What I Learned From a Day Without Emotions
A Personal Essay on A Very Different Type of Day
Today I woke up feeling hungover and under-stimulated. The regular pathways to fill my constant need for stimulation felt underwhelming, and so did the potential of even pretending they were worth my time today.
It’s a strange thing to wake up without emotion, and a stranger thing for it to remain that way for an entire day. For a moment I felt that my research on antisocial personality disorder has gone too far, but even postulating the idea seems hilarious because I experience dramatic shifting emotional states. In fact, in most ways, I am the exact opposite of everything that a sociopath — please excuse my use of an antiquated word for lack of a better, or more relatable word — because I consider myself an “Empath”, if you believe in that sort of thing.
These states aren’t uncanny to me. After all, I experience them every so often, and if I’m honest, it’s my preferred state. If your emotions had a habit of coming in like a wrecking ball, you would agree with me. So excuse me for taking advantage of a helpful and quite peaceful state.
What I want to postulate today is the difference between this state, and my usual bouncing bravado of emotional extremes that I keep leashed behind a mask of acceptable expressions. Let’s first look at my standard “stock” state.
An Average Day in My Brain
First, I wake up on an emotional train of thought in one of two varying directions. Given the morning is the time for getting ready for the day, it begins with existential dread. The mere thought of getting dressed to go into a job that I cannot stand is so anxiety-inducing that I experience a modicum of nausea, along with a high burst of anxiety.
These things quell quickly because by the time I get to the mirror I am ready to appreciate my appearance with a god-complex level of narcissism, or tear it apart with a stringent dose of body dysmorphia. Most days, there is no in between. Everything is black and white. The mirror is my daily red/blue pill moment, and let’s be real honest about the fact that I much prefer the unrealistic god-complex because at least it doesn’t slow me down. I am not that fascinated by my appearance, and I know my looks are average in the best case, but I know also that no one deserves the torment of body dysmorphia.
Now, let’s just assume today is a body dysmorphia day. I will then choose to adorn my body with as many layers of clothing as possible to disguise the monstrosity that is me. My heart is racing, my hands are most definitely sweaty — yeah, I know, it’s gross — and every fiber of clothing on my skin is a war of epic proportions in my brain. Nothing, and I mean not a single damn thing, is okay.
If it’s a god complex day, I dress in one of my favorite outfits, throw on my bracelets and necklaces, style my hair, and give myself a pleased smirk before strolling out the door with all my shit together. It has its advantages, and masquerades me as a normal individual for a day.
However, if it’s a bad day. I’m getting in the car with that two-thousand-pound feeling atop my shoulders. The bluetooth will connect to my phone. I’ll pick whatever playlist vibes with the most dopamine, drive away to work, and try to boost my mood as much as possible to get through the day. The first songs are crucial in this case because the wrong one can crumple me into a mess. Now, I should be clear that this was relational to my existence prior to being medicated. It’s not this bad anymore, but explaining how newly functional I am is not good for comparisons, ok?
Here comes the fun part. At work, a bad day is a scary thing. Will I make a fool of myself? Do something self-destructive, hoping someone will notice and throw me a life raft? Oh, better yet, how many times will I have to grit my teeth through the insatiable urge to walk out on my job? It’s hard to express how palpable the urge is. It’s extreme. The feeling is visceral and I would do anything to avoid it, but I am at work, and the mask of normalcy is clinging for dear life, but god dammit, I am trying.
The hours pass. I make as many of them pass as possible before taking lunch because afterward the urge gets even worse. My brain is throwing a tantrum all day, having a warring rave right behind my big brown eyes. No, you can’t tell. Yes, I seem fine. At work, you would almost never know that I am in any way struggling, but you also can’t hear the rabid screaming of my inner monolog.
Five o’clock comes. I get off work and evacuate the building after small talk and pleasantries with my singular co-worker and lone boss. It’s a big office for only the three of us, but post pandemic life is what it is.
That distinct lack of human interaction provides its own struggles, but they don’t feel relevant, so we can leave it be.
