Growing My Own Garden

The other day I had a breakdown in my car on my way back home from a super fun tennis match. This breakdown began when I started to reflect on a friend breakup that happened throughout the latter half of 2019, about a kind, soft-hearted friend who dated a man and grew to depend on him. I thought about whether all my friends would eventually prioritize a cishet white man above all else. I reflected on where I misstepped in the friendship – how I envisioned her as someone she was not and held her to that standard, perhaps unfairly – and how she misstepped in the friendship. As typical of emotion dysregulation from PTSD, thoughts and emotions spiraled to the point where I felt a physical pain in my chest. All my emotions felt like so much, too much in the moment, like little bombs erupting in my brain.

At some point I thought to myself: you know, I could just stop eating. Not eating would help numb this pain, the grief over losing this friend and the frustration of living in a heteronormative patriarchal world. But then I reminded myself, aloud and alone in my car, “starving won’t solve anything.” Even if it may make me feel better in the short term, it will not solve anything. So I decided to feel how I feel by playing “Leave Me Lonely” by Ariana Grande, letting myself feel like shit, and finally, as I turned into my apartment complex, crying and crying and crying.

As I let myself have a breakdown, I introspected a lot on how I could cope. A friend of mine used to self-harm whenever she felt stressed until she met her boyfriend who she has now dated for several years; sometimes I wonder if and how she will care for herself if anything happens to him. The ex-friend I thought about in the car moved a couple of years ago, and when she felt lonely, she went on Coffee Meets Bagel and met her boyfriend, whom she spent and spends the majority of her time with. In my car, the one left to me by my grandmother, I thought about my options to cope with my pain and loneliness: I could starve, I could turn to one of the men who have expressed interest in me, I could go shopping or find a hookup or cope in any which way that would make me feel better in the short term.

But I reminded myself of a comment that an iconic human left on one of my recent blog posts, about the importance of growing my own garden. I write a lot about my friends on this blog and at the same time, I feel it so important to know how to care for myself as well. So on the night of my breakdown, I let myself cry in my car. I walked into my apartment and reread passages from Appetites by Caroline Knapp, and I felt so much more connected because she gets me on a deep level. I took a shower and cut my nails and made an outline for this post.

I still feel sad about the missed connections that happened throughout 2019. I still feel hopeless about the state of the world – heteronormativity and patriarchy yes, though also white supremacy and toxic masculinity and imperialism too. I am still grieving and always will be. At the same time, I’m tending to my own soul, nurturing it by giving myself space to heal, to write, to listen to pop music and read books and watch reruns of So You Think You Can Dance? I’m committed to contributing to the revolution in any way I can, and right now, I’m taking time to rest, so I can live to fight another day.

How do you cope when you encounter difficult emotions or life experiences? How do you balance both prioritizing connection with others and yourself? Lmk in the comments because I’m thirsty for insight! Also omg rereading this post is wild because I wrote it at the beginning of this week and now it’s Saturday morning and I’m having the best morning ever – I woke up, did some grading, ate leftover Chinese takeout and orange soda for breakfast, all while jamming to this iconic Spanish cover of my favorite scandalous song “break up with your girlfriend, i’m bored.” Guess it shows again how emotions are almost always temporary. Until next post!

11 Comments

Filed under Personal

11 responses to “Growing My Own Garden

  1. Amy

    I’m sorry to hear about the depths of the pain and loneliness you felt, Thomas. At the same time, I’m proud of you for letting yourself feel them and move through them, and for finding sustainable ways to take care of yourself afterwards. You’re worth it!

    “How do you balance both prioritizing connection with others and yourself?”
    I recognize that if my emotional tank is low, I can’t be the caring, inquisitive, mentally present friend/human/partner I want to be. So my first priority is necessarily to fill my tank by doing something pleasurable purely for myself (often that’s playing video game music on my piano) and trying to feed my soul by getting a nonzero amount of work done on my creative pursuits (but forgiving myself if I don’t). I also make “connection with others” fit into containers I know I handle better: holding intimate 1-on-1 convos or video chats vs. going to parties, scheduling meetups far in advance so I can work up to them, and prioritizing hangouts with POCs/queers/creatives/folks who help me better feel seen.

    I’m glad to hear you’re having a better day today! ❤️

    • Thank you so much for bearing witness to my pain and loneliness and for your comment on my other post that contributed to me cultivating sustainable coping strategies. (: Thank you also for sharing your emotionally intelligent and iconic methods of taking care of yourself. While I love everything you’ve written here the “scheduling meetups far in advance” resonates with me especially as a huge planner. Hope you’re well Amy and I appreciate you!

