I’ve become so skilled at numbing myself in order to soldier on through more rounds of IVF. Another IVF cycle ended in failure about three weeks ago. And we have no more embryos left. I’ve stopped counting what number this round was. I sat, blankly, in the kitchen at work, as my dear friend from Paris cried for me. She was heartbroken on my behalf. I was envious of her ability to set the tears free.
I don’t typically allow myself to cry when I get soul-crushing news from the doctor’s office because I’m worried that if I start, I won’t stop. This is a credible fear because the sadness in my heart is that massive. There’s no unraveling “just a little bit.” In my mind, it’s an all or nothing game – keep it together, or have a 5150-level breakdown. I do not want that. I rationalize the numbness away by telling myself I’m just moving forward. I’m manning up. Not dwelling.
My expert numbing skills were honed at age 22 when my heart was broken for the first time at the hands of a boy. My first true love. When he left, I wailed on the carpet in the fetal position… hair matted, mascara smudged all over my cheeks, hyperventilating. I whispered to my mom on the phone, “I don’t know how to breathe.” I’d never touched such a grief before. The experience rattled me. It was my first encounter with a certain batch of untouched nerve-endings in my brain being stimulated and scorched all at once. When I recovered some time later, I was disgusted with myself. I was shocked at my lameness. My corniness. How cliché I had been, a helpless damsel on the floor of her Santa Monica apartment. Sobbing in the therapists office, panicking. I felt like a traitor to my feminist ideals. Someone take my NOW card now!
I swore to myself that I would toughen up. I watched Michel Gondry’s Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and decided that if I couldn’t delete my sad memories like they could in that film (something I would have paid my life’s fortune to do) then I would have to forge a massive fortress around my heart and stop feeling my emotions so severely. I would need to be more strong. Less feeling. I rewired my brain to enter a meditative state of emotional avoidance, lest any event I encounter get too sad.
Years later, many losses later, highs and lows, and family-building trials that would take me to the edge of an emotional cliff, I find some kind of ironic safe harbor in the dysthymia (latent depression) I forced myself into. Life is just too sad. I cannot shoulder her boundless tragedies. And so, I numb. I digitize, I scroll, I flip and reddit and, gram and shop and scan. I nerd out on mindless gossip and ingredients lists; I escape into the destructive arms of the world wide ether, and I try not to feel.
I numb myself through my infertility and when people praise me for my strength and say, “Wow! 14 rounds of IVF! How do you do it?” the truthful answer I should give is, “I do it by walking around, numb.”
Numbness has also fuelled my full transparency with the whole-wide-world about my infertility. Because I don’t care, even in the slightest, who knows or doesn’t know. Numbness has let all my shame off the hook. I am indifferent – I neither love nor hate – when someone shudders at my infertility-overshare. I’m blank to the world’s response. Is that a good or a bad thing, I just don’t know?
When I admitted my “emotional avoidance” tactics to my fertility acupuncturist, she bit her lower lip and gave a blink that became a sigh. Some visits later, she slipped me the name of a good psychologist I could talk to. Maybe she’s on to something. I haven’t called her yet, but I tucked her business card in my purse.
Here’s what I learned in the last few months. Something really scary happens when you go numb. Brené Brown told me in a podcast she participated in for Dax Shepard’s Armchair Expert. “You numb yourself to the joy.” You become incapable of experiencing grief’s greatness counterpoint: joy. That ol’ elusive happiness.
And that is even sadder than feeling sadness. Just knowing the destructiveness of my survival tactic has nudged me toward a more emotionally healthy path, where I slowly express my sadness. Writing this down helps. Thank you for reading. One day soon, the rain will return to Denmark, and I’ll let the storm in my heart out. Until then, I just have to keep going and fight for my family. The tears can come when that part is sorted. xo