I don’t think I can handle this. You’re making me feel like I’m crazy. I know there’s nothing there. And given this situation, her being gay, I’m not concerned about anything happening. I actually do trust you though. Something I never thought I’d believe. But still my stomach twists up. Even if nothing happens, you probably like her hips; even if- you probably like her sharp humor; even if- you probably like her confidence & talent; even if- you probably like her listening ear. And the way you look at her sometimes when you talk, it makes me feel something I can’t explain. Not anger, not jealousy, but something unsettling. Something that makes me want to up and hide. Shuts me down and sobers me.
I can text you. I can call you. But it’s not the same.
It’s not the same as laughing with you
It’s not the same as being near you
Feeling your hands squeeze mine
Stretching the webbing of my fingers.
Feeling your voice vibrate your chest
Petting your bear hair. Arm hair. Chest hair.
It’s not the same as kissing your lips.
Feeling your sizable hands on my leg
My stomach. My chest. Wrapped all around me.
Feeling like I can melt into you
Into certainty and tenderness.
I closed my eyes and felt like I was floating. Felt a void of nothing around me; I was in a black hole of nothingness with only his solidness supporting me. It was a familiar feeling. A deep relaxation in safety.
Sleep paralysis is thought to be caused by poor sleep hygiene or genetics. It occurs when the mind becomes conscious but the body remains unresponsive, leaving the individual awake but paralyzed. Fragmented REM stages and improper regulation of melanin are believed to be contributing factors. Other symptoms that accompany this phenomenon are wide-ranging; the most common however is fear or panic. Hearing voices, whispers, or having somatic sensations such as that of flying or being dragged out of bed or out of body experiences are also associated with these episodes.
Thankfully I didn’t feel extreme panic or hear voices. Actually, as has been true of all my other episodes, I’m still not certain I was awake. I had fallen asleep on the couch and had been dreaming I couldn’t move. This type of dream is very familiar to me. Being unable to speak or move or moving very slowly as if through glue is a common dream for me, especially when I am struggling to communicating during the day. I don’t have panic attacks. I don’t get visibly anxious. I shut down. That’s usually when I have these types of dreams.
I either dreamed or was aware that I was sleeping on the couch that afternoon. I need to get up, I need to get up before my grandparents come back, I thought. But just as in my dream, I couldn’t move. I was trying to crane my neck up to see if the garage door was unlocked or opening. Then I felt myself sit up. And I knew I was sitting up but my body wasn’t. It was a strange feeling. Not necessarily terrifying, but frightening in the sense that I knew I should lay back down.
Psychologist theorize that dissociative experiences are self-defense mechanisms of the mind. Most people think of the girl who has been sexually abused or the boy who was beaten by his father or maybe the irresponsible use of drugs. But I think dissociation is a much more common human experience than that. The range of these experiences is not limited to abuse or drugs. Simply being aware that I was sleeping and unable to move is a dissociative state. Derealization is something I, probably incorrectly, like to think many people experience without really realizing it. It is an officially recognized dissociative state of feeling that life isn’t real and the cause of my latest sleep paralysis experience.
The feeling that the world isn’t real. The feeling that you’re on an alien planet. There are lots of ways to describe derealization. Anyone can experience it. The best way to induce it is to look at something for a long time. Look at a tree, a book, a lamp, anything. Try not to associate it with what it is and after a while it begins to look alien. Uncommanded derealization is frustrating though.
Sometimes it happens in large groups or new situations. Other times it’s one-on-one with family or good friends. Other people don’t see it though. I don’t give off the visible symptoms of distress. But I can feel it. The people, the room, looks other worldly. It all gets taken in at once in a strange picture. What people say or do seems mechanical and untrue. A sort of numbness, sadness, ensues. I don’t move much and respond to direct communication in very short answers. People think I’m being a dick. Maybe I am.
It doesn’t just happen when I’m anxious. It happens when I feel strong emotions. Without reason, I feel paralyzed and unable to speak. It’s similar to the urge to jump when looking out over a cliff or tall building. I want to slap someone or do something crazy to see if it really is real. This usually results in me either saying the wrong thing or nothing at all and breaking down. Not out of sadness, but out of frustration with myself. Why can’t I just feel things and feel like they are real?
I want to show you how much I care. I deeply happy you make me and for it to feel real.
“Let’s go on the balcony, it’s cool out there.” He took my hand as we walked toward the shuttered door, but I still had to pat the couch so that I didn’t stumble in my drunken state. The base was muted and the flashing lights ceased as I shut the door behind us. The air felt lighter than the denseness of partiers’ breath that filled the not-so-well air-conditioned apartment. It was Nathan’s roommate’s twenty-first birthday and everyone was drinking like there was no tomorrow.
