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No Emotions…

I hang out a little bit on a message board for young gay men, hoping to provide an example of a moderately successful and happy married gay man who is also bipolar. Mostly no one is interested, which is fine, but the other day I got a message from a young woman asking how I deal with not having any emotions. I do have to deal with that issue fairly regularly, but the story goes deeper.

First of all, I’m lucky being bipolar. Nothing ever stays the same. This month, I’ll be emotionless; next month I’ll be alternately laughing hysterically or raging at everything. If you have to have an illness it really is a blessing not to be stuck with the same stuff day-after-day for too long (although any amount of depression is too long!). This dynamic nature means that when my emotions are in hibernation, I can at least remember, fairly recently, what it was like to have them working.

Nevertheless, until recently my depressions would last from six-months to a year. People who met me during those times had an impression of me as a very serious person who never smiles. It’s funny in a way because when I am depressed I go out of my way to smile a lot, but here’s the catch: I once tried practising smiling in a mirror and what I thought were these big broad smiles were barely noticeable rises in the corners of my mouth.

My mother was diagnosed with very serious ovarian cancer a few years ago and my father flew me to their home in the US to be with them. I was already depressed. First of all, I developed a severe case of paranoia that it was all a ruse to get me down there and convert me to evangelical Christianity (my mom is Catholic and my dad is an atheist to show you how silly this was). Luckily I am so used to paranoia that I can simultaneously be prey to it and also ignore it, which is what I did. I suspect the paranoia was my brain attempting to deny the real reason I was going.

Unfortunately I felt nothing about the very scary situation my mother was in. I didn’t want any harm to come to her, obviously, but I wasn’t afraid or sorrowful, either. I knew how I should be reacting, but I didn’t think it was wise to be insincere (since it would be obvious). Instead I explained what was going on and gave my sincerest apologies. To my surprise, my family said I was better the way I was. My mother made a complete recovery. She was very healthy to begin with and she was incredibly lucky. I was pleased, of course, but not overcome with emotion at the good news, either.

Just to put things into perspective, yesterday I was not depressed. We watched “Lady and the Tramp” last night and during the opening scenes where Lady is a puppy howling sorrowfully at being made to sleep in the kitchen I had tears streaming down my face. The thought of something happening to anyone I love will bring tears to my eyes very quickly, too.

When I’m depressed I keep a collection of phrases from movies and TV shows (not famous phrases! just normal conversation) and from my life. I use these to fill the gaps in conversation when I just don’t know what to say. Sometimes the phrases work, and sometimes they don’t. One time I was consulting for a company that was being sold and the gentleman I had been working with for two years was going to lose his job. I told him a joke that I thought would ease the tension, and instead he burst into tears. Later when I wasn’t depressed I realized the joke was absolutely horrible and totally lacked any empathy. One more notch in my ticket to hell.

Anyway, this is sort of how I deal with not having emotions (that is, badly). Getting back to the young woman who asked me the question in the first place. She replied to me that she had lost her emotions as a result of various kinds of abuse at the hands of parents and doctors for liking girls (she is not from North America). I despair because I have nothing magic I can say to her to help. All I can do is selfishly think how lucky I am that nothing as bad ever happened to me.

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