  2. polixines

    You are such a sweet fellow, Thomas. It’s worth remembering that an expression of your feelings such as you have made here would have been unthinkable for anyone to say even only fifty years ago – so there is progress, there is hope! It was Voltaire, in the 18th century, in Candide, who first said that the best we can do is cultivate our own garden, and to read him is to remind oneself that yes, things are often tough, but they were even harder a couple of hundred years ago. In England, where I live, small children were forced to hard labour in factories and made to pull heavy wagons inside coal mines: a slavery that is almost forgotten these days. And, of course, it was unthinkable that you could openly declare a gay identity. Your posts spread good in the world. Thank you.

    • Awwww Peter thank you so much for this encouraging comment, it’s great to hear from you after some time has passed! This comment means a lot to me especially coming from someone who’s commented on this blog in its more infant or toddler or adolescent stages (maybe it’s still in one of those stages now, who knows). Even though I still grapple with feelings of hopelessness your comment helps me see that progress can be made even when it doesn’t feel like it, through the examples you share such as sharing one’s feelings on the internet (lol) and openly declaring a gay identity. I have much gratitude for you. I hope you’re doing well.

  3. Good work there, I’m proud of you for avoiding sinking back into those old behaviours. “This, too, shall pass” is a good phrase I remember during bad times, also “All will be well and all will be well and all manner of things will be well”. I have found at times of upset and heartbreak, “allowing” myself to go wild with tears and drumming of fists on the floor FOR A CERTAIN AMOUNT OF TIME can work well. Yes, it’s a bit false and controlling, but it does work (for me). I also have a list of things to do when things are bad, a literal list: walk for half an hour, read for an hour, take a hot bath with many bubbles (OK, I haven’t done this last since we’ve had the new, very active, cats …).

    Also while one obviously shouldn’t let standards slip below a healthy norm, I think it’s good you’re maybe thinking about the very high standards you hold yourself and others to. As I’ve said before, friends can slip in and out of our lives and wax and wane, and that’s fine. But it’s something we all definitely need time to realise (and I hope you don’t think I’m impolite saying that).

    • Thank you so much for sharing how you deal with difficult/challenging emotions and experiences, Liz! I love both the incorporation of sensory strategies (e.g., walking, taking a hot bath with bubbles even if you haven’t done that for awhile) as well as more “mental” strategies such as telling yourself that things will pass. And I appreciate you commenting on my thoughts and feelings about friendship – I think in addition to what you’re writing I’ve been reflecting more on the different “levels” of friends that I have and how it’s hard to explain sometimes because society doesn’t differentiate between different types of friendships, they’re often all just lumped together. Hope you’re well, sending warmth your way!

  4. Sorry to hear about the breakdown you had. I hope it didn’t affect your driving. I try not to let these stuff get to me at the moment. I just become like a robot and get on with life until I have to process my emotions quietly. If need be, I talk to someone. But I usually just ask myself what is it about this memory that still controls me reactions and emotions.

    p.s. I read your last paragraph a bit too fast and I missed a word on this line “… it’s Saturday morning and I’m having the best morning ever – I woke up, did some grading, …” I thought you wrote grinding and I was “wow – he just casually throws this stuff out on his blog…” Oops.

    • Luckily I was able to still drive well! Thank you for sharing what happens when you experience strong emotions Matt. I think asking yourself what it is about and what about this memory controls you is an adaptive idea, to build self-awareness.

      Lolol nope I did not write “grinding” though honestly with the amount I self-disclose on this blog it wouldn’t surprise me too much if I did. Thinking of you and hope you’re well!

  5. x.w.

    Hi Thomas,
    you did the right thing write about this. whenever i have difficult emotions or a bad day, i will think about rumi’s poem, “ this being human is a guest house…” and it helped me not to judge myself and be easier with hard feelings. i will try to recite this poem silently when i don’t feel like getting out of bed. it helped me a lot too. i just tell myself it’s okay i’m not at a good place but we try a bit better tmr. Also i finished demi moore’s memoir this week. really liked how she refelcted on the impact of relationship with her parents, her husbands and males, her own body and all kinds of relationships in her life. it’s healing and inspiring.
    It’s true that self harm is not gonna help. we can grief and feel bad, but at the same time what we do really matters. hugs!
    Xin

    • It’s so wonderful to hear from you Xin and thank you for your positive reinforcement of me writing about this. I love hearing about how you recite rumi’s poem to help you not judge yourself and to be easier with your hard feelings. I’m glad that Demi Moore’s memoir felt helpful and/or meaningful to you too. I appreciate you sharing your own perspective and experience with coping with negative emotions as it feels nice to connect with someone about these nuanced and personal topics. Thinking of you and sending warmth your way.

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