Grey’s Anatomy Remember Me To Embrace My Feelings Again
Here’s gaining emotional wisdom from unlikely sources
“Change; we don’t like it, we fear it, but we can’t stop it from coming. We either adapt to change, or we get left behind. And it hurts to grow, anybody who tells you it doesn’t is lying. But here’s the truth: the more things change, the more they stay the same and sometimes, oh, sometimes change is good. Sometimes change is everything.” — Dr. Meredith Grey, Grey’s Anatomy
Life is a constant process of reinventing ourselves.
When we’re approaching it the right way, we routinely challenge our fears, our implicit biases, our emotional baggage, and we shed the parts of us we don’t need anymore.
The past three months, quarantined in my house and working from home, I’ve spent my regular commute time on the couch with my cats watching Netflix before dragging myself to my temporary office space to begin the workday. After I finished Madam Secretary, recently, I decided to dive headfirst into Grey’s Anatomy, a show I’d managed to avoid for the 16 years it has been on the air.
At times, the episodes (and the characters) exude a shallowness that makes me cringe. But they also contain stories of humanity, and they make me weep openly. I sob into the soft fur of my cat Bella, who regularly shows up for my morning binge-watching sessions.
I keep watching because I feel a sense of release that, for me, is hard to come by amidst the general exhaustion and malaise that is 2020.
I watched four episodes this morning, and I’m not especially proud of that. I spent my getting-ready time, my driving time, my having coffee alone at the office in the wee hours of the morning time, on the couch watching episodes of a TV show that aired somewhere around 2006. I cried multiple times in each episode — cried for the people, for the heartbreak, for the death and the pain and the suffering and the reality and futility of it all.
I cried for hours, and what a relief it was. But it was terrifying, too.
Sometimes, when I start crying like that, I’m afraid I’ll never be able to stop.
In my younger years, I considered myself an empath. I felt everything I saw, every ounce of suffering. I cried when I saw dead animals by the roadside. I once had a breakdown after watching a goldfinch get crushed by a speeding car. I sobbed for hours when I was falsely accused of cheating during a game of Spades.
When a friend got bullied, I felt it as deeply as if it was happening to me. And I still feel deep regret, more than three decades later, that I briefly became a bully myself in a misguided attempt to stop being so damned emotional all the time.
I cried over every perceived slight, against myself or someone else. I had to stop watching the news on TV because it upset me too much. I was the teenager who stayed out too late, tried to run away, and then called my parents in the morning to say I was coming home because I felt guilty for worrying them.
Over time, it began to wear me down, and I embarked upon a journey to turn myself into steel. It wasn’t easy. It required years of effort and focus, of doing my best to grow cold and hard. I met my husband during those years, as I attempted to drink myself into the thicker-skinned person I’d always yearned to be.
So many years. So many layers. It didn’t work, not really. I never grew a thick skin — I just cultivated the ability to get angry instead of sad. To make my eyes aloof instead of wounded, if I tried hard enough. I told myself that it was better for everyone.
After a while, I only cried when I was in a fit of rage, or when I was drunk. Commercials with baby animals didn’t make me cry anymore, nor did sad movies. I had climbed the corporate ladder a bit, and I certainly couldn’t cry at work. I was already working twice as hard to prove myself as a woman and a leader.
But locking our feelings away like that comes with a price.
I used to be quite comfortable communicating, talking openly about my feelings. But when I trained myself to successfully stifle my emotions, I lost the ability to recognize and express them too. And it became more difficult to let people in.
I’ve loved my husband for more than half my life, but there has always been a part of me holding back, refusing to trust. That’s not fair to him.
We talked last night, about how many years we might have left, and how many of those years might be good and productive. As an artist who’s drowning under the weight of his unfinished projects, and who’s also trying to restore our century home almost singlehandedly, my husband’s work is never done and he feels that fact deeply.
But I awoke this morning with a different realization. How many days, months, years might I have left with this man I love so much? I don’t know, I can’t know. But what I do know is that I don’t want to waste those days, months, years, putting up walls and selfishly indulging my many insecurities.
Grey’s Anatomy brought that out in me, over time, as I watched the families interact before their loved ones went into surgery, as I wept over the old man, so obviously and deeply in love with his wife who said good-bye and never woke up again.
I don’t want to leave things unsaid, I don’t want to get angry over stupid stuff. And if that means I have to melt the steel armor I tried so hard to create — well, so be it.
I’m grateful for these quiet mornings when I curl up with kittens and a TV show and weep to my heart’s content. Sometimes it’s exhausting, grueling, at the very least uncomfortable. But it feels real.
It feels like I’m whole.
It feels like I’m human.
“At some point, you have to make a decision. Boundaries don’t keep other people out. They fence you in. Life is messy. That’s how we’re made. So, you can waste your lives drawing lines. Or you can live your life crossing them.” — Meredith Grey