Pretend that You’re Feeling a Little More Pain

On Friday I was awarded 5 out of 5 possible experience points (XP) for role-playing my (tabletop RPG) character exceptionally well. My secret: I genuinely felt the wide range of emotions she exhibited, from pride to concern to fear to sadness to disgust at the vengeance another player character (PC) took out on an adversary (non-player character / NPC). I was raw and in the moment, responding to what was going on around me with relative ease… while still thinking about how my character would react, what she would say, etc. It was … brilliant, really. I had a lot of other exceptional, long-time role players to, well, play off of. We just get into character and go, and a story weaves itself, and the next thing I know I’m both exhausted and elated having experienced and expressed just about every emotion possible for the past several hours and having accomplished something meaningful… albeit in our collective imagination.

Then Fox and I took the weekend as down-time, which for me meant playing The Sims 3. All weekend. I’m happy with how my game is going and I’m getting to explore aspects of the game that I haven’t already beaten to death, so it’s a mostly neutral-to-positive experience. Except that my body hates sitting at the computer all day and the sims do really stupid, frustrating things and I’m starved for meaningful interpersonal interaction. I know I could pick up the phone or leave my house or actually interact with Fox (not that we haven’t been interacting at all, it’s just been sporadic and not satisfying enough to counteract the effects of staring at a computer screen all day) … but I’m kind of having some issues with intimacy. I don’t want to talk about how I feel or what’s going on in our relationship or my goals and dreams. He gets so angry whenever anything related to his career goals or working comes up that I find it best to just avoid the topic and let him exist on my the couch consuming the internet nonstop. And he comments on so many things that I do – how I’m sitting, whether/what I’m eating, what I’m reading or (heaven forbid) laughing at online, how I’m responding to the sims – that I don’t feel comfortable expressing myself musically or decluttering or otherwise doing anything really noticeable (heaven forbid I should distract him from his videos). If I were to actually go out and do something, then I’d have to explain myself and he might want to come with me so I’d have to wait for him and so on… *sigh* It’s a mess. To make things even worse, I’ll be sexually aroused sometimes but grossed out by the thought of any sexual acts (e.g. “what goes where? eww!” and don’t even get me started on bodily fluids) so I just try not to get too expressive when we are affectionate. Between that and the pain I’m having in my bad tooth and jaw and sinuses and ear (possibly affecting my hearing) I just want to leave my body for a while… but if I could, I might never come back…

Anyways I was playing The Sims 3 yesterday and, out of nowhere, “Cry” by Faith Hill starts playing on repeat in my head. Here’s a link to the official music video on YouTube.

If I had just one tear running down your cheek
Maybe I could cope maybe I’d get some sleep
If I had just one moment at your expense
Maybe all my misery would be well spent

Could you cry a little
Lie just a little
Pretend that you’re feeling a little more pain
I gave now I ‘m wanting
Something in return
So cry just a little for me

If your love could be caged, honey I would hold the key
And conceal it underneath the pile of lies you handed me
And you’d hunt those lies
They’d be all you’d ever find
And that’d be all you’d have to know
For me to be fine

Yeah…. And you’d cry a little
Die just a little
and baby I would feel just a little less pain
I gave now I’m wanting
Something in return
So cry just a little for me

Give it up baby
I hear you’re doin’ fine
Nothins gonna save me
I can see it it your eyes
Some kind of heartache
Darlin give it a try
I dont want pity
I just want what is mine

quoted from AZLyrics.com

At the time I interpreted it to be my frustration at not being able to feel anything while I was playing The Sims 3. The game has a nice numbing effect and I tend to turn to it when I’m feeling miserable. I’m still not ready to cope with the death of Robin Williams and I miss my pet rat Trouble terribly and I’m questioning whether it’s wise to even try to finish my masters’ degree in part because I had to get an extension for my summer class and I still have an F on my transcript from the last time I did that and my finances are in shambles and I can’t keep my act together long enough to take a course never mind finding and keeping a job and I have to wait two weeks before I’ll even be prescribed Lamictal and I don’t know if it will work and the infection in my gum will probably spread to my brain by the time I can have a dentist look at it and I don’t even know what I need to do to plan for my wedding in less than two months that my aunt might not be able to make because of her boyfriend’s health issues and I just want to take a walk outside and enjoy the nice weather and maybe enjoy some of the nice “yay it’s autumn!” activities friends post about on Facebook but I can’t pull myself away from the computer and FOX DOESN’T SEEM TO CARE ABOUT ANY OF IT AT ALL!!! All he cares about are the games he’s playing and what he’s going to eat and maybe the occasional hug, when he wants one. Well, based on our interactions as of late.

