Emotional Buoying

I’ve been spending more and more of my time walking alone. How do we emotionally compensate for it?

I was chatting on the phone with one of my good friends a while back when she explained:

“I don’t know why, but I keep thinking about my ex-boyfriend. He’s coming up in my dreams, I keep wanting to reach out. And meanwhile, I feel confident in my new relationship. Should I reach out? What’s wrong with me?”

We talked it over for a while. I commented that I was also feeling a strange pull to old flames in my life, debating reaching out to them. I thought about who I was when I was around them, free to travel, try new things, and express myself. All things that seem restrained at this moment. I finished the conversation by saying:

“I wouldn’t worry about it, we’re all desperate for emotional connection right now. He reminds you of a version of the life we want. I feel like you don’t miss him, maybe you just miss the freedom of normal life?”

I’ve spent the last few days ruminating on that conclusive statement. I think we’re all having trouble with the isolation caused by this pandemic, and our brains are doing their best job to cope with it emotionally. To fill a void that can’t be filled without risking lives.

This blog is an example of one of those outlets. When I started it, I planned to write articles about my life, about my friends and family, and things that I have learned so they may be of use to others. But when I sit down to write on the weekends, or over my lunch break, or at 11 pm, all I want to do is tell a story. I want to tell a story to others, but selfishly, I want more to tell it to myself. Writing again has allowed me to relive the past, in a time where there isn’t much to the present. And sometimes, I glorify the grandeur of these experiences to myself; maybe to justify how robbed I feel now that they’re on pause.

This photo has been a favorite recently. These are my best friends from college, at a party on the last night of my senior fall semester.

Same with my old photo albums. I’ve spent a lot of extra time looking at photos from my favorite moments so far in my life, like the one here from the night after I presented my senior theses and went out to celebrate with all of my best girlfriends. I will sit there for 15 minutes, replaying the memory in my mind, getting high off the serotonin. It’s like an artificial transfusion of ~good vibes~ into my bloodstream. Reflecting on the past has become more of an addiction than a casual past-time.

And now, when I do have new and exciting interactions, I hang on to them like a buoy in a storm, desperate to be tethered to something or someone new and unpredictable to break the cycle of monotony. I’ve been calling this “emotional buoying” because I feel like a small seagull sitting on a buoy amidst a hurricane. Safe for now, but intimately aware of all the bad fortune around me.

I live in my head a lot of the time, running back analysis and reflection of my days, searching for connection and meaning in small moments or interactions. And I feel like that tendency has been on overdrive recently. For example, I went skiing the other day and accidentally bumped into someone while turning into the lift line. We both sort of mutter “oh sorry” as we take stock of our brief glove/pole entanglement. Then, I look up and directly into this person’s eyes and realize that it’s a really attractive guy. He looks surprised too, looks me up and down, and says, “wow, hey. How are you?”

I thought about that interaction, the look in his eyes, all afternoon. Does that make me kind of a freak? Yes absolutely. But it was the first time in a long time that I felt butterflies. I felt like I didn’t know if this guy would ask to ride up the lift with me (he did not), but my mind started to entertain all these exciting storylines that now involved a new character: the cute guy from the lift line. There’s a great line from the book I’m reading at the moment, The Body Keeps the Score, where the author, Bessel Van Der Kold, M.D., explains:

“Imagination is absolutely critical to the quality of our lives. Our imagination enables us to leave a routine everyday existence by fantasizing about travel, food, sex, falling in love, or having the last word–all the things that make life interesting. Imagination gives us the opportunity to envision new possibilities–It is an essential launchpad for making our hopes come true…without imagination there is no hope, no chance to envision a better future, no place to go, no goal to reach.”

And how can we imagine when we are dry on inspiration? To continue to believe in the future, to manifest what we want, we need novel interactions to fuel our fantasies.

What I want you to take away from this is the understanding that your brain may too be engaging in “emotional buoying.” You may be barnacling on to something to compensate for the emotional void we’re all experiencing.

And you know what, you have permission to do so. It’s ok to let your brain go into survival mode, carry you through this period. Will it screw you up a little bit? Get you a little ~messed up in the head~? Yeah absolutely. But so will this entire pandemic and the aftermath. You may as well throw yourself a life preserver.

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Young computer scientist, studying intersection with cognitive science. Driven by intellectual curiosity and snacks.

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Chloe Zeller

Chloe Zeller

Young computer scientist, studying intersection with cognitive science. Driven by intellectual curiosity and snacks.

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