In my line of work, it’s a truism that it doesn’t matter how many positive comments you get, somehow it’s always the negative ones that stick with you.
I have the opposite problem. It’s a very specific subset of the positive comments that have the power to wreck me for at least a day after.
A year ago I came across a thread on the Team Four Star subreddit in which the poster told us that his brother had just killed himself, and that he’d gone through his browser history and discovered that one of the last things he’d done before doing so was watch through one of Team Four Star’s flagship shows from beginning to end. This poster wanted to thank us for giving his brother some measure of comfort at the end.
I felt this deserved a response, and I found myself utterly lost when I tried to formulate one. What do you say to something like that? So I cast my mind back to a year before that, to just after my own brother died of heart failure at the age of 27. To when it was fresh. What would have made me feel heard, made me feel acknowledged back then?
I found the words. I typed them in. I hit send. I tried to go back to doing my job. I couldn’t. It was the first time in months that I’d let my grief intrude on my work. I knew that no one blamed me. I tried not to blame myself.
Last week someone posted about a scene in our weekly D&D streams in which my character had to explain the concept of death to a magical being that was unfamiliar with the concept. This commenter liked that scene. I reflected that I did too. Then the obvious hit me. That scene was all about my brother. It had always been all about my brother. Of course.
I’ve had to do it often enough now that it’s become routine. Like a machine performing a self-diagnostic, I examined my inner workings as best I could. How wrecked am I by this revelation? Enough that I rearrange my obligations and give myself the day to be wrecked? Enough that I can’t even do that much, that I just message my co-workers that I’m wrecked and that they’ll have to do the rearranging for me? No one would blame me if I told them why, but I’d feel guilty for playing that card. I already feel guilty for thinking of it as a “card.”
I take a deep breath and let a cloak of coldness fall over me. I will work a half day. Once I’ve finished with the handful of things that can’t be rearranged, that will simply go undone if I don’t do them, then I will come back home and I will allow myself to be wrecked.
I do it. I go in and do my job and inform my co-workers that I’m leaving early and why. No one blames me. I don’t think I blame myself much.
I get home. I try to take the cloak of coldness off. Now I’m allowed to let myself fall apart. Now I’m allowed to feel it.
The cloak won’t come off. I let it stay on too long. Now I’m just numb. No catharsis for me today.
I go on a short vacation that I’ve had planned for a bit. I see a new place and an old friend. I bring someone new in my life who has become very precious to me in a relatively short time. It is good.
I come home. I do a stream and I talk about a show I saw that reminded me of my brother. I don’t need the cloak of coldness today. I’m able to access those feelings and talk about them without breaking down. I like myself when I’m like this. I’m not like this often.
Someone watched my stream and it prompted them to write a lovely piece about their departed father. I start to write them a reply and this is what comes out.