I know how to have my heart check out.
When I feel myself being erased or hurt, my politeness keeps going, but I shift into concierge mode. I keep a smile, stay mentally engaged in the conversation and recording whatever is happening for future processing, even as I become emotionally disconnected.
Most people don’t notice this shift in me. Whatever they did to slight me, to cut me to the core is invisible to them, it just part of their automatic routine. I can try and highlight the moment after the work is done, but the odds are that they will be baffled by my comment since they just “did what came naturally.” To those who don’t immerse themselves in therapy, the construction of their own choices, the meta moving underneath, is just not present.
Emotionally shutting down, putting up the big metal barriers and continuing on, is the way that I learned to operate in the world. I understood very early that the world cared nothing for my comfort or happiness, that if I showed my distress I would just be seen as vulnerable, told to man up or be mocked, humiliated and shamed.
I learned to monitor and control my emotions while staying protected in the fortress of thought.
For me, shutting down emotionally was the only way to accomplish anything in the world. I had to put away my own discomfort, my urge to fight, flight or freeze, my desire to choose the feminine, my pain at being slashed, stowing it in the vault while I moved on to get work done.
Processing off line, back when I was safe in my bunker, was the only way I could figure out to be safe. I didn’t have a partner who saw me, who could tend to my wounds as I tended to them, didn’t have a network of friends to open up and share with and certainly didn’t have parents who could help me understand and negotiate the emotional challenges of a life.
Gritting my teeth as I felt kicked and punched was the only way I knew how to survive.
I remember a meeting where my boss disclosed changes to the PR rep from Regis McKenna and she was stunned. She asked who knew this and he said nobody. Pointing to me, she said that I must have known because I showed no surprise or emotional response. When we assured her that I did not, she was impressed by my cool affect, a PR flak’s dream client.
What she didn’t understand was how much I had spent my life keeping what I felt inside inside of me, keeping my face frozen, professional and polished even though I felt gut punched. Nobody who hasn’t developed this concierge mode can really understand the power and the cost of it.
My heart may have been in turmoil, bruised, battered and bleeding, but my brain kept on keeping on, leaving me upright and functioning.
To me, that technique threads through all my blog posts, strong sensible clear writing that attempts to convey the intensity of my emotional experience in the world. This is where I discharge and disclose in a way that I have to forfeit in my everyday passage through life.
The world is an unsafe place, ready to strike out to silence me with pain and shame, a place where my emotions are beyond the pale, too much, queer and ugly. To be functional and polite, I need to be able shut them away, to have my heart check out, freeze my face and keep being professional.
This is my embodiment of the fundamental duality, a tame, strong cerebral façade and a wild shattered emotional interior, isolated and queer. My intensity shows on both sides, but only the armour keeps functioning in the world.
For me, this is a key to why I usually walk in androgynous clothes, not showing my feminine heart, because I don’t need to learn to wall up in a skirt too. It is my emotions I need to connect with, but I learned very early that they are just too unconventional and intense for most people to engage.
When I feel my heart being challenged, I let it go and break silently while my head keeps on with what needs to get done. A pastor who helped my family understood a tiny bit of this as she watched me sob absolutely silently, my body wracked but with no keening wail to put others on edge, to build a bigger barrier between me and them.
Having your heart occupy it’s own safe room is always going to be a lonely experience, no matter how much your mind interprets those feelings in the world. Shutting away your heart may well help you survive in the world, but unless you find a way to have the needs of your heart met, to be mirrored and caressed, it is a tough life.
I know how to have my heart shattered while I keep functioning. I know how to explain this experience in the world.
There are days, though, I don’t know how to blossom and thrive with a shattered heart that nobody seems to engage or even notice.