"I Have Only Two Emotions"
I’ll begin by saying that blog posts about the meanings of tattoos are incredibly corny. Now that my sentiments on that subject are out there, I’ll add this: I’ve never claimed to be cool. (Pretty sure you know where this is going by now.) Additionally, I’ve dedicated a large portion of my life and my space on the internet to documenting my various life struggles and triumphs. This one ties into that pretty heavily so it’s only natural that I discuss it: I got tattooed once again. This time, it’s lyrics from The National. Really though, the tattoo is more of a catalyst for a conversation I’ve been trying to start for quite a while.
First, let’s talk about the words themselves. Those who know me well or are otherwise closely attuned to my general comings and goings know that I love The National—almost too much. (The first of those links reveals that I listened to over 36 hours of The National in 2018 and the second is a video of Matt Berninger nearly decapitating me—okay not really—with his mic cable, which was one of the best moments of my 27th year on this earth thus far.)
This is, however, more than the gesture of an unhinged National superfan. I’ve been very open about my struggles with bipolar disorder but have often struggled to succinctly describe what the illness means to me personally. I know what it does to me, I know how it affects me, but I could never sum up why it did it.
“I have only two emotions: careful fear and dead devotion”
I was listening to the song Don’t Swallow The Cap on the train one particularly rough morning and the words, “I have only two emotions, careful fear and dead devotion/ I can’t get the balance right” brought me to tears. I’d listened to the song so many times but in that moment, everything fell into place. That’s my problem. That’s what my illness does to me.
I feverishly opened my Notes app and jotted down those two seemingly opposing sentiments: Careful fear. Dead devotion. I recalled all of the times I approached situations or humans with either reverent caution or reckless abandon. I thought of the relationships and the opportunities that my tendency to react in such extreme ways squashed before they ever got the chance to thrive. The men I told, perhaps too soon, that I shared feelings for. The other women in my chosen profession I was intimidated by. I remembered the times my careful fear protected me from opportunistic people who just want to use and abuse. I remembered the times I’d saved myself time and heartbreak by being awfully forward with a man I’d just met. I’m thankful for my instability, but only sometimes. The older I get, the more adept I become at coping with it. I guess being well-adjusted is something that comes to most with age. I think it’s also a conscious decision.
The bad may not outweigh the good, but it likely at least breaks even. Lately though, I’ve been too protective of my heart and have thus gone back on a promise I made myself a while ago. Vulnerability. Relationships, the success of them—whether they be friends, family, lovers, enemies, frenemies, parents, children, strangers—always comes back to vulnerability. My safe space exists somewhere between careful fear and dead devotion. It’s probably somewhere closer to the latter—that’s just who I am. A little reckless and unending in my devotion.
Ultimately, I think that’s okay. A goal for the next chapter of my life is to be okay with the fact that sometimes I’ll be carefully fearful and other times I’ll be deadly devoted. I want to get better at deciding which times I should practice each, and that no matter my state of fear or devotion, I need to be intentional and poised.
I can say for the first time in a while that I know I’m going to be okay. If you’re reading this and can relate, I hope you can get to the same place.