Finally, it’s a bad day, I get home. I don’t change clothes. I do nothing. The couch is tempting, but I go straight to the bed. The stress of disguising my emotions all day has burnt me out. There’s almost nothing left in me despite the desire to do so many things, but after all the fighting for stability, I just don’t have it in me. No writing ever gets done on those days, and if it does, it isn’t very good. Bold of me to assume that any of it is good, I know.
By the time I’ve decompressed enough to feel like I can get anything valuable done, it’ll be time to go to bed. And honestly, I’m beating the crap out of myself for being such a lazy, spoiled brat who can’t get ahold of themselves. The internal abuse is rampant on bad days, but you would never guess because it stays tucked inside. Trust me, I know how bad it is, and no, I don’t want to inflict it upon anyone.
So, that’s a bad day. A good day is the exact opposite. I’ve got charm, wonderful jokes, I get all my work done early, and I get off and write things I’m quite pleased with. There’s not much to say about it other than my arrogance gets bold, but we all have our rough edges, right?
A No Emotion Day
Excuse the weird header there, I’m not sure what else to label this for the sake of understanding here.
Today I woke up feeling nothing outside of nausea from a few too many drinks the night before. It took a bit to get out of bed, but after a little extra hydration, and a fair bit of extra grooming, I felt right as rain. So what did I do with my day, given the complete lack of emotional compulsion?
First, I cleaned. I cleaned the entire house. Systematically and methodically making sure that the apartment matched my mental state. Clear and organized. It didn’t seem like a complicated thing to do at all, which is out of the ordinary for me. Now, I will say that I keep the house pretty clean ever since starting my new medications because I enjoy my surroundings being organized and aesthetically pleasing. However, we were all sick for about a week and things had fallen into quite the state of disarray because no one had the energy to clean.
The house was a mess and now it’s the way I like it. That made me feel at peace, or at least pleased with my surroundings. There was no emotional reaction to this, it just was.
After the house was clean, I assembled the additional shelf on my desk that I had neglected for the past two months. I swear, it’s been on my to do list for that long, every single day, and I had yet to cross it off.
Today was indeed the day to attack old to do list items. So I unassembled the desk, attached the shelf, put it all back together, and reassembled my work from home station. Satisfaction. Now that corner of the room looks how I’ve wanted it to look since I adopted the half-assembled thing from my mother. Could use a few more wisely placed decorations, but we can save that for another day.
By this time, my wife is just now getting off of work, and we had agreed to make a trip to Hobby Lobby for some yarn, and that is what we did. It was a pleasant trip; she stocked up on velvet yarn for a good price, and then we went on about our night. What was different about it? No anxiety — and I mean zero — being surrounded by a store full of people. I felt no impatience, no anger, and no overstimulation. Everywhere we went, I felt such a deep sense of relaxation. For me, this feeling of ease is beyond unfamiliar, even on days that I do experience that sort of empty numbness.
After the yarn adventure, we made a quick stop at the bookstore because… well, who needs a good reason to visit a bookstore. Am I right? Okay, maybe that’s just us nerds, but we had to get in a few good sniffs of the good stuff.
We wandered the aisles for a minute and I found myself in the psychology section. Don’t worry, I didn’t buy the entire shelf, although I always find it hard to pick.
Today I chose a book regarding antisocial personality disorder in all its glorious forms. Not because of my unemotional state — that would be silly, but because I am doing a little character research for my current work in progress. I would like to tell you the name of my upcoming book, but it doesn’t have a working title yet, so we’ll save that for another time.
Okay, we check out our books. I’m still at peace. We go home, cook dinner, and settle in for a little TV time while we eat. There are more laughs, more jokes, full bellies, and a delicious new coffee creamer to experience. All that doesn’t take long, but I feel the rest of my night would be incomplete without reading and writing, so I wandered off on my own and got some work done. I figure this is what I would like to spend my life doing, and it’s best to get some practice in.
And here we are. Up to the present moment, the unfeelingness lives on.
A Quick Note Before We Go Further
First, as an over emotional individual, I have to state that I see this as a superior mode of operation, albeit one with several drawbacks.
Second, this is my experience over the course of a single day, so there are no major discoveries to be found. This is me thinking out loud, hoping it provides some enlightening thought for myself or others. Will I achieve that? Have I already? Who knows, but here we are.
What Have I Gathered From this Experience?
