“You seem very put together and secure in one self so I’m going to ask you this, and I would prefer it wasn’t publicly posted. Even if you don’t respond, that’s okay, but at this point I feel like I would appreciate a wiser person’s perspective. My boyfriend and I broke up, which may sound petty, but the shitty way I feel is not. It was because he was too overwhelmed to put effort into it. What would you suggest is the best way to move on from said breakup? HOW DO YOU PURGE YOURSELF OF EMOTION”
I asked this reader for permission to pull her question out of my askbox and answer it publicly because it seemed like it might be useful to more than one person considering becoming an emotional robot.
Dear Unnamed Reader,
First: you’re not going to like my advice.
Second: you don’t have to take it. I’m really only adequately equipped to give advice on how to be more like me, and trust me, sources are widely divided on whether this is a good thing.
Third: I don’t think your turmoil is petty. One thousand ships have been launched in the name of a bad break-up.
Fourth: You ask me how to purge yourself of emotion. I reckon this must mean I don’t look like a hot mess on the internet, which is good to know. But I assure you that when something pings my emotional radar, I feel all feelings at level 11. Example? This morning, I gave Lover a ride to an errand. We took my old Camaro. On the interstate ramp, I put the car through its paces and experienced the burst of joy that comes in third gear at 4400 rpm. Once the car had settled, I realized Lover was staring at me. “God,” he said, “can you be any more happy?” No. No, in fact, I couldn’t. Emotions are binary in Maggie Stiefvater. You should have seen me when I first heard Two Door Cinema Club’s “Sun.” I almost died from happiness.
But that also means my negative emotions are dialed to 11. I don’t often get upset — I’ve just become so unreasonably plucky that I assume all woes are transient, so whatevs. Because of my outsized belief in my ability to problem-solve, I really only get upset when I feel powerless. 2015 turned out to be the year of powerlessness: terrible things happening to friends, to my family, in the world. I finally broke last weekend over a comparatively tiny thing —a news article printed stuff about me that was so hilariously not true that I thought no one would believe it, particularly as the truth was still perfectly findable. But they did. And I couldn’t do a thing about it without stirring things up more and getting yet more messages telling me how glad they were to see me shot down from my Raven Cycle induced high blah blah etc. A minuscule thing — but yet more powerlessness after a year of epic powerlessness. I proceeded to launch 1,000 emotional ships. Work ground to a halt. I listened to Kygo’s remix of Matt Corby’s “Brother” 62 times in a row without pause. I sat under my office desk, only emerging to give in to to my OCD, which demanded, among other things, 17 clothing changes in 8 hours because SEAMS GOD THE SEAMS WHY. I blew a deadline. I flew to Colorado. I exceeded the speed limit in a rental Nissan that was not meant to exceed the speed limit. I blew another deadline. I paced until I couldn’t feel my knees. I thought about how I’d ruled out self-harm as an option a decade ago. I returned home. I sat on the shower floor for a very long time. I failed to sleep. I could have pretended that I wasn’t hurting, but —
Fifth: you cannot cut out the sad emotions without cutting out the happy ones.
Sixth: I am a disgustingly happy person. I fucking love life. The number of things in life that please me daily continues to astonish me, considering how terrible the world is. But I’m a happy person because I’m also sometimes a wretchedly sad person or terribly angry person. If you want to live life turned up all the way, you have to be open to the possibility of both joy or despair.
Seventh: which brings me to the advice you’re not going to like: being miserable right now is not a bad thing. What you’re feeling is a valid response to a situation that you feel powerless in. It’s horrible. But you feeling genuine pain now means that you can — and will — feel genuine happiness at some point. Agony and joy come from the same place: being emotionally invested in your own life.
Eighth: The way back to happiness is getting out of the cycle of powerlessness — basically, finding a place you can have agency again. Your misery is going to want you to find a way to be powerful in your current miserable situation. If you’re anything like me, you’ve rehearsed a few thousand options in your head. Calling him and winning him back. Making him feel as sad as you. Sending ugly greeting cards to his mother. Anything that would make you feel like you’re not completely helpless. But you need to find something else that you can be the boss of. Remind yourself of the things that make you feel like a badass. It doesn’t matter how silly or stupid they are. It can be as difficult as a project that you think will change the world, or as easy as playing a song that always gets you high. Do that.
Ninth: Do not listen to Kygo’s remix of “Brother.” It will not cheer you up.
Tenth: There is no tenth, but I really wanted one. So eat more leafy green vegetables.
ETA I CHANGED IT TO 2015 I DON’T KNOW WHY I KEEP CALLING THIS YEAR 2016