For a long time I pretended not to be a feeler. The cool girl image of myself did not include a lot of crying or sensitivity. "Sometimes I tear up at weddings," I'd say casually. "But most things don't really bother me."
When my first baby was born, I let go of this fake version of myself out of pure necessity. Not only could I not stop the inevitable swell of emotion over my son, I couldn't stop feeling everything. Every news story bothered me, every random act of kindness excited me, every single, stupid diaper commercial made me weep. I thought: This is it. I'm officially crazy.
It was honestly a relief.
Women have been called crazy since the beginning of time. Ever since Eve tried the apple and Adam shrugged and said, "She's cray," womenfolk have been named the weaker species. The emotional species. The binge-eating-ice-cream-out-of-the-carton-because-we-can't-handle-our-periods species. It's so boring and unflattering. After all, WE ARE ALL THE SAME SPECIES.
It's also a teeny, tiny, little bit true.
The New York Times ran a great op-ed piece last week on medicating women's feelings. Julie Holland writes,
Women are moody. By evolutionary design, we are hard-wired to be sensitive to our environments, empathic to our children's needs and intuitive of our partners' intentions. This is basic to our survival and that of our offspring. Some research suggests that women are often better at articulating their feelings than men because as the female brain develops, more capacity is reserved for language, memory, hearing and observing emotions in others. [...] It doesn't mean we're weak or out of control. Change comes from the discomfort and awareness that something is wrong; we know what's right only when we feel it. If medicated means complacent, it helps no one.
As it turns out, we can blame some things on biology. I suppose it was our suspicion all along. Hormones, periods, eggs falling all over our uteruses-- what a spectacular mess. I know a special version of myself surfaces monthly. I call her Nancy. Nancy's main problem is that she believes everyone is thinking about her in the shower, and not in the good way. She also really enjoys Mexican food, but that is neither here nor there.
This part of womanhood can be hard to dissect intellectually. We want to have control over our reactions to weddings, births, not getting a text back from a friend, a little boy abused on the news, the jar of jelly falling off the counter and into a million pieces. But as experience has taught us, being alive can be a bit overwhelming.
Of course it isn't just women who are feelers. So many of our greatest men are prone to feel deeply. I almost married a few until I realized that two feelers in one relationship can lead to the kind of drama better left to reality TV.
It is a blessing and a curse to sit in the world this way. When you feel connected to everything, you also feel responsible for everything. Every neglected child is your child, every homeless 50-year-man is your dad. When life is horrifying for others, it is hard not to bear some of the weight too. Empathy is good, but fear is its very close sister.
It can also make some of us a bit delusional. A bit Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction if you know what I mean.
The upside is that this is where poetry is born. Beethovens, Picassos, and Kingsolvers, too. It also helps reveal our own identities. There is so much truth behind our emotion. When we're allowed to feel our feelings all the way, a rawness is exposed. The inside parts of our fleshy bodies. It does not make us weaker, just fuller. As a friend once put it, "Feeling deeply is just being more alive."
What a gift, to feel.