As I write this its three years to the day that Leonard Nimoy passed away.
I remember it clearly – it was the first, and so far only, occasion that the death of a celebrity deeply affected me. I’d had a rough time over the preceding months where a number of things I’d been repressing and dealing with poorly came to a head and so on the day of his death I found myself in my therapist’s office in floods of tears. I don’t mean the occasional tear drop – I mean body racking sobs.
I’d been seeing my therapist, Brad, for a few months at that point and made a lot of progress and in fact I was nearing the end of my time with him, we got to a point a little later where we mutually decided it made sense to end the sessions and I’m relieved to be able to say I’ve been much happier since and had no need to revisit – though having gone through the experience I see it very much as like having a Personal Trainer for your emotional mind and so wouldn’t hesitate to go back if I felt I needed to.
But back to Leonard Nimoy and, of course, Spock.
As the sobbing subsided, interspersed with me saying things like “this is ridiculous” and almost laughing, Brad said to me:
“Have you considered that perhaps the reason this has upset you so is that you identify so strongly with him, or rather the character he played”.
This was something that, strange as it may seem despite me being an avid fan of the Original Series, had never occurred to me and it hit me like a lightning bolt. There is a famous scene from the episode The Naked Time where Mr Spock is infected with a virus and loses control of his emotions, something he deeply struggles with and finds himself repeating to himself “I am in control of my emotions” and repeating a short numeric sequence. And I realised I actually did that – exactly that – several times a day in my head and frequently out loud.
I also realised I’d been doing that for many years – as long as I could clearly remember. Brad then described to me what it had been like working with me when I first went to see him – that I would sit like a stone, deny basic human feelings to myself and him, and generally do my best to avoid discussing things in terms of feelings. All despite the fact I had sought him out. I’m incredibly grateful he stuck with me and eventually found a way “in”.
What’s funny is that looking back into my childhood all my “heroes” were emotionless. By far the most prominent was Spock, but also Data from The Next Generation and the robots from the Isaac Asimov novels. I never wanted to be one of the more freewheeling characters such as Riker or Kirk (though I did want to be first officer of the Enterprise!) it was always one of the emotionless characters. Looking back now at some of my childhood and teenage experiences (nothing massively traumatic but they still left an impact as those years do on everyone) its easy to see why those characters would appeal to me particularly when combined with an early interest in computers (which can give a powerful illusion of control which doesn’t hold up in the real world – I occasionally worry about code camps and the impact on young minds but that’s a conversation for another post).
But the problem is we humans are not Vulcans, nor are we androids, or robots and it’s, as I found, deeply damaging to repress your feelings. Attempting to do so results, at best, is them mutating into something else, most likely a more damaging and extreme emotion. In my case that was often anger – which again I would repress, right up until something went snap (and it was at that point I sought out Brad – fortunately my snap harmed no one, myself included).
What I learned through this process, and it’s something I still work on, is that it’s healthier to allow yourself to feel the emotions, no matter what they are, acknowledge them and then consciously decide how to respond. It can be hard, particularly if like me your first instinct is to push them away. If I don’t feel able to respond proportionately in the moment I’ve learned a good technique is to take myself aside, experience the feelings and allow them to pass, then reflect.
I learned an awful lot about myself and people through the process of therapy – I think it was one of the most intense learning experiences of my life and since then I have tried to be open about these things, to me its a way to turn a painful experience into something perhaps positive. I guess many of us in the tech industry had heroes such as Spock as we were growing up and so I guess my ultimate message is: Don’t Be Spock.
He’s awesome – but he’s not a great template for being a human. If you have a tendency to bottle things up and hide from feelings – find a way to talk, find a way to feel these things and perhaps seek professional help.
I promise you – if nothing else you’ll learn something.