By Willow (

Not feeling feelings for a long time

March 9, 2023

cw: death/loss

As I look back, I used to be someone who always held an optimistic outlook on life. I was a "believer," or at least someone who always "wanted to believe." This also made me a gullible person at times, especially in my younger days. Once I found a cause to believe in, I became quite a dedicated believer, at least for a while, until I began seeing hypocrisies and internal inconsistencies, and started smelling bullshit.

Outwardly, this made me appear to be a "model believer" to some. When I was a teenager, the adults in my church were impressed by how I talked like someone on fire, comparing me to their own kids who were begrudgingly attending church only because the parents made them to.

It did not always have to be a religious faith. When I stepped into the Occupy Wall Street movement in 2011, I felt like I found a community and causes I was always looking for but could not find in churches; I quickly became one of the most dedicated members of the activist community, so much that I stopped attending church for over two years. This lasted until the spring of 2015 when one of the last surviving Occupy organizations (of which I served as a board member) collapsed.

That summer, I felt aimless. I lost my community and the social capital I built. But somehow I survived, going through the motions. I didn't feel "sad" or "disappointed." I did not feel anything.

This wasn't the first time I experienced something like this. But when I do things for a cause I went all in. I lived and breathed it every day. I genuinely believed in the cause, the organization, and the project I was part of.

Then I burned out, without my knowing. When this happened, everyone around me sort of sensed it, but I was unaware of my own burnout until things deteriorate beyond repair. In other situations, simply the cause or the organization falls apart with no fault of my own: either because other people weren't taking it as seriously as I did, or because of financial issues. In the latter scenario, I often blamed myself for it.

Since 2019, I seem to have lost the optimism, faith, and motivation that I once had. Unlike in the past, this prolonged burnout was caused by multiple reasons, most of which were outside my control. But I used to think that my faith could control them.

The past four years were like a dark night of the soul at times, a living-dead shell of my soul walking at other times. Executive dysfunction became severe. Often even getting up in the morning became a challenge. Nothing motivated me to do anything for a prolonged period of time.

My cat Lily was probably the only reason I survived. Then she died abruptly, in the early morning of August 5, 2022. The rational part of me was not surprised: she was 19 years and three months old. The rational part of me also expressed relief, reasoning that perhaps this was the best-case scenario compared to other possibilities. Probably to others, I might have come across as I was acting as though nothing had happened.

The thing is, Lily's health took a sudden turn about 24 hours before her death. Until then I did not notice something serious was going on. She was still jumping up and down my bed, and was eating although not as much as usual. Then I felt this sense of dread later that evening as I began noticing some disturbing events (which I will not go into details here). As someone who believed in the power of faith and prayer, I did what I could do. But I felt powerless. The only thing I got back from prayer was a strong sense that, in this case, "healing" meant death. It was a sleepless night for me until I noticed that she ate the bowl of food (mixed with water, something I did for the first time ever) I put out a few hours ago. Feeling a little bit of hope I went to sleep around 2 a.m. When I woke up around 5 a.m., Lily was gone.

It has been over six months since then. Frankly it now feels like a very distant past.

As an autistic person, I always had difficulties maintaining a spiritual life. As much as I was good at being religious, I was never able to emulate what neurotypical folks call spirituality, even though I spent most of my teenage and adult years wanting to have what they do. Prayers to a distant deity who may or may not respond made little sense. Meditation made even less sense. But I did have quite a strong faith in spite of it. In my younger years, I was drawn to the Word-Faith movement of Pentecostal/Charismatic churches, and in more recent years, I have become part of the New Thought movement. The underlying similarity between these two was the emphasis on the universal law of God, which I could tap on at any time, instead of begging God for something and speculating what God might feel about my prayers (some researchers posit that the "Theory of Mind" and lack of "mentalizing" capacities pose challenges to autistic individuals in spiritual life).

But since Lily died, even that sort of faith was gone. I have been living in a brain fog, with anxiety and hopelessness. Frankly, I really don't have anything to look forward to, and I feel like the best days of my life were long gone and everything is going downhill. And until a few days ago I did not even notice this was what is happening.

It was an accumulation of grief over a series of losses, betrayals, and deep disappointments, that I was incapable of feeling on the cognitive level even as the grief was affecting me.

Alexithymia (a deficiency in understanding, processing, or describing emotions, according to Wiktionary) is one of the known phenomena of autism and is closely linked to anxiety.

"There are a number of factors that might contribute to high levels of anxiety in those with ASD. One of these factors seems to be the difficulty that many individuals with ASD experience in identifying and describing their own emotions – a phenomenon known as alexithymia. Ongoing research in our group, which will be presented for the first time later this year at the International Meeting for Autism Research in Atlanta, US, suggests that symptoms of anxiety and alexithymia are closely associated in ASD. The degree to which individuals report difficulties identifying their own emotions is also associated with the extent to which their reported feelings correspond to their physiological responses to emotional events." --, April 7, 2014.

Lily purrs
the Lily memorial page


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