Six months ago I’d been standing on this same balcony while another party went on inside, only that time I was sober wondering what the heck I was doing. I had walked into an unfamiliar and, at the time, unpleasant world that night. All the young drunk men looked threatening to me. The alcohol looked immoral and the whole gathering unprincipled. But I came anyways to wish Nathan a happy twenty-first birthday and, moreover, to get a better idea of who he was.
Moments ago, or maybe an hour ago, a friend from school had introduced me to his new girlfriend he’d been raving about for a week. She looked a little scared, and stood stalk still next to him. I tried to make a good impression, but I could hear that I was talking too loudly and apologized at least once for touching her arm too much. It wouldn’t matter how many times I said, “Don’t let this freak you out, Taylor is a really good guy”, the party was still going to change the way she looked at him just as it had with Nathan back in May.
Even through my drunkenness, I was stingingly aware that I had become one of those people I had been scared of, I realized as I looked out over the balcony. I smiled because it was amusing and disheartening at the same time and nothing was to be done about it. If the balcony railing was shorter, just by a few feet, with the way I was swaying, I would probably fall over. Another deeply despondent thought that was somehow amusing now. The balcony door creaked open, the shutters clanging as it shut.
“Hey, what’s up man?” Or something to that effect was said. Jack appeared on the other side of Nathan as if by teleportation. He was a skinny, average height guy with blonde hair. When I first met Jack , he had seemed confrontational. Now I understood, or maybe just rationalized, his blunt and crass behavior as a defense to the world.
“You know that guy Juan brought with him?” Nathan indicated he was unsure. “The monkey looking guy,” a typical crass comment from Jack. “Well he was hitting on Kelley,” Jack’s girlfriend, “but I told him to fuck off and we’re good now”. I think that’s how the conversation went. At that point I was feeling dizzy and sick.
“Why didn’t he hit on me?” I blurted out. Jack leaned forward, his dilated pupils framed by a furrowed brow, though only after leaning forward with a straight face for several seconds; again the type of odd, somewhat obnoxiously intimidating thing Jack did. “Do you want him to hit on you?” Although I didn’t look at Nathan, I could tell he was angry by his not speaking.
Alcohol makes your inhibitions fade. You say things and do things you would normally only think about doing. I did not believe this before that night, the second time I’d ever been drunk. Nathan had told me it would happen the first time, but I assumed it was more of a social clearance rather than a real effect of alcohol. I didn’t want the Monkey Guy to hit on me, I just wondered why he hadn’t. Was there something about Kelley guys liked that I didn’t have? Was I not short enough? Were my boobs not big enough? Was she just all around cuter than me?
Jack left and I could tell Nathan was annoyed. “Why do you want him to flirt with you?”
“I didn’t! I just want to know why he didn’t.” I was bent over, looking at the concrete balcony under my Nike’s at that point. I think he asked again and I gave the same explanation. He remained miffed. I couldn’t care much right then though because I was starting to feel really sick. “Nathan, I feel sick,” I said a few times. “You need to throw up”.
At Nathan’s birthday party in May, while I was still bewildered by the flashing lights and loud drunk men, he’d introduced me to his friends. I didn’t remember any of them or their names because I was still taking in the whole thing, thinking about what it said about Nathan. I did remember one guy, Mike. As he reached out to shake my hand, he had diverted, throwing up all over the couch next to me. What a bum. How irresponsible could you be? Why would you drink to that extent? Is what I had thought. Now, ironically, I was that person at Mike’s twenty-first birthday party.
I felt the burning at the back of my throat and leaned over the balcony. It was all liquid, pinkish I think. “There you go. Keep going,” Nathan said. Why was he being nice to me, even now, while I was sick and ugly and he was still annoyed with me for what he was always bothered by, my looseness. A string of spit hung from my mouth, but I couldn’t take my hands off the railing to get it off, so I just tried to spit harder. I was disgusted and disappointment in myself.
We talked for a minute, but I can’t remember about what. Throwing up maybe. Then about the Monkey Guy again. “But you don’t even like me,” is all I really remember from that conversation, something Nathan had said many times. “No, I love you.” He didn’t say anything. My drunk self wasn’t concerned. I did. I really did. He was so accepting and open and steady. I’d never felt so strongly for someone.
It was only midnight or so, but we decided to go to bed. I walked past the beer pong table, into the kitchen, loosing Nathan somewhere along the way. Jack and Mike were bantering next to the kitchen table. “Jessica!” one of them shouted. They were both standing very close to me, yelling something. I tried to step away toward Nathan’s room, but a chair blocked my way and the table was at my back. I could feel myself starting to cry, so I squished up my face and forced my way through.
After stumbling down the hall, I entered Nathan’s room. It was quieter and calmer, but he wasn’t there. I turned around and started crying. Mike walked in, “Hey, it’s okay.” How obviously had I been upset in the kitchen for him to have followed me? He started hugging me loosely. I tucked my arms into my sides, “Why are you hugging me? Where’s Nathan?” I could hear how childish I sounded, but it was all just spilling out.
