Full disclosure: as far as I can figure what drew me towards psychology was the hope of acquiring some verbal and intellectual weapons. Commands like ‘be pragmatic’ and ‘stop being so emotional’ and ‘you’re too sensitive’ were regular lectures of my childhood. I was told emotions equal women equal weakness and the lessons really came to life as they were taken from me and used whip-like against me. I looked to the ‘scientific study of the human mind’ for tools of words and argument that would allow me to explain to powerful, emotionless men in their own, intellectual language that emotions are important. I wanted to learn to be able to say in academic, indisputable clarity what I knew only instinctually; that feelings need to be honoured; that treating them in any other way is a sure way to brutal amounts of pain.
In my early years of being a human the teaching I received was one of separation. I was taught to cut off emotion. Next, I was being taught to divide my body into isolated parts, and learn to hate a select few of them. My butt, for example, has always acted like a complete arsehole. Something I could never properly see, but was causing all these problems behind my back. Unsolicited touch. Remarks about size. Attention. I did not understand that apparently I should have been flattered by all of this when I was a teenager. During those years I have learnt the inappropriateness of several more. Parts I should be hiding. Parts that cause trouble. Parts that are responsible for the reactions, actions and emotions of others; as, by extension, was I.
Cutting off emotion was one thing; cutting off body parts another. At the end the most efficient way seemed waging a systematic war on the entire body, which was easily achievable through cutting off portions of food that went into it. Small reductions are easy to make, and easily made bigger; the larger the cuts the smaller the body, creating a nice cycle that drives itself, really. Things grew simpler; I felt I finally achieved a state of clarity where I conquered my feelings down to the smallest pang of hunger and intellect has won and I was in control and this was what I’ve always been told to aim towards.
Sometimes learning is imposed from without. As far as I was concerned I was fine within, swimming, cycling, eating my way through peanut butter on rice cakes towards the ideal place where I knew I could finally cut my body fully off until Jane told me that she’s worried about me and the whole thing is impacting her and she might need to pull away from our friendship to protect herself. As the thought of losing my best friend assumed its shape in my head I’m pretty sure it was the intense pang of fear in my stomach that catapulted me back into a reality where I understood I wasn’t fine. Fear brought me back. That, as well as support from a therapist and loved ones.
These days I’m learning to connect, feel and absorb so I am borrowing words from Audre Lorde: “for women, then, poetry is not a luxury. It is a vital necessity of our existence. It forms the quality of the light within which we predicate our hopes and dreams toward survival and change, first made into language, then into idea, then into more tangible action. Poetry is the way we help give name to the nameless so it can be thought. The farthest horizons of our hopes and fears are cobbled by our poems, carved from the rock experiences of our daily lives. (…) For within living structures defined by profit, by linear power, by institutional dehumanisation, our feelings were not meant to survive. Kept around as unavoidable adjuncts or pleasant pastimes, feelings were expected to kneel to thought as women were expected to kneel to men. But women have survived. As poets. And there are no new pains. We have felt them all already. We have hidden that fact in the same place where we have hidden our power. They surface in our dreams, and it is our dreams that point the way to freedom. Those dreams are made realisable through our poems that give us the strength and courage to see, to feel, to speak, and to dare.”