It would be nice if he would show that he cared about something like “hey, it’s gorgeous out, let’s go for a walk” or “hey, let’s finally straighten up like we’ve been saying we need to for over a year now” or “you said the mum needs to be watered, would you like me to do that?” or even “I love you, let me massage your feet while reciting Klingon love poetry” … yeah, that’s not going to happen. Once upon a time he was actually romantic but now… Now I don’t really want him to be romantic. The sexiest thing he could do now is get the fuck off the computer and go out with his scores of 7 on the Burns depression checklist since he started taking Wellbutrin / bupropion and earn a steady income we could use to get out of credit card debt (that’s affecting my credit rating, not his) and feed ourselves.

I spent most of the day yesterday numbly playing The Sims 3 and directing Faith Hill’s scathing lyrics at myself instead of him, followed by a couple of hours literally roaring at him. I mean I looked at him and yelled “Roar!” and he yelled back (playfully) “Rawr!” and I got even angrier and yelled “Roar!” and eventually he started sounding angry when he replied, “Roar!” and it felt good to get the anger out but it didn’t do anything useful. And then I went to bed and poured my heart out in my paper journal and had weird dreams about floods and dancing and actually feeling the wind on my skin for once which was awesome. Today I woke cold and alone and in pain. He got angry at me as I was looking online to find him someone else to call because the person he’s supposed to contact about his internship is never in his office and doesn’t have office hours posted and doesn’t reply to emails. He yelled at me and didn’t thank me and didn’t apologize. And he’s content to know this post is “going well.” I can’t live like this.

I guess what I’m trying to say is, I’m better at feeling the emotions of fictional characters than my own emotions because the latter are overwhelming and largely in response to factors I feel I have no control over. I’m angry at Fox for not seeming to care and not taking initiative. He apologized after reading this post and we talked a little, but we’re still having trouble connecting. It’s so tempting to just disappear.

Ending a Life

I was starting to get tired of the patriarch of my The Sims 3 family, so I ended his life. He was an elder, a grandfather, he’d already accomplished his lifelong goal, and he wasn’t playing a useful role in my game anymore. It was simply time for him to go. All I had to do was use the “testingcheatsenabled true” cheat code, shift-click on him, and select “trigger age transition” to make him die of old age (earlier than he would have if I’d left it up to the game).

He went peacefully. He greeted, shook hands with, and even smiled at Death – literally. This sim was as ready to go as I was to get rid of him.

Alexander III greets Death happily, ready to move on, while his wife Elaine watches.

Alexander III greets Death happily, ready to move on, while his wife Elaine watches.

I could have moved on to the vacation I’ve been planning for rest of the family, if it were not for their (entirely understandable and quite realistic) reaction to the patriarch’s passing. The look on Elaine’s face in the above picture says it all. She is so hurt and terrified as she gazes at Death – and at her own future. Not only will she have to spend the rest of her life without her lifelong partner, but she will probably follow in his footsteps soon.

The elder couple’s adult son and daughter-in-law, both of whom were at work when Alexander III died, came home as soon as they found out, too distraught to be much use. Considering he is a substitute teacher and she is a medical intern, it makes a lot of sense for them to take off from work and avoid having a negative impact on their vulnerable students and patients, respectively. (Not to mention, you know, tending to their own and Elaine’s emotional needs. I almost left that part out!)

The two children in the household, however, remained in school and even attended their after-school activities, both oblivious to the patriarch’s death until they arrived home at the normal time. I’m not sure whether this is how most families would handle the situation, or whether it is truly congruent with my own experience. Maybe it’s what I wish I could have done or tried to do: postpone dealing with the truth and my emotions for as long as possible by focusing on school. Somehow I have the perception that adults – at least in the Sims 3 universe – think this is how best to help children cope with death. All the surviving adults have an automatic memory: “Alexander III Died” – but the children never received it.

Elaine spent the next day sleeping, while her son (Alexander IV – creative, I know!) and daughter-in-law (Li-Ying) took off from work. The children had to go to school because there is no option to call out sick or otherwise get permission to take off, and the grade consequence for missing a day is fairly dire.

They had a funeral that evening. It was as simple a gathering as one can have when a good portion of the first floor of one’s house is a giant banquet hall; Elaine served absolutely fantastic spaghetti and tomato sauce (and, in the process of making it, reached the maximum skill level in Cooking). Originally I was just going to post a couple of pictures to give a basic idea of what the funeral looked like, but then I realized something:

Every sim’s reaction to the patriarch’s death, as I chose to represent it, is an aspect of my own reaction to the deaths in my family – particularly the death of my father.

Alexander IV cries on Li-Ying's shoulder, mourning his father.

Alexander IV cries on Li-Ying’s shoulder, mourning his father.

