Many people can’t imagine what it is like to see the world through a looking glass – detached, not a part of the “big picture”, but the beholder. It goes both ways. It took me a while to figure out why I always felt there was an invisible wall between me and others; what made it so hard to relate to people: People have emotions that vary more than “meh, that sucks (but whatever, life goes on” and “guess that’s nice (but whatever, life goes on)”.
My own emotional life can be illustrated with a mostly straight line. I don’t know what it feels like to be “so happy you want to hug the entire world” or “so sad you wanna die”. Especially when I was younger, I often felt left out when others around me experienced strong emotions. Expressing joy or anger or sadness feels unnatural to me, like performing for an audience. I never understood why people expected me to laugh and jump around like a maniac to show I was happy about something, or to scream and stomp to show I wasn’t.
As a child, I had no idea that other people really felt like doing these things and it came, in fact, naturally to them. I thought everyone was putting up some act because parents and older relatives expected it; something like saying “Bless you” or “Gesundheit” after someone sneezed.
When I grew older, I began to realize that people did not simply stick to a social convention because it was expected of them. And that I was still acting for simplicity; to be understood by others. I laughed when there were funny scenes in movies so no-one would ask why I didn’t find them funny. I expressed sadness when someone told me about bad things that happened to them. But on the inside, there was apathy. I rarely gave a shit either way; I didn’t find most movies to be very funny and I wasn’t touched by the misfortune either. I tried to fit in, but I was the square in the circle.
Looking back, my attempt to get behind the motivation of others to express their emotions, or only their ability to have them, was a subconcious reason to get fascinated with horror movies. Those were the films advertised as being “thrilling”, “the scariest movie ever” and “will leave you sleepless”. In a way, they claimed to provide strong emotions. And I was somehow hoping that I only needed something to “wake me up” from my apathy – a big bang that would unlock the door to my emotional storage; and after that, I would feel like everyone else. Obviously, it doesn’t work that way, but I found my theory to be sound. Why it didn’t work? Simple answer. I hadn’t found my “big bang”. I was 12 or 13 when I made it my declared goal to find the movie that would do that.
Mind you, I still haven’t found this movie 20 years later. It really doesn’t work that way. But over the years, I have made my peace with the “flattened affect” in regards to my emotions. (That’s what the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders calls it.)
First of all, the internet has made things a lot easier for me. In Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences, I’m the linguistic type. Expressing my emotions with words feels more natural than the social obligation to smile or frown to make myself clear. And if all fails, I can always fall back to smilies and emoctions. Many people say that online communication can never replace real life face-to-face contact because it lacks of body language, expressions and nuances in spoken language. Well, I do lack those things face to face. Taking them away from others online just levels the playing field.
The wonderful world wide web is the answer to many of my limitations. While “real” people in direct proximity drive me insane in no time, “virtual” people don’t. My online friendships are a lot closer than any I had in “real life”, where I can’t do the things I need to do to keep my sanity: withdraw, at any given time, with nothing but a click. Face to face interaction is very draining for me – I have to perform the things that are unnatural to me, I have to try to read those things in others and react accordingly. I have to pretend to have a lot emotions I simply don’t have.
I have also become a student of human behavior, emotions and social interactions. From an observer’s point of view. I try to learn and to understand how people “tick”. Often, it leaves me puzzled, yes. But my attempts to understand also gave me a different perspective. I can appreciate the rare emotions I experience where others take them for granted or even wish they wouldn’t feel them. I treasure them all; the good, the bad, the ugly. It is a small treasure chest, but each piece reminds me that, despite all the differences, I’m still human. Each piece is a success in my quest to find out what emotions really feel like; the universe being one step closer to figure itself out.
I treasure the moment I felt genuine disgust when reading the novel “The 34th Rule“. I treasure the deep and utter sadness when watching “The Wrestler“. I treasure the pain and the anger I felt when watching Varro’s death in Spartacus – Blood and Sand. More than anything, I treasure the Babylon 5 scene – pity, despair, sadness, bitterness – when G’Kar tells Londo he forgives him. Others may find these things depressing and hard to watch, and I agree – and that is a rare thing; that I can truly agree, with first hand experience instead of hearsay emotions. Yes, I also treasure more uplifting moments, and not only scenes from movies and books, but my own life. But then, who doesn’t? The ability to see the beauty in the tragedy is the blessing of (what others percieve as) my curse.
Judging by my own collection of emotional treasures, I wouldn’t want to be any other way.