On Mushy Feelings + Embracing Softness

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It was a huge step, but a step I had to take nonetheless. I knew it wouldn't hurt if I tried it, yet I still had some reservations. Inside that cold fitting room at The Gap, I grunted and scrunched my face at the baby pink cotton button-up blouse on the hanger.

I know, I know. Super dramatic over a stupid shirt right? But this was no simple shirt. It was a pink shirt.

I never really liked the color pink, unless it was in a steak cooked medium. When clothes shopping I would always say, "Ew, pink," while browsing through color choices. I didn't think it looked good against my brown skin tone. Pink always seemed to clash against my complexion.

Aside from what I believed to be an incompatibility with my pigmentation, pink appeared to symbolize everything I thought I wasn't. It's such a soft, vulnerable, and warm color. So girly, so feminine. So seemingly not me.

Whether intentionally or not I avoided becoming the embodiment of pink. Rather than be powdery pink, I once preferred to be gray like stone; incapable of being penetrated.

While in school, I often used being buried in my studies as an excuse for being closed off. But now that I’ve already crossed the stage at graduation, that excuse is no longer valid. And now that I’m (kinda) gainfully employed, being a broke college student was also no longer an excuse.

For my personality quiz fanatics, I’m an ENFP— I get my energy from both fellowship with others and the comforts of alone time. But I was crossing the fine line between solitude and isolation, which I knew deep down was not healthy for me. The idea of any kind of social life, especially dating, was intimidating to me. Beyond the anxiety of the awkward small talk were nerves around having to let my guard down. To be vulnerable, to be soft.

I once joked with a friend that my later 20s were making me "OD soft." I would hate crying in front of people, pouring out emotions, and sharing my low-points. But ever since the scale tipped from my early to late 20s I've done all three more times than I tend to be comfortable with. I have experienced so much from loss (with the passing of my grandmother this year) to gain (with starting my career). I could not function emotionally or spiritually without letting someone in to the inner workings of this pink fleshy heart of mine.

I needed to have my feelings affirmed. I needed to hear that my fears and anxieties were normal. I needed to let my guard down in the presence of those I’d be safe with emotionally. And as a mental health counselor I know now more than ever that even caretakers need care-taking.

Not only has this change impacted me on the inside but also on the outside as my body has changed. Once a size 2, I’ve since gained nearly 20 pounds. This was something I was once ashamed of, as the parts of my body that were once rather boney and cut have instead become a little fluffy. My insecurities would quickly show if I was asked “Did you gain weight?”, or “Are you getting thicker?” I once even tried to punish myself into losing weight by declaring that I would no longer buy any jeans until I could fit my smaller size.

What was the fear behind being softer—both emotionally or physically— and vulnerable? It wasn’t so much the actual act of sharing mushy feelings, whether it was those of love or sadness. I can formulate a sentence or two to express my sentiments. Instead the real challenge was facing the aftermath.

Will I be accepted?

The fear of rejection can drive us into isolation and inauthentic relationships where the connections are about as deep as a puddle. Because we’d rather feel “safe” than take a risk on what could be meaningful and impactful relationships. Out of the many theories crammed in my head during school, psychologist Erik Erikson’s stages of development stands out the most. He argued that from age 20 to 39, we struggle with the inner conflict of choosing intimacy or isolation. Am I capable of love? Am I ready to be vulnerable? Or would it be safe to retreat back to my bubble? One comes at the cost of vulnerability, the other comes at the cost of loneliness.

At this stage in my life, I’m ready to take the risk and choose the mush. Even if it’s just a small jump in a overly air conditioned fitting room at The Gap.

As I buttoned the final button, I gave myself a smirk in the mirror. I twisted and I turned, looking at how the pink blouse laid against my body from different angles. “Is this what I was so afraid of? Was this really that bad?”


--Tara Pook