“What’s going on here?” Nathan’s tall frame was blocking the light of his doorway.
“Nothing, man. I just saw she was upset.” He put his hands up as if he was a teenager, proving to the store clerk he hadn’t stolen anything, and backed out of the room.
“No, Nathan, I was looking for you and you weren’t here.” He looked furious. Shit. He’s never going to trust me. He’s going to think I’m some kind of whore forever. Nathan still looked mad. I think I tried to hug him. We got in bed and he took my socks off.
I don’t like it, but I believe in equity and conflict theory, which are essentially the same thing, but that’s a different post. I believe every interaction with another person is motivated by the desire to get something out of the situation; every interaction is an exchange of goods. This belief has lead me to push away invitations, dates, as well as looking very skeptically at friendly gestures. Not an enjoyable way to live.
Taken to a more long term scale, a relationship depend on whether each party perceives their benefits to be at least qual to or more desirably greater than what they put in. The term “exchange of goods” might bring to mind physical goods like money or food. Or, if you have a more perverse mind like mine, you may think about a very physical exchange: sex. That is something that throws me into a foaming at the mouth, stinging at the eyes, puddle of a headache, which I’ve written about here.
In my eyes it goes something like this…
Friendship- I’ll listen to you if you’ll listen to me
Relationship- I’ll give you sex and listen to you if you’ll give me sex and listen to me OR I’ll listen to you if you give me sex
Fuck buddy- I’ll give you sex if you give me sex
This bothers me. It bothers me because we don’t often talk about it. We move through these social niceties and politeness. It would be crass to talk plainly about what each party wants. By not talking about it though, it creates a situation where everyone is a businessman for him or her self. Everyone is trying to close the best deal for themselves or cheat on their taxes to get more.
Although addressing this directly does help, I’m still distraught by this perceived situation of the world. More than other people trying to get something out of me, I’m disturbed by the way I can trace my own actions back to their motivation. I’ve been searching for a few months now to find what I’ve termed “true caring” or “true kindness”- actions that are motivated for solely selfless reasons – but I have yet to find any.
It can always be argued that the acting individual gained some social reward of praise or positive regard. It’s so engrained in us that we must be accepted in the group for survival that simply being accepted can be explanation for almost any action. This creates a post hoc loop that allows for the argument to be applied to every situation. If it is always true, the statement becomes somewhat null. Either my definitions need to change or I need to find a falsifying situation.
Death seems to eliminate most rewards. If someone died for something or someone, would they be acting solving out of selfless motivation? Even then, they may have been compelled to act in that way by social forces making them believe it was the correct thing to do. The idea that their name would live on and therefore they may continue to live in some way also means that they might still have sense of social acceptance.
Jesus. Jesus, this sounds like the story of Jesus. But that’s not the answer, I don’t believe. The answer to resolving this abhorrent situation is in myself. I need to find what true kindness is; what selflessness is. Or, find a way to accept that this is the way the world is. I keep asking myself “Is it that bad?” Maybe that’s just justification for my own selfish acts. And then the larger question “Why is it good to be selfless?”
My mind paints two conflicting imagines in my desired identity as a women. It is starkly visible on two of my private pinterest boards: “delicate” & “fuck off”. One has photos of beautiful, slim women with small wrists and visible collarbones. The other, women with six-packs doing pull ups and boxing. This is the root of my dissatisfaction, or maybe more accurately undecidedness, with my body, my identity, my social roles.
The girl I long for a man to see is sweet. She is physically delicate and perfect in every way; pliant and graceful. She is a little frightened of the world. Her innocent ambitions consist of only to be safe and cared for. To be alone is frightening.
The girl I want the world to see is capable. She is physically strong. No one could take advantage of her, physical or otherwise. Her ambitions are clear and straightforward. But there is no sexuality to her. To be near someone is to be vulnerable. She can’t be sexual because she cannot be weak. To be alone is necessary.
When I met women or men I’m not attracted to, I strive to show them the strong women. When I met men I am attracted to, I strive to show them the delicate girl. Maybe it is purely out of fear, but I do not want to be weak. I have to be strong to avoid being taken advantage of. Being a women makes me inherently weak, which results in most of my frustration.
Being strong erases all sexuality for me. I don’t like it, but I have a very strong connection between being vulnerable and weak and sex. There is a very strong attraction to being used; ideally by someone attractive and caring, but still used, overpowered. Even if it annoys the heck out of me, I think this is a fundamental part of sexuality for most women.
Lacking physical strength is the root of feeling vulnerable which is something I strongly do not desire in my daily life on any level. However, this otherwise undesirable situation is an essential element for physical attraction.
I don’t have a solution right now. I don’t know that these opposing roles can be reconciled fully. Maybe they can be kept separated. That is still frustrating because it prohibits a cohesive person. For now, I am just working on being being physically strong. It’s a better solution than hurting myself, but it doesn’t solve the conflict.