The decline was so slow that I didn’t notice it until it was nearly a free fall. It had started with lingering self-doubts that riding suddenly couldn’t erase, and only exacerbated. In response, like most idiots, I had clung harder, binding my identity to the bike, trying to ride off old wounds that kept opening up. When the physical symptoms of stubborn unhappiness emerged – then persisted – it felt like my world imploded. Previously, I couldn’t stand to look at my bike, but guilt usually got me pedaling. Suddenly I didn’t even have that unhappy choice. My identity became a blank hole which I attempted to fill with food (for those that are wondering, it didn’t work; I just got fat). About a year ago, I realized I was in a depression so deep I didn’t recognize myself.
Unable to control them, I attempted to tie up all the unraveling emotions. I stopped feeling as a form of damage control; it seemed like a reasonable solution for someone inclined to feeling too much. That is, until the sadness – unable to be contained – seeped out, staining everything it touched. Even writing couldn’t save me. I turned to food art to stem the flow, stuff down the anger, cover up the massive sink hole of hopelessness. I cried a little less, but still felt surges of self-hatred so intense I wanted to cut off my own face.
I started taking a small white pill in March and have felt the best kind of normal since moving back to Japan. Most days I can effortlessly keep my shit together. America, however, gets me feeling.
Like extremities gone temporarily numb, when prolonged periods of emotional apathy are interrupted, the unfamiliarity of feeling takes some getting used to. Once I’m warmed up, though, I don’t want it to stop. However intense or extreme my emotional scale, it is – embarrassingly – a significant part of who I am. It’s the thing that drives me just crazy enough to create, limits the number of friends in my inner circle to a small, very tolerant handful, and often makes me a huge asshole.
Stateside, the emotions hit like a heat wave, only heightened by the curves of a language I love, the promise of possibility, new friends, the whispers of adventure. It’s overwhelming, but for once the act of feeling wasn’t coupled with guilt or weighed down with melancholy.
The ironic thing was that on this trip, adventures – for safety and conservation’s sake – were, like those pesky emotions, neatly contained within clearly marked trails. In a loop of Chatauqua Park, up Mount Sanitas, or on the ascent to the Hanging Lake, containment was given structural reinforcement in the form of fences, barriers, signs. “Closed Area No Trespassing,” they stated, allowing only a peek into either unforgettable adventures or bad decisions and inevitable bodily harm. When scrambling up the last stretch to the Hanging Lake, I made full use of the man-made railings, but was reminded of how small my heart can get when bound to the safe, simple, and unfeeling.
Because, like Colorado will show you, there’s beauty out there. And unlike protected parks, maybe I don’t need so many barriers for protection and experiences limited to well-trodden paths. Maybe I can grow back without safeguards and stay open to exploring the sometimes risky and treacherous. Maybe I can keep feeling without getting stuck in those dark places.
Maybe feeling all those feelings isn’t such a bad thing after all.