The song “Comfortably Numb” was playing on the radio today, and it got me thinking about now and about the past.
I don’t seem to have much to say most of the time. I am a listener. I used to express my opinion when I felt really strongly about something, but increasingly, I tend to keep my thoughts to myself. I’m not sure why exactly. Is it because I’m calmer and wiser? Am I scared of ticking people off? Does my wounded self inform and control me? Is this my true self? Or have I become comfortably numb?
Marriage saw me leave my country of origin for Australia. I found my feet gradually and became friends with other women who were at the same stage of life. I formed friendships made through commonality—a loose group of local women, each of us struggling in our own way, with the same stuff.
In the early days, it was mainly about raising kids, and later, it was about dealing with and supporting each other through the various curve balls life threw at us. Within the safety of friendship, I found my voice and shared many a laugh, tears, and deep and meaningful moments with my friends.
When my kids started school, I went back to work in the child abuse area. The work is demanding, frequently hideous, crisis driven, and the hours are long. We often referred to a nine-month revolving door—the length of time most new employees lasted. You change a lot in that type of work; you have to. You develop a hard shell, tough enough to survive the ruthless organizational culture and the terrible abuse you see.
Some years later, one of my sisters told me that I had changed. She said that I was not as kind as I once used to be. I was vaguely aware that I had lost part of myself. I knew I had toughened up, but I hated this different-developed self.
Over time, I noticed I was becoming increasingly intolerant of one of my friends who indulged and worried incessantly about her daughter. She had a habit of talking at me about these worries, barely drawing breath and seemingly never acting on suggestions made by anyone. The irony was that I had previously found her amusing, eccentric, and endearing. Yet insidiously, feelings of frustration and annoyance began to surface. I bargained internally, gave myself lectures, made all sorts of promises about how I would do, and be, kinder in thought and better in nature.
I worked hard to empathize and contain my anger when she complained and worried about seemingly superficial issues. Inwardly, I blamed work-related compassion fatigue. My mind would go into overdrive, contrasting her perceived lack, to the needs of all the kids in care, or at-risk. Some days I would have to bite my tongue to avoid screaming at her.
And then, one terrible day I lost it. I raged and said things that were true, but were also harsh. The fallout was massive and the friendship faltered. When I tried to sort things out, I could not speak calmly. I raged again, and ultimately, as in all triangles, my closest friend sided with the friend I victimized. Long story short, I lost both dear friends.
After a while, I realized I was on the threshold of burnout and resigned from my job. I took a pay cut and started working in a much less stressful environment. I worked normal hours. Yet, despite this significant change, the intensity and frequency of the mood swings increased. Rage leapt out of me from seemingly nowhere. It was unpredictable and ruthless.
My mind too, became foggy and I stumbled to find words when called upon at work meetings. I felt as if I was literally riding on a merry-go-round in hell. Uncontrollable angry outbursts lead to remorse and then to tears. Round and round—the effort of emotional containment at work ensured that home became Hell Central.
It was only when I was eventually diagnosed with a thyroid condition that the emotional roller coaster ride made sense. So under diagnosed: my strident voice, unpredictability (even to myself), and off-the-wall emotions—some of the most common symptoms experienced by sufferers of this condition.
Thyroid and compassion fatigue. The perfect storm. I tried to go down the natural health path but the illness was relentless. Eventually I had nuclear medicine to destroy my thyroid.
It seems that there is no going back when friendships fail, no matter how hard you try. The damage is done and I’ve learned the hard way to stop trying to regain and rebuild what we once had. The attempts just trigger feelings of rejection and abandonment all over again. Bridges are built but that’s all they are.
What remains is a sort of awkwardness, the kind that results because of incongruence. Superficiality sits politely next to the deep understandings and intimacies of the past. The real, gutsy, honest and genuine friendship we had no longer exists.
I guess I have come to terms with the loss and don’t allow myself to dwell there. But I seem, in the process, to have lost my voice. I feel calm, happy, and healthy but I don’t speak out. I think, but I don’t say.
Am I afraid of rejection, not fitting in? Have I lost more than just friends? Have I become numb?
Or was that part of my life meant to be? Was I meant to lose them in order to find myself? Is this a reflection of the inner work I must do, my inner journey, seeking my authenticity and the existential?
God let me find my thread, my voice, my true self. Let me set sail free, and give caution to the winds. Let me know my truth, and let me have the courage to speak it confidently and kindly, without fear of criticism or rejection.
Let me find that sweet spot. Let me be strong, let me be uncomfortably alive.