10 October, 2010

I refuse to feel bad

As Pete Campbell once said, "I refuse to feel bad." What an awesome thing to say! I love Pete Campbell! However, I guess he kind of should have felt bad, right, in that specific situation. Right? I still don't know what we were supposed to think.

The act of refusing to feel bad is very powerful. Especially for me.

I think this is partly the case because I sometimes feel bad about things that other people don't feel bad about, and vice versa. So forcing myself to feel bad because I know that someone else feels bad, combined with a reluctance to express that I feel bad, becomes a way of denying my own experience.

It is also the case that I grew up with someone who, to put it mildly, had a lot of feelings. By the time I officially decided this wasn't my fault, I was old enough to vote and almost old enough to buy alcohol. Obviously I cry, and sometimes people I love cry and my reaction isn't defensiveness. However, there is a certain type of angry crying which I've now come to see as a weapon, and when someone starts angry-crying at me, it makes me want to disengage as fast as I can from what is going on.

This is very mixed up in politics with me because I think a lot of opposition to disability rights/anti-ableism is expressed in the form of angry crying, or something that looks pretty similar. "Shut up! Disability is so horrible! It doesn't matter if you're disabled and I'm not, you should listen to me because I'm crying!" (Sorry to be such a bitch, but admit it: you know what I mean.)

Refusing to feel bad can go hand in hand with trying to feel good. An example of this is meeting someone with a quote unquote "significant" disability and actually getting to know them and see how they feel about things. Getting to know someone is a lot of fun and I would absolutely recommend it every time over reading a parent or professional's negative description of what a disability is like. Even in cases where the person is in tremendous pain, their life will still be more complicated than "this disability is bad and you should feel bad."

The problem though is that it's not that easy for me to say, "Well, I don't feel bad about disability (mine or someone else's), and if someone else thinks I should, then fuck them," because, you know, some people who think I should are people in my quote unquote real life, like family members and friends. And since I've started refusing to feel bad (a condition which developed between the ages of twenty and twenty-one-and-a-half, more or less), I have made people angry-cry by telling them that I think they're being offensive and that they're hurting my feelings (often about disability stuff, but sometimes about other stuff).

At this point, I sort of start to get bogged down, because I know that writing this blog is kind of a special interest. Even though some stuff that I write here is about my and other people's experiences, in a straightforward way, lots of other posts just consist of me poring over pop culture or really tiny inconsistencies in language and identity preferences and blah blah blah. And I haven't always been into this stuff.

So I mean--should I be able to separate the part of me that wants to say these things from the part of me that is close with those people? It's weird because I haven't always wanted to say these things, or felt able to say them, and also because if I have a history with someone that involves fuckups on both our parts (more mine, for sure, with some of the people in question) it's not a situation where I can just be like "oh they suck, they're just refusing to acknowledge their privilege. This is boring, I give up." They don't suck--they're a real person.

Maybe I suck.

Maybe I'm just being an asshole and this is just like getting in a fight with someone and making them cry because they don't like a TV show that I really like. Is it like that? I don't think it is. At the same time, when it comes down to it I often don't refuse to feel bad. I often feel really bad. But intellectually, I still don't think I was wrong, but I feel like I would be a bad person if I didn't pretend to think I was wrong so the other person wouldn't be upset anymore.

And so on and such forth.


  1. I get very morally rigid and when people in my family say offensive things I also feel strange about it. I want to keep fighting it out with them until I can make them not say offensive things, but they say I'm being politically correct and I should value my high opinion of them above my ideas. And it often does feel like it's not worth having a huge fight over a few words or an idea. But these are the ideas that are keeping disabled people marginalized in society (and trans people, I've had fights with them over gender isssues/terminology as well).

    I totally know what you mean about the people who insist that their sadness makes disability inherently sad.

  2. Yeah, it's possible I'm being totally self-centered and full of myself about this.

    But if this concerns a recent email of mine at all, don't worry about it. I'm glad you were honest, I just needed some time away to deal with my own shit.

  3. On a completely unrelated note, I find the idea of 'angry crying' totally foreign. It's like, I know people do it, but it's totally strange to me. For me, crying and angry come from such totally separate places.

    And I totally used 'totally' totally too many times there. Like, totally.

  4. Yeah I think I never used that phrase until I made this post but then I was like...wait people are sort of using it as a weapon. Like, because I realized that someone can be crying and it won't be triggering for me at all and I realized that the triggering factor is anger.

  5. Ah, my mom's big thing was guilt. So whenever anyone tries to guilt-trip me...well good luck with that one.

  6. @es,

    Yeah, I thought "angry crying"/"crying as a weapon" was really strange, too.

    I've read/heard about them enough elsewhere that I'm sure Amanda isn't making it all up, but they're totally foreign to my own experience, which is that crying is a terrible thing you never want to happen but are powerless to stop.

  7. I may not be describing it right; I don't think it's rare enough that you would never have seen anyone do it. I mean, the person in my family doesn't consciously think "I'm going to start angry crying now to upset everyone." But the context in which the person starts crying cause the crying to kind of function as a trump card in whatever conflict is happening.

  8. *causes

    (I admit that there have been occasions when I haven't hidden the fact that I'm crying or have let myself cry when I could have repressed it. It's mainly been when I'm extremely upset and the person I'm with can't read that I'm upset and doesn't respond the way they would if they understood I was serious, and I really need them to respond that way. I still feel a bit bad about not stopping though.)

  9. I guess--and sorry to keep amending this--I'm certainly not trying to get into a situation where I'm saying "crying is blackmail" because that reminds me of Warren Mears, but I guess I feel that once someone is crying in the presence of someone who is the immediate reason they're crying--because they've disagreed, or the person is doing something they don't like, or they're upset about something that happened to the other person--the person who's crying should say, "Oh okay, let's just discuss this some other time when I'm not crying," and possibly just leave/end the interaction altogether.

  10. Ha ha, nice Buffy reference!

    No, I think I understood what you were talking about; I don't *think* I've ever experienced that, because usually I am the person in my circle who is likeliest to cry. (Thank you, severe depression!) And whenever I cry, it is always an accident and I wish I could stop, or never have started. But I can't.

    The only other person I can think of who's cried in a discussion has also been a person with emotional problems, who was going through a particularly rough time and was totally justified in her crying, and who kept going with the discussion as she was crying.

    Usually when *I* start crying in the middle of a discussion, we wait until I have finished and then try to resolve whatever spurred the crying (unless, of course, nothing did --- that's another thing my depression does, is trigger totally random crying and/or shutdown).

    I suspect a few factors might contribute to why so few people in my life cry: 1) most (but certainly not all!) of my intimate friends are men, and men don't seem to cry like women, 2) most of them are also my age or older, i.e. mid-20s to mid-30s, and thus very far from the emotionally fraught adolescent years, and 3) my family is very, very un-emotional and undemonstrative. We value logic, reason and problem-solving, so someone crying is weird, embarrassing and something to be politely ignored until it goes away.

  11. This post, and the comment thread, includes a lot more detail about feelings and my changing (in)ability to deal with them.

    I seem to come from a somewhat different place than you: I am someone who HASN'T generally had a lot of feelings, and now I do, due to a mental illness I'd really love to be rid of. For me, lots of feelings are not normal for me, and it hurts to have them. Because it is not normal for me, I also have very limited coping skills, so they can be pretty disabling.

    Totally with you on crying-as-trump-card in discussions of disability, though! I see a lot of this online, and I think your characterization is dead-on.