First, you have the obvious: the Mourning Son, who cries on his wife’s shoulder. What do we have, if we can’t lean on the people we love, and who love us?

Typically, in Western culture (and perhaps others), it is expected that a man will be stoic, that he will not cry. If he does cry, either he is weak, or something truly horrible has happened. This sim has the Disciplined personality trait, suggesting that he usually has good control over his emotions. For him to cry … Clearly, he is in a lot of pain.

I think, in my own life, it has generally been my role to be the eye of the storm – the semblance of calm sanity in the midst of chaos.

In my darkest hour, I couldn’t cry. When I’m feeling the most vulnerable, I do everything in my power to keep from feeling and expressing my emotions. So, I see crying as a sign of great strength. Something horrible has happened, and this sim has the strength and courage to be completely honest about it – with himself, and with his wife.

He is also in a place where it is safe for him to cry. That’s something I don’t always feel I have; I wonder whether / to what degree men (and women, and folk who don’t identify as either) can relate?

Li-Ying comforts her husband; though sad herself, she thinks she can only imagine what he must be feeling.

Li-Ying comforts her husband; though sad herself, she thinks she can only imagine what he must be feeling.

At the funeral, Li-Ying is finally able to cry on the shoulder of someone who does not need her support: a friend from work.

At the funeral, Li-Ying is finally able to cry on the shoulder of someone who does not need her support: a friend from work.

Next, there is the Comforter: the person whose shoulder is cried on. Whatever she may be feeling, whatever she may need, whatever support she may (hope to?) receive later, in this moment, her role is to support someone else. She sets her needs aside and holds the other person – whose need to cry she perceives as greater and/or more important than her own.

There is definitely a sense of hierarchy in this role, and of being at or near the bottom of the totem pole. The daughter-in-law is in a particularly difficult position. She was close enough with the patriarch to feel a great deal of pain at his passing, but her relationship with him was not as significant as the relationship between father and son. It would not be appropriate for her to lean on her husband, who has enough pain of his own, or on her child, whom she feels obligated to protect. Even though she has known the patriarch longer, she feels her child has even more of a right to mourn than she herself does – after all, it was the child’s grandfather who died!

The comforter may not receive support until there is someone present with less of a relationship to the deceased than herself: in this case, one of her friends from work who came to the funeral to support her emotionally. At the funeral, the appropriate behavior is to be sad and to cry. The comforter is finally free to be comforted by the guests who came to give the whole family their condolences.

Surrounded by the guests at the funeral, Elaine is completely unable to connect with them. All she can feel or think about is her sorrow.

Surrounded by the guests at the funeral, Elaine is completely unable to connect with them. All she can feel or think about is her sorrow.

The Ghost: Elaine stands in the middle of the party, surrounded by everyone she invited to celebrate her husband’s life and mourn his passing. People are enjoying the delicious food she cooked. They are talking. They are even dancing! The whole room around her is so full of life …

But she sees, hears, and feels none of it. All she knows is the pain she feels; how much she misses him; how devastated she is to have to go on without him. She feels like her life is over; none of this has any meaning for her anymore.

And worst, they seem oblivious to her plight, almost as though she is invisible. She can imagine them walking right through her. Clearly, they can go on living their lives without her. She can just fade away into the shadows. “From dust, to dust you shall return.” Their lives will go on; you will not be missed.

I was thinking of having her be the next to die, through the same means as the patriarch. This is intended to be a kid-friendly game, so we’ll say she died of a combination of old age and “heartache.”

This is the part of myself I have to fight, more frequently than I care to admit, to stay alive.

Ruth pours drinks for the guests to enjoy, feeling detached from "their" sorrow.

Ruth pours drinks for the guests to enjoy, feeling detached from “their” sorrow.

The Servant: So far, I have gone out of my way to avoid mentioning this character. But then I thought: “she is my voice in this narrative.”

Ruth – the resident “cleaning specialist” – is the one who feels sad because the people around her are hurting, but is not particularly sad about the patriarch’s departure herself. (She is my voice in the narrative because I chose to end the patriarch’s life, but am saddened by the realistic – if exaggerated – expressions of sorrow by the sims.)

She would not even be at the funeral – or involved with the family at all – if it were not her job. She goes through the motions out of respect – and fear – but she finds no meaning in them.

The secret she holds near to her heart, and will never admit to anyone, is that she is actually happy that the patriarch – her employer – has “moved on.” She is now free from his authority. When the Servant looks at her future following the patriarch’s death, she sees less constraint in every aspect of her life. She sees herself able to let her guard down a bit, able to be more spontaneous, possibly even able to prioritize her own wants, needs, and values.

