless scrolling on the internet in an effort to stay very, very numb. And for the first time in 31 years, I started realizing what I was doing. 2016 started to wake me up. I've started paying attention to the bigger world and I've started really evaluating how I feel about everything from diet culture to story structure to local politics. Silly? I don't know. I think apologizing for or gently mocking my emotions has been one of my ways of staying numb. So fuck it.

Some numb-busters I've already encountered? An amazing writing class where I converse with women I admire about our stories in a serious, non-apologetic manner. Choosing something I care about and really researching it- I've been reading about and sorting my feelings around diet culture most of this year, and it makes me think, really hard. It kills my numb. More of these issues are going to pop up, because I'm going to stop avoiding them. 2016 was a mind-screw because so many things changed, but the biggest change was my own outlook. I hope when I come back here in 2017, I can say that I kept this trend going.

(Boom Boom Pow image by Allison Black via Pinterest

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At January 4, 2017 at 6:45 PM , Blogger Patricia Elzie said...

Thank you for posting this! I also started writing for BR this year and yeah, I'm learning a LOT. Many of the same things you're learning.


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