“I don’t mean to burden you with my non-problems. I know you’re busy.”
I texted that last night to someone, as I stood on the verge of tears, the verge of smashing plates, and the verge of curling up in the fetal position for a while. I was about a minute away from a full-on hormonal breakdown, and I was apologizing for being an inconvenience. For being a burden. Because let’s be real, what I really meant was I’m sorry I’m having feelings.
In the wake of many really important posts that have been circulating the blogosphere lately about gaslighting and being a Crazy Girlfriend ™, I’ve come to realize that while I faced my fair share of gaslighting in the past, the biggest perpetrator of shitting all over my feelings is me. So often I’m so consumed with not making waves that I instead apologize for having any feelings at all.
“I’m sorry I’m such a mess right now” — to a nurse about 5 minutes after finding out my mom died.
By 17 I had accepted the fact that I was the Crazy Girlfriend ™. Not because I was stalkerish or possessive, or because I was rife with jealousy (I am none of those things). Rather, I knew I was a Crazy Girlfriend ™ because I had to set clear boundaries when something made me uncomfortable. And because I cried sometimes. And because he told me I was. And because I knew that sometimes becoming overwhelmed by my teenage feelings meant that I was unreasonable and crazy and just, you know, one of those difficult girlfriends. I never once gave myself the space to just feel what I was feeling without apology or acknowledge the authenticity of my emotions, because every time I tried to, I was told I was overreacting. And while apologizing for my “overreaction” may have placated my guilt over being difficult, it certainly didn’t benefit me in any significant way long-term. I wasn’t able to explore my feelings or acknowledge what was going on, which lead me only to continue the pattern of letting people walk all over me, then apologize for my feelings once I finally spoke up about it.
“I’m sorry I like to spend so much time with you.” — unsarcastically, all of the time.
I’m not afraid of having feelings themselves, but rather of “inflicting” them on others (ie. burdening someone with my love or inconveniencing them to listen to me vent about a bad day). I can’t remember the last time I felt intense emotions that weren’t accompanied by an apology. I’ve so internalized the messages I’ve received from people telling me that my feelings are invalid — whether it’s that I use my mom’s death as an “excuse” to have depression, or that my anger is an overreaction when I’m being talked over by men in discussions about feminism. I’ve so bought into the idea that my feelings are outrageous that I continue to apologize, even when (objectively) my feelings are valid and justified. And as far as emotional and mental health are concerned — that’s probably not a good thing
They say the first step is admitting you have a problem, and I do, but where do I go from here? It sounds so easy to say I’m going to own my rage and unapologetically cry whenever the fuck I need to — but I’m not sure it’s that simple. This goes much deeper than pride and ego; this comes from a place of being told my whole life that the most important thing was to be quiet, polite, and above all, to be a nice girl. Rather than authentically experiencing the range of human emotion, I find myself in a place of compartmentalizing “normal” and “crazy”, with any feeling (good or bad) rating higher than a five on the intensity scale quickly categorizing me as “crazy”. This feeling of being crazy in turn sets me on a path of guilt and shame. What does it even feel like to ask for a bit of emotional help without simultaneously apologizing for the inconvenience?
“I’m sorry if I ruined your night” — after experiencing an anxiety attack at a social event.
At the root of it all, I think this comes back to fallacy that good women don’t take up space. Be it physically — with large bodies being seemingly and wrongly analogous to moral deficit in our society — or emotionally, where we feel the need to apologize for asking for time or attention from others to fulfill our emotional needs. Because traditionally, good women are happy, quiet, and complacent. Good women don’t tell their partners when their needs aren’t being fulfilled; they’re just happy to have a partner in the first place. Good women don’t stay in bed for 24 hours to watch Netflix and eat an entire box of cookies instead of keeping a spotless apartment. Good women, as the trope suggests, are more robot than human.
So I can’t promise that I’m going to magically and unapologetically start owning my feelings. I can promise to be gentle with myself and remind myself and the women that I love that we’re not robots. That humans — even the nicest, most independent ones — need to feel their feelings. And sometimes, feelings aren’t pretty or convenient or within the realm of social niceties — but if we’re going to be authentic, we have to ditch the idea of the good woman and just be entirely who we are.