The Unbearable Heartbreak of Flightless Birds

I recorded “March of the Penguins” the other night. I lay down to watch it tonight, but because I was so afraid of all the bad things that were bound to happen in a nature documentary, I couldn’t relax. You see, I was afraid of feeling sad. And sure enough, it was 50 minutes of heartbreak punctuated by 10 minutes of “awwwwwwwww!” (Well, actually it was punctuated by 60 minutes of commercials. Thank God for DVRs!)

But I was determined to watch it. I felt like this was a safe, non-threatening way to practice feeling again. You see, my feeler’s broken. Bad feelings make my heart physically ache. And good feelings make my heart physically ache. And it frightens me.

Something happens in life when you get clinically depressed. It becomes easier to feel nothing than to feel any more sadness or hurt. But you can’t just turn off the bad feelings. The exchange is that you turn off all your feelings. No more hope or excitement or joy or anticipation either. All your emotions leave and all that’s left is brain-static and apathy and lethargy.

I think I can properly define my anxiety as the fear of feeling. I don’t know how it happened. Maybe I drank so much I broke the thing in my brain that regulates emotion. (I’ve certainly huddled over the last Sweetwater 420 at a party like a mother penguin protecting her chick.) Or maybe when you reach childbearing years as a woman, some overgrown sense of protective empathy pours in. (That’s quite enough of ALL of that, thank you. Nothing to see here. Move along. Stupid biology!) Or maybe I just got tired of feeling disappointed by so much in my life. But however it happened, it surely didn’t help anything in the long run.

When you start getting better and begin feeling again, or at least trying, sometimes you can’t match up what you’re feeling with an emotion anymore. Or maybe you feel way too much of what you’re feeling. Or maybe your feelings just threaten your sense of inner-peace. It’s incredibly and surprisingly tough to sort out!

So I watched about 45 minutes of “March of the Penguins” through my fingers. Why does that help? That baby penguin is still being carried off by a predatory bird even through that tiny slit between my index finger and thumb.

But, after all that, I tell you, those put-upon penguins were pretty inspirational. It was the story of life, after all. There was struggle and love and birth and loss and sacrifice and triumph. And they kept on marching. Life went on.

I’m glad I made myself watch, even through my fingers. And even when it made my heart hurt, it didn’t kill me. I think it helped point my feeler in the right direction.

I know that I can lay in the safety of the darkness seeing nothing and feeling nothing. Or I can risk the threat of the walrus and set out to see the Northern Lights.

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