So you know how typically we say that “Ask Pajiba” is an advice column written by unqualified strangers on the internet? This week, the “unqualified” part might be more appropriate than ever. Because seriously — this question is WAY above our pay grade.
[Reminder: You too can stump us and make us doubt our non-existent advice cred by sending questions us your life querstions at [email protected]!]
I’m a longtime fan of Pajiba. I have a very odd question for the Pajiba staff. For the past few years, I’ve been dealing with a chronic pain condition. I’ve worked with doctors, tried a bunch of stuff and nothing has really helped. An interesting side effect is that chronic pain has drained away any and all emotions. I don’t feel anything anymore. It’s like I transformed from a human into a Vulcan.
I now get by on 100% logical and reasonable responses. Doctors have asked if chronic pain has brought on depression. It hasn’t, it’s not the same set of symptoms. I am able to hold down a job, maintain relationships, run a household, plan for the future.
So my question is, how can I journey from being a Vulcan to being a human again? Sad songs don’t bring an emotional response. Nor do get together with family or friends. I find events interesting but there is no longer an emotional chord.
And I understand a disclaimer that you cannot dispense medical advice; I’m not looking for medical advice.
And thoughts or advice would be appreciated.
Oh dear. OK so, first off, I get that you aren’t looking for medical advice, but what I’m about to say isn’t a disclaimer: I really think you should talk to a medical professional about this. We ALL think you should talk to a professional — or, hell, maybe a few! Talk to your doctor, and find a therapist, and maybe look into some specialists too, because what you’re describing is clearly tied to your condition. After all, the connections between the mind and the body are mysterious. Maybe your suppressed emotions are a symptom, or maybe they’re a side-effect of some medication, or maybe they’re some form of psychological self-preservation. It could be biochemical or neurological or [insert other sciencey-sounding word I don’t understand]. It could still be a form of depression, despite not following the standard set of symptoms! Maybe your emotions are just buried deeper than they used to be. Enduring pain for so long can do strange things to a person, and maybe one natural response is to turn off any and all feelings. After all, why add the possibility of emotional pain to the reality of the physical pain you’re already managing?
All of which is to say that what you’re dealing with is serious. And though we Overlords are a merry bunch of internet yahoos with plenty of opinions about, oh, basically everything — in this situation (and, let’s be honest, plenty of other situations too), our opinions don’t amount to much.
But hell, that’s never stopped us before! So let us approach your question from a more general perspective. Let’s talk about emotions, logic, and the things that make us feel.
Experiencing changes in emotional reactivity over time is completely natural. In my twenties I was pretty emotionally numb, to be honest. For no real reason other than, I dunno, recreational drug use and general ennui or whatever. But now that I’m in my mid-thirties, I will cry at a paper towel commercial. The other day my husband started tearing up at, I shit you not, the end of that ridiculous G.I. Joe sequel — the one that didn’t star Christopher Eccleston OR Joseph Gordon-Levitt (so like, why even bother?). Maybe it’s an age thing, or a hormone thing, or maybe we’ve been together so long at this point that we’ve both become a couple of Sunday hams (we have!), but trust me when I say that we didn’t used to get moved by shit like that before. It just happened, so slowly we didn’t notice it. And one day, maybe I’ll change again and stop feeling things so hard. Who knows!
Exercise and physical activity help some of us balance our emotions, or tune into ourselves better. It’s the exhilaration of challenging ourselves, and the exhaustion that both quiets our minds and makes them sharper. And that doesn’t mean we’re recommending you take up CrossFit or something unrealistic given your condition. In fact, we’d never recommend that anyone take up CrossFit. Instead, maybe you just go on a walk, or dance to a song, or do some super low-impact yoga, or go to a physical therapist. Pick something that pushes your limits, whatever they happen to be, and give it a shot. Your chronic pain may be the cause of your lack of emotions, but perhaps that’s even more reason to turn your focus toward feeling something in your body, that you control, as a way to reconnect to your other feelings — or at least distract you from all that logic that’s tripping you up. Or try meditation!
I feel like when we talk about emotions, we get hung up on the big obvious ones like “sad” or “happy.” But there are so many different ones to explore, some more subtle than others. “Frustration” is one that doesn’t get enough attention, and yet is one of the single biggest driving forces in my life. Others include: boredom, complacency, curiosity, disgust, irritation, shame, comfort, and fear. Maybe you can think about times in the past that you felt these kinds of emotions, and what circumstances brought them on, then see if you can recreate them. Though you may need to find stronger triggers for them than you used to.
And then I’ll be honest — the Overlords mostly just went on a tangent about random shit that made us feel something, at some point in time.
— Recreational drugs! Not that we’re recommending them generally, or any specifically. In fact, in your case, it might be a terrible idea and could bring everything that’s being repressed bubbling up uncontrollably. Or not. Point is, we ain’t saints.
— That feeling when you really need that giant coffee that you ordered, but then you klutz out and spill it ALL over the floor. Or when you lose a pub trivia night by a single point.
— Binge-watching a really great TV show, all by yourself. Or reading an engrossing book all in a weekend. Don’t get dressed, don’t shower, don’t talk to anyone. Just indulge yourself in escapism, and fill your mind with characters outside of yourself. Doctor Who Christmas specials are always a sure-fire way to Feeling Shit, at least for me.
— Dustin had a story about morning routines and kids dumping pickle juice all over the fridge and anger, and I think his point was that children will break you emotionally so have some? Or, something? Though you could also just get a puppy. They’ll keep you up at night and might wreck your shit too, but they’ll outgrow it faster and cost less. Also, TEH CUTENESS.
And finally, logic isn’t such a bad thing. I wish more people would act based on logic rather than, oh I dunno, sheer dumb fear and hate — just to pick a random example that’s totally not based on the world in which we live. But the fact that you WANT to feel something again is, well… it’s desire. It’s kind of a feeling all its own. The reasonable thing would be to embrace logic and let that be enough. So maybe you’re not as much of a Vulcan as you think you are. Maybe you’re more of a Spock.