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From Having No Chill To TOO MUCH Chill; When Protection Becomes Poisonous

Jessie Ma1 Comment

Last month, some family stuff blew up in my face. It was ugly. 

But with any problem, the bigger problem was how I perpetuate the negativity in my own head.

So I (and this is rare) publicly asked for help:

I was overwhelmed by the love in each response.

Whether it was self-love, career-love, friendship-love, love-love, all this good news really did help brighten my affect. 

It also, (as I later discovered) prompted a more personal reply from a mysterious friend...

I seldom use Tumblr anymore, but do check it from time to time. 

Sometime after that Facebook status, I saw this message pop up in my mailbox:

You can read the post here.

I still think about Albert every. single. day. But this post still caught me by surprise.

I hadn't forgotten that I'd written about him.. But I did forget what it felt like

To feel love. And loved. To be hurt. To be hopeful.

Nevermind that my writing was sloppy. My intentions were pure. My pain made me choke. My love was so loud. 

It was eerie as hell.

This reminder led me down a rabbit hole. I rediscovered artifacts from past relationships with lovers and friends. Others who made me feel a lot, too.

• When we broke up, he wrote a book about us, immortalizing our story. My favorite chapter was on the time I biked 17 miles to see him for 1 hour. I must've been sweaty, bruised, exhausted, yet all I remember is how he smelled. I could almost taste him again between the pages.

• When we visited Paris, we skipped out on a whole day's itinerary of museum visits and fancy restaurants and indulged in each other, instead. We stayed in the hotel, ordered pizza, talked about the gaps in our childhood we'd missed so far, and made love for hours. I realized that in life, it doesn't matter where you are or what you do. It matters whom you're with. And I was happy – as long as I was with him.

• We hand-wrote letters to each other, refusing to let the convenience of texting usurp our relationship into being impersonal. They're still in a box under my bed. In an age where analog actions are cast aside in favor of instant gratification, I grow increasingly appreciative for how intentional we had to be to get those there. To sit, think, write, fold, sign, seal, deliver. I'm a bit old fashioned in that sense; I view technology as the bane of romance. 

• For my mom's birthday, he played her favorite song for her on his saxophone. She still asks about him, from time to time.

• We daydreamt aloud of our future wedding plans. Outdoor. Close friends and family. I vowed to write the most beautiful vows; he smiled shyly and said he would try his best – "I'm not as good with words." But I knew I would love them anyway. We were 18.

As naïve and dismissible as it seems, young love's purity is a fucking force of nature. The same way a blank canvas holds infinite possibilities for creation, an unbroken heart is able to live and love without the burdensome knowledge of a darker side.

I realized:

The best moment I've ever experienced are the ones that I let myself.


I know much too much to keep "letting myself." 

And you can't really un-know something like heartbreak.

This girl, this past "me," who once boldly trekked through mountains of euphoria and valleys of sorrow, is but a stranger. Her life is like a movie I once watched and can only vaguely recall. 

I sat and stared at the screen, transfixed by "my" own words. 

She had been loved. 

And she had loved.

So, so, so much.


Who is this girl?

Where is she now?

And most curiously / disturbingly / importantly...

What happened to her?

These days,

I don't feel much at all.

The apathy is something to lament in itself, but it's compounded by just how much my emotions meant to me.

I took so much pride in my passion. It was the essence of my identity. In fact, I honestly think there is nothing all that special or memorable about me, save my love for others. 

I would compare my feelings to coffee: "Only piping hot, or ice-cold. If temperatures were an allergen, "Lukewarm" would make me break out in hives."

I loved my love.

When I felt sad, I needed someone to be there for me.

When I was happy, I wished to have someone to share that joy with.

I craved, chased, cherished intimacy.

I wanted, wanted, wanted.


I got hurt.

A lot.


And it made me crazy.

I'm not afraid to admit (and it's not even a secret at this point) how crazy I was. 


I had zero chill. 

And now,

I have way, way, way too much chill

The same innocence and vulnerability that allowed me love so deeply also doubled as the doorway through which heartbreak, rejection, and loss entered my life. 

I didn't want those feelings. 

So I built walls.

Tucked myself safely within them,

and refused to let anyone touch me again.


Colloquially, casually, euphemistically – I'm "chill".

But what this really means is that I am emotionally stunted. 

It's not necessarily that I'm comfortable being alone. It's that the thought of getting too close to someone legitimately terrifies me. 

The most ironic part is that I actually do still crave love. A genuine, powerful, lasting love. Shihan's "You thinkin' of me thinkin' of you" type of love. A write to you every day for a year while you build a house with a white fence and have sex in the rain 7 years later love. Or, you know, just for someone to kiss my face and want me to grow. A simple love. A nurturing, comfortable, warm love.

But I just can't let myself let it in. Any of it. So I stay frozen.

Can you imagine being starving but having no appetite?

I don't have to imagine. That's my reality.

Does this detachment make me cool? Powerful, because no one can hurt me?

Au contraire. I'm miserable because no one can make me happy, either.

The fine print of having a dormant, muted heart is that there is no pain, but no pleasure either.

Even trustworthy, kind, gentle souls who declare their good intentions – I keep at a distance. You see, even if someone loves me.. All relationships carry with them the potential to be messy and hurtful.

I can't afford messy or hurtful.

So I say "No thank you," and continue to live in grayscale. 

But, alas,

This Anonymous message and apps like Timehop and Facebook's "On This Day" bring me face to face with the girl I used to be. 

How can I find evidence that I do have such an immense emotional capacity and be satisfied with a life so loveless and lackluster?

You can argue that being this chill is just a part of growing up. But I refuse to believe that this is all there is to feel anymore. That you must lose the magic of innocence as some rite of passage.

Having walls this high and un-penetrable is not wisdom. It's an active deprivation of joy. Apathy, especially self-imposed apathy, is the poison of life. 

You know when your foot falls asleep, and you start to move it again, and you get that tingly, pricky sensation? It's not exactly painful, but definitely strange... yet a part of you kind of likes it?

That's what his love feels like. 

It got so uncomfortable. I couldn't let him in. 

I don't know. I don't know what's wrong with me. 

I have been through a lot of traumatic experiences, but not everyone who goes through shit clams up like this. 

If anything, their hearts grow more resilient through struggle. Yet mine's become vestigial. 

Sometimes, when I'm driving or about to fall asleep, all my suppressed emotions will creep up and I'll just start crying. Not dramatic sobbing (that would actually be preferred), but just tears flowing out, as if someone cut a small slit in a water balloon. It's so creepy. 

But at the same time, it gives me hope.

It signals that there is something there. I haven't lost her completely.

Maybe, one day, when my loneliness gets to be too much and I feel confident that I won't fuck up another relationship, I'll let myself love and be loved again. I don't want to be this "chill." That's not me. 

There's a long ways to go, though. Thawing out takes time.