The first time I was given the silent treatment, it took me by surprise.
My husband’s response to something he didn’t agree with was to blank me completely, not just for hours but for entire days on end. For up to 10 days, 10 days during which greetings and other polite chit chat designed to re-establish dialogue would be met with silence.
Not a word, not a look, nothing.
This is how I unwittingly perfected the art of invisibility, i.e. the act of disappearing in my own home while still being very much there.
To be deemed unworthy of any kind of attention whatsoever by the person who supposedly loves you is soul-destroying. And it hurts even more when you’re incapacitated by mental illness you can’t afford to treat and keep wondering what, exactly, to keep living for, if anything.
During those five years, compassion and human warmth were in such short supply that my two cats became my only source of emotional support and love.
And yet, I got used to human silence and learned how to detach lest it should pull me under completely. It doesn’t mean I didn’t feel anything; it means I taught myself to systematically dismiss those feelings lest they should take over and paralyze me.
In short, I force myself not to care and I’ve had to practice detachment so often that it is now a coping mechanism.
Watching one human heart break in real time is unbearable, especially when it’s your own and whatever you do to protect it is never enough.
The first time I was left behind, it took me by surprise.
I was still getting ready to go out to the market with my friends but when I emerged from the bathroom, the apartment was empty. There had been no words shouted through the bathroom door; there was no note, there was no text on my phone, there were most definitely no friends either.
This is how I unwittingly discovered I had mastered the art of becoming ignorable, too, on top of the ability to become invisible. It seemed to work on other people than my husband, too. Those are some serious superhero level powers that I, regular Jane, wouldn’t in a million years have expected to acquire.
To be left behind by those who supposedly cares enough about you to have offered you the hand of friendship for quite a long time by then is bizarre.
Confusing. And inevitably reminiscent of an all-too-familiar reality, like an echo, itself an echo.
The pain was unspeakable.
Not just that, but the echo still rings in my ears to this day because it would never have occurred to deploy my Teflon armor anywhere other than at home. It wouldn’t work with people who make me feel safe; it wouldn’t work with people I trust not to hurt me.
It wouldn’t work with people who have been a steady source of compassion and human warmth since I came back to Europe.
And yet, they had left me behind. The minute I realized that, my brain short-circuited.
I was — and still am — relearning how to feel after being numb for so long. I was — and still am — relearning how to let my heart guide me again after it fell silent for so long. I was — and still am — relearning how to be a human in the world, how to claim just enough space to call my own so I can be alive again without apologizing for existing.
Instead, I had just been shown I had dematerialized more than I initially thought.
Watching one human heart break in real time is unbearable, especially when it’s your own and whatever you do to nurture it is never enough.
The first time my heartfelt words had no noticeable impact, it still took me by surprise.
I understood why and even expected a person who was likely miserable being married to me to tune me out by neither replying nor reacting. But I rather hoped this was an isolated situation given the monogamous nature of marriage.
Would anyone else with blood flowing through their veins, of reasonable intelligence, and with good vision and good hearing tune me out? Why even would they?
I’m the bearer of good news for once; I’m the sharer of sudden epiphanies that make you giddy with joy and relief. I’m, well, an awkward human with a heart for compass and it works!
Look, look, it works, all thanks to you! Hey, fellow human, you did that! Thank you.
My excitement level was that of a little kid on Christmas morning the first time they’re old enough to grok it’s not a regular morning.
I had been anticipating this moment for weeks on end, the very thought of it giving me the strength to withstand some difficult situations.
However, when I combined it with the pithiest formula possible, it bombed. It wasn’t a good headline; it wasn’t even a good photo caption; it was a shortcut that became worthless without the chapters it refers to.
Apparently, I didn’t only write them; I was also the only one to read them.
Because there’s always someone who knows it all and doesn’t need to read the manual. Unlike me, with a brain designed for comfort and not for speed. Unlike me, with a brain subject to frequent service interruptions depending on the weather and thus probably not optimized for routine.
And this isn’t the winning mental configuration when you happen to be a little too literally minded, as I am. As a result, I intuit a lot of things I can’t always articulate successfully and never without solid evidence and prior research.
This is how I unwittingly lost my intuition, too, as it became scrambled with empathy and fear until I could no longer tell what was what.
Because my words, be they print or speech, were never even dignified with a reply or a reaction. Given that language is my livelihood and that I considered myself an effective communicator, that was quite the punch to the stomach. I felt myself age 10 years in a day, woke up with shock still alive in my eyes while my entire body feels so heavy I’m afraid of making a hole in the floor when I move.
The last 48 hours have made me want to run away from everyone and everything so many times I could never have tracked them had I tried. But Google reads my mind and has prefaced most of my searches with the local suicide prevention phone number.
The first time I saw it, I was taken aback, mildly miffed, and adamant the search engine’s algorithms were wrong as what I had been looking for wasn’t related. But then I had to admit the AI was correct.
Watching one human heart break in real time is unbearable, especially when it’s your own and whatever you do to soothe it is never enough.
The first time I felt humiliated by love was at the hands of my mother and it took me by surprise.
I may still have been clueless about much of life but even though learning to speak may still be a few years away, instinct is present from a young age.
In the interest of full disclosure, on the rare occasions I let someone into my life, I do tell them about this so they know to expect unusual reactions.
By that point, it is generally implied and inferred that I’m a somewhat awkward human whose heart is fighting her cumbersome brain.
I do all I can to protect those closest to me from the fallout; I’m terrified of driving them away because I contain too much darkness.
And I make sure I communicate, sometimes clumsily but always sincerely.
Well, I try and I keep at it relentlessly but I’m still getting zero points for effort. Zero points for putting my heart on the line either, which means that if it ever breaks I’m probably dead as my brain doesn’t work well, remember?
Watching one human heart break in real time is unbearable, especially when it’s your own and whatever you do to keep it alive it is never enough.
So you tell yourself that, perhaps, you’re still learning how to do love. So you vow to cherish those close to you even more and show them how much they mean to you as often as you can without smothering them.
One day, perhaps your love will be good enough to share with another human who will treasure it as much as you do, and who will treasure you as much as you do them. And they will never ever let you sink into self-destructive doubt and darkness because it’s easier than finding the courage to express something, anything that would put your heart and mind at rest instead of leaving you in limbo.
If they do not, you can’t make them. You can always ask but if they can’t find it in themselves to do so then perhaps it’s because you don’t matter to them as much as you thought you did. Maybe they’re too embarrassed to say so as such words are never pleasant to hear or speak, or maybe they’re too mortified they’ve hurt you to apologize and comfort you.
What if they were even more terrified than you were of owning up to their feelings because they feel that doing so could jeopardize a fragile equilibrium just as precarious as your own?
Love protects, nurtures, and soothes; love is empowering, not weakening.
Even if it is the result of happenstance, love that is self-aware will fight for survival, growth, and a chance to bloom with patience, grace, and forgiveness.
Humiliation, meanwhile, will eventually recede and become one more hoop you had to jump through to relearn how to communicate more effectively.
Good love is resilient, isn’t it? All I know is that you don’t ever give up on your life force, no matter what it takes.
I’m a French-American writer, journalist, and editor living out of a suitcase in transit between North America and Europe. To continue the conversation, follow the bird. For email and everything else, deets in bio.