The Servant is the part of me that believes the deaths that have occurred in my family – particularly the death of my father – have actually had a positive effect on my life. I don’t know what kind of person I’d be if he were still alive to influence and possibly constrain my decisions. But I do know that I’ve been able to determine my own beliefs and values – and live by them more genuinely – since he died; his death caused my links to members of that family, as well as to traditional patriarchal religion, to be severed.

It is important to note that Ruth is a Black woman of lower socioeconomic status than the wealthy, predominantly White family she serves. This observation is not meant to cast judgment upon any individuals or groups, but to reflect the intersecting systems of racism, sexism, and class-ism that still:

  • privilege white people, while oppressing people of color
  • privilege cis men, while oppressing trans men, cis women, trans women, and people who don’t fit into any of these categories
  • privilege the wealthy, while oppressing those who are impoverished by the former’s wealth

and so on … to do justice to this topic would go very far beyond the scope of this post. I’ll just ask this one question: Why should the needs, wants, and values of wealthy white male society take precedence over the needs, wants, and values anyone else might have?

It’s so tempting to just end the post here, but I … I need to say this:

Brandi enjoys the delicious food served at the funeral, paying little attention to what is going on around her.

Brandi enjoys the delicious food served at the funeral, paying little attention to what is going on around her.

Sometimes, “I’m just here for the food” – or, rather, I (frequently) use food to manage difficult emotions.

For example, when I finish typing this sentence, I’m going to go grab myself a snack …

Sometimes the difficult emotions come from within me: just now, I needed something to distract from the anxiety I feel about revealing these deep, inner, hidden parts of myself – coherently, in writing! Not only do I have to look at them a lot more closely than I’d like, but I also have to show them to you. I’m afraid of what you might think about them, and what the consequences will be for me. I can’t even be sure I’m portraying them accurately.

I often overeat at social events in my efforts to manage my anxiety about interacting with multiple people, many of whom I might not know well.

Other times, the difficult emotions (at least seem to) come from other people. It might be from the general chaos of multiple conversations going on at once, or it might be more sinister.

Funerals are particularly difficult because everyone is (probably) struggling with much if not all of the range of responses I’ve been describing, plus others: anger, guilt, sadness, feeling abandoned, denial, etc. After a while – sometimes sooner than others – it becomes too much. Like Brandi (Ruth’s daughter) I just need to focus on an extremely satisfying sensory experience and block everything else out.

Yuan cannot even bear to be present at her grandfather's funeral. She escapes to the kitchen and plays with her imaginary friend instead.

Yuan cannot even bear to be present at her grandfather’s funeral. She escapes to the kitchen and plays with her imaginary friend instead.

Last, but not least, there is the Deserter.

(not to be confused with the desserter – that’s Brandi)

I’m inclined to argue that this is the least healthy part of myself – even more dangerous than the Ghost.

So far, I have been dealing with the Ghost effectively. It hasn’t always been easy – often, I’ve felt unsuccessful – but I have been able to do it.

My proof? I’m still here.

The Deserter, in contrast, regularly wins our confrontations and has the potential to destroy my life. It operates on so many levels, where do I even begin?

The Deserter is when I spend multiple entire days playing The Sims 3. It is escapism. The danger? I neglect everything else: all my other obligations, even important aspects of my physical and especially mental health.

But it goes deeper than that: It tries to sabotage my interpersonal relationships. It tests people, tries to push them away by making my behavior unbearable. It breaks promises. It shows up late – or not at all.

It convinces me that I am not like them; I cannot trust them; I don’t deserve them.

But it goes deeper than that: It severs me from myself.

I feel detached from my emotions. I have loud, verbally abusive arguments with myself (in my mind). I question myself, criticize myself harshly.

I have trouble perceiving and accepting that I am a person: a unique, individual, embodied being in this world that others can perceive, interact with, respond to, and maybe even like. I don’t know what I think I am … maybe that’s the problem.

Maybe I think I’m not.

Sometimes reality is so painful that I don’t want to be real. I’d rather write stories about one or more fictional characters, or play out a story someone else has written. I can’t identify with or even see (accurately) the person everyone else around me is interacting with, and through which I’m trying to have some connection with the outside world …

Speaking of stories, there is hope for Elaine. As I said, I was planning to “trigger age transition” to make her die of old age early, too. But then, something remarkable happened:

I had her bring her husband’s remains to the graveyard, where she found a nice open area for him. After she had mourned him, she got a new Wish: to learn the Writing skill.

She could write about her experiences and emotions and possibly influence other sims. There was still room for her to learn new things and to grow; she had not stagnated.

Elaine begins writing her first book, a reflection on her recent experiences titled: "To Lose the One You Love."

Elaine begins work on her first book – a reflection on her recent experiences titled: “To Lose the One You Love.”

She can leave her own unique legacy through her words.