“It's just...I kinda...well maybe...I think I'd prefer to focus on composition? Like maybe we could go take some pictures and you could help me frame them?”
I'm at a table somewhere in the Cambodian countryside on a photography tour and the very knowledgeable man next to me is explaining aperture and shutter speed and how to use my camera in manual mode. And I'm miserable. On the verge of tears miserable.
I don't know why yet. It will take another 16 hours, a phone call with Sam and 3 pages of journaling before I figure out WHY I'm feeling this way. For now, all I know is that something's not right.
I also know that if we don’t get up from this table soon, the tears are going to start. Ever since I got off antidepressants and shed their accompanying emotional numbness, I’ve been a crier. I usually don’t mind, as I think it’s my body’s way of trying to make up for lots of years of not crying. But since it’d be kind of awkward if the waterworks started now, I’m trying to avoid it.
So I make the statement above and start packing up my bag.
My guide seems baffled and every instinct in me screams to reassure him that everything’s okay.
But it’s not, so I don’t. Even though I don’t know what’s wrong, I know that something is. And today, I choose to honor that.
As part of my recovery journey, I’ve stopped pretending things are okay when they’re not. I’ve also stopped supplying canned explanations for my emotions. (It’s really fun for people like your boyfriend, who ask simple questions like, “What’s wrong?” and get revealing answers like, “I don’t know, but we can talk about it tomorrow when I do...”)
I’ve stopped doing it because it was halting my recovery. Whenever I rushed to provide an answer instead of actually exploring what was wrong, I shortchanged myself and lost the opportunity to grow.
For instance, in this situation, I wasn’t on the verge of tears because I was tired or hungry or overemotional or because I’ve struggled with depression or fill-in-the-blank with whatever disempowering explanation I would have supplied in the past. And if I had explained away my feelings using one of those worn excuses, I never would have figured out what was actually wrong.
And what was it? What did I figure out after all my reflection?
I was miserable because I was feeling disappointed.
I had booked a photography tour of Angkor Wat and the surrounding area thinking my guide would take me to sites that other tourists could only dream of seeing. I envisioned us spending the afternoon following remote trails to lesser-known temples, all while he told me about the history of the area and pointed out the best spots to take pictures.
But that wasn’t happening. Instead I was spending 1/6 of my limited time in Cambodia sitting at a table being lectured on things that I could have learned at home. So I was disappointed because my expectations weren’t being met.
In an ideal world, I would have identified that immediately and spoken up. (In an ideal world, I would also look like Penelope Cruz and have at least 8 free hours a day to read.) But we don’t live in an ideal world. We live in this world. Where things are messy and complicated and sometimes disappointing. So I didn’t identify my feelings immediately, nor did I speak up and change the trajectory of the afternoon.
I just trudged through my misery, waiting for the tour to end, itching for my journal.
Because today, I accept that I can’t always identify my feelings or what’s wrong on command. I accept it because it makes sense: I spent most of my life building up walls to protect myself from my emotions. I can’t expect those walls to come down overnight.
If you, like me, have spent years building similar walls, you shouldn’t expect that either.
Is it frustrating? Yes. For us and those around us.
Will it get better over time? Let’s hope so.
For example, next time I’m sitting at a table in the Cambodian countryside disappointed with my photography tour, I’ll know EXACTLY what’s going on.
Or maybe, I’ll be able to identify disappointment more quickly in the future. And know to examine my expectations if I’m feeling it. Or maybe, just maybe, I’ll experiment with examining expectations BEFORE disappoint pops up. Maybe?
It seems at least a little more likely than me magically looking like Penelope Cruz, so I’ll cling to hope.
Originally published on Facebook & Instagram on November 16, 2017.