The act of writing this essay would serve no purpose without this last section, so here goes my attempt to analyze, understand, and grow from such a neutral day. I hope to apply this experience to my life in the future. Part of me, a large part of me, wishes it would not go away, but the chances of that are slim.
So with no further bullshit, here’s what I’ve learned.
Whatever The Task, Just Start.
This might be the key point. A normal day in my life means starting any project with a meticulous list to make sure that I stay on topic and have a chance of getting everything done. I make a list, check it twice, and panic because the list is long, drawn out, detailed, and overwhelming. Instead of accomplishing anything, I spend the rest of my time trying to make a list that makes me feel like whatever is being attempted will be successful.
But today I saw things that needed to be done, started doing them, and then finished the task. No list was necessary, and not a single breakdown or stint of paralysis took place. You can call that a Christmas miracle, I suppose. Again, even with medication, it’s pretty rare to experience this level of ease in completing any task.
I would like to hope that experiencing it one time will make it more likely that I can replicate both the sensation and the result. Maybe that’s an essay for another time.
Emotions Control Way Too Much of My Time.
Over the course of the day, I got so many things done that I felt like I had lived two, maybe even three whole days. I spent my hours working, cleaning, enjoying, and living. Maybe that doesn’t sound so out-of-the-ordinary to you, but in my world this is an extreme accomplishment.
The time I spend debilitated by fluctuating emotional states is terrifying. Life is such a brief experience, and I often experience a lot of shame for wasting so much of it trying not to be debilitated by my brain. It’s stressful, painful, depressing, and I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy.
Emotions Are Often Liars
The experience of watching a relaxing situation take a u-turn for the worst in the blink of an eye because of the inner monolog shift at the behest of an emotion is frightening. Living a full day without that disastrous pairing has been perfect.
I think most of us listen to our emotions as a guiding light and a source of cardinal directions. Especially those who identify on an empathic scale. The problem is we’ve all — I assume — watched our emotions lead us into making incorrect assumptions and decisions.
Emotions can be so misleading. How many times have you sent someone an important message, only to check it later on to see that they read it, but there’s no response? That’s a spiral situation for me. The emotions get extreme real quick. They hate me and they’re never going to talk to me again. Obsession loop rumination 101 ensues. Only to find out later that their phone battery died, and now you behaved like an asshole for no reason. I don’t know about you, but I experience that way more often than I care to admit.
Moral of the story is that our feelings are convincing as hell, but it might be best to treat them like unchecked facts, and do your due diligence before taking action. That is so much easier said than done, but it’s worth a shot.
Emotions Get in The Way
The amount of days that I have wasted over sour or extreme emotions is wild, and that’s at least moderately literal. My mind has this tendency to get so wrapped up that it prevents me from experiencing the moment that is happening. I’m living in a war zone that no one around me can see, and it’s exhausting. Some days it’s enough to make me want to give up.
Emotions have ruined dates, writing projects, outings with friends, and even entire vacations. How many times have I dropped a project because I couldn’t let go of the idea that because I feel bad about myself that my work is also bad? How many hang outs have ended sour because I misread someone’s body language, and spent the entire night wanting to cry or leave because I believe that I’m surrounded by people who hate me? God, it’s such a vicious cycle, and it’s painful to express how much life I’ve wasted by allowing emotions to get in the way.
This might be the key reason I feel being unemotional is helpful because this is where I struggle the most. Emotional dysregulation can wreak havoc on your life and every experience in it. I’ll keep my fingers crossed I continue to live in a less turbulent space.
My reality is one of extreme inner turbulence, and a day without that was so mind blowing that I wanted nothing more than to sit down and write this all out. Life is often black and white in my eyes and in my brain. I don’t see things the way most people do, and this day of inner silence provided such a confounding contrast for insight.
Overall, today has been a fascinating and peaceful experience, with an abundance of time spent involved in intellectual activities and productive tasks. Nothing rained on my parade except for brief moments of seething rage, and that qualifies it as a peak experience day in my book.
I learned as much as I accomplished, and I hope that my exploration of this has been interesting, at the very least. I think I’ll spend the rest of the evening enjoying a peaceful cuddling session with my wife. Yes, emotions often interrupt that too.