I’m still in the Grove of Dreams, watching the childish outlines of trees morph and change with my thoughts. The image is a blur of motion, a smear of chalk or oil pastel rather than a detailed sketch. I’m trying to find some sense of self. I am a mish-mash of puzzle pieces, a fragmented Picasso portrait, an array of clashing colours. I suppose that’s part of my habit of defining myself by what I am not, I’m left with a negative image of myself. A blank space in a canvas with the background filled in.
There are more than two puzzles in the mixture. This blur of imagery is not simply Robin in my head and Robin in the world. There’s also Robin in writing. Emotion. Physical form. What matters in theory and what matters in reality. All these things exist, but in isolation from one another. Thoughts and actions don’t join up. Events and emotions disconnect.
I spend so much time guessing at what I should feel, because I don’t know how to decode what I do feel. It’s something I have tried to explain time and time again and the response is the one that seems logical ‘feel what you feel, don’t worry about putting a name to it.’ In principle, that’s an excellent idea. In practice, it’s a disaster. Why? Because if I don’t know how I feel, I don’t know if I’m comfortable with something. I don’t know if a relationship is moving too fast, if that decision is one I’m going to regret or if I’m minutes away from meltdown point. Not knowing what I feel isn’t a case of not knowing whether what I’m feeling is nervousness or excitement, it goes beyond that into not knowing that emotion is what’s causing me to act the way that I am. I have three basic emotional states: overwhelmed, hyper and oblivious. If I don’t have so much energy that I am literally bouncing and I’m not so anxious I’m tipping into meltdown mode, I don’t recognise what I’m feeling at all.
It’s hard to work out what my triggers are if I don’t recognise stress until I’m in meltdown mode. It’s hard to recognise depression rearing its ugly head when I don’t know what’s normal for grown up Robin. That you know how you feel about things is a basic assumption that people make. ‘Can you cope with that?’ ‘Are you looking forward to that?’ ‘Are you okay with that?’ ‘You’ll know when you’re ready.’ Suddenly, ‘I don’t know’ isn’t an acceptable answer. If I have enough information, I can make an educated guess. If there will be a lot of people and a lot of noise then even though the thought of it doesn’t agitate me out of oblivious state, the logical answer is probably ‘no, I can’t cope with that.’ Sometimes I still get it wrong, because sometimes there are conflicting experiences. The problem is bigger when I don’t have anything to base it on. It’s already been a problem at work. Why? Because my default answer is ‘yes’, because answering in the affirmative is usually what people want to hear and agreeing with people avoids confrontation and minimises socialising time.
Not knowing how I feel matters because not knowing how I feel is not the same as not feeling at all. Not knowing how I feel means my responses and my feelings don’t match up, so I can do things that I’m not okay with and not realise that I’m not okay with it until it’s far too late. People can take advantage of that. People do. My automatic assumption is that people will. That people don’t really like me, that I’m in the way, I’m an oddity to be put up with. I’ve been taught, that no, that’s just my lack of confidence talking, that it’s not really true, most people are nice, most people can be trusted. The problem with that is, now I don’t trust my instincts, I give people the benefit of the doubt when maybe it would be safer not to. The niggling thought that they don’t really like me is still there, but I mute it. If I don’t know how I feel, how can I trust my feelings?