Last night, as I stood at my apartment door surrounded by more firemen and EMTs than I could count, I couldn’t help but feel very small.
About 40 minutes before that, I had turned off my oven after baking cookies and finishing up the dishes. Around the time I had settled on the idea of having a bubble bath and reading a book, my smoke detector started beeping. After 10 minutes of hitting the button with the tip of my broom handle (and mumbling about how there wasn’t even any smoke), I climbed up on a stool to take a closer look/dismantle it. At which point I realised that it wasn’t my smoke detector going off – it was the carbon monoxide component of the detector. A red light flashed. “Move to open air.” I ran around opening every window in my apartment and called my apartment maintenance line. “Call 911,” Jeffrey told me firmly before hanging up. While on the phone with 911, my neighbor came over and yanked the whole detector off the wall (things you learn as an adult: taking the battery out doesn’t actually do anything if it’s wired into the wall).
After my neighbor disappeared back into her own apartment, smiling sympathetically back at me, I went down to the entrance of my apartment as I heard sirens coming around the block. Standing at the front door in baggy, red joggers and a size XXL flannel, I noted an ambulance and thought, “Oh – someone else must be having a medical emergency!” Oh, how naive – it was for me! The EMT came up to me as I stood in the doorway, said hi, and put my finger in a contraption to test my levels, as one of the firefighters consulted me on which apartment unit is mine. I handed over the detector and my keys, saying I wasn’t sure that I had locked the door or not (it’s a habit, to which he was unhappy about). A few of them ran off upstairs, and I stood in my apartment vestibule with a wall of very tall men all looking at me. I was the star of the show.
I get awkward in these types of situations. I don’t like being the center of attention and I have an intense need to lighten the mood whenever someone else seems uncomfortable. So, I started making some jokes about how my evening was going and how this all was probably nothing and blah blah blah. The looks from the wall of men differed from kind to indifferent to un-amused. At one point I mentioned that the detector is some 12 feet up the wall and that me being only 5’2″, it was very hard to reach and I had to drag out a stool and blah blah blah. I probably cracked some sort of self-deprecating joke. All at once, the wall of men looked me up and down, and I could see their faces registering with just how small I truly am, as if they saw it for the first time. And suddenly, they all looked very, very tall to me. And I stood there, feeling so small.
They didn’t get any CO2 readings in my apartment. As one of the firefighters announced wryly, “Every window in the place was open” and so everything seemed to have dissipated. As quickly as they had all formed around me, all 15 – 20 of the men trampled back off into the ambulance and the fire truck. I waved a brief goodbye and thank you. I felt like I had to be the smallest person in the world at that moment. The door seemed to be growing in size and I seemed to be shrinking ever-smaller.
I’ve been having a lot of these moments lately – feeling small. A few weeks ago, I posted a photo on Instagram about the feeling. “I’ve been feeling pretty small and overwhelmed lately,” I wrote alongside it. “But not necessarily in a bad way. It’s been a good reminder that life is bigger than me…or even you. I’m moving forward on some scary things in life, and trying to move away from some of the boring things. I’ve also been missing friends who I’ve had to disconnect with for various reasons…addiction, negativity, lying, being too busy. I’m trying not to let myself feel sad, but it does make me feel small from how daunting and grandiose life can be. I’m always reminded that it’s these feelings that keep us moving forward into better things, creating better things, and realising that we have it in our power everyday to be soft, kind, and lovely, and to open our eyes to the possibilities of ‘the other.'”
I’ve had poignant times in my life where I’ve felt unimaginably small. There’s more to the feeling that just being physically small, though. I feel so vulnerable, but not in an empowering way. It feels like everything in the world can trample over me. I feel powerless and scared. It’s different from anxiety or having a panic attack. It’s very surreal, an out-of-body experience, and I also feel very calm.
I’ve learned to take these feelings as warning signs that I need to change something, as I mentioned in my Instagram caption. I don’t have to let myself feel small if I don’t want to. I just need to tackle the underlying issues.
My first couple of years of college were spent feeling so small. Campus was huge and scary and I was having trouble making friends because I felt powerless, small, silly, vulnerable, and dumb. Every student looked so tall and daunting, and I just felt like the tiniest, weakest girl on campus. I had other things going on in my life that were causing me so much hurt and anxiety and feelings of being small and powerless, and campus was a reflection of that. I shrunk into nothing.
And then, I learned to step back. I managed to remove myself from the immediate causes of my hurt and anxiety. And I took control of my smallness and made changes that I needed to make. During my last few years in college, I frequently used the phrase “kicking ass left & right”; it was essentially me combating the smallness.
As I said, I’ve been feeling small again. And I’ve been working to identify the sources of these small feelings, and tackle them, like I did in college.
I think it’s common for survivors of abuse to feel as if their body does not belong to them. It’s not an overwhelming feeling on a day-to-day basis, but sometimes certain interactions can be overwhelming. I feel powerless, small, uncertain, and scared. Physical intimacy is one of those interactions that can make me feel small. I recently decided to take a step back and take control over the role that intimacy currently plays in my life. Setting up these boundaries lends me power and control, and makes me feel strong. Since I set up these boundaries, I definitely have been feeling like I’m kicking ass left & right in this area of my life, and I no longer feel small.
Some things I’m still working on taking control of…. I have a couple of friendships that have been making me feel very small. I’m still working to set up proper boundaries and figure out how and if I want those to relationships to still be in my life. It’s a reflective process, and listening to how I respond to being near these people.
I’m in the process of trying to buy a condo and have discovered that I make just a little bit too much to reasonably afford one. I know that if I re-order my life and get some business ideas off the ground, I’ll be able to buy something. But, I’ve been struggling with feeling very small about the whole process, and the fact that I’m not enough alone. When crunching numbers with my mortgage guy, I made the joke, “This is why people get married instead of collecting cats – there’s a second income.” Marriage and relationship is what I want most in my life at the moment, and instead of being empowering like I thought it would be, buying a condo is only making me feel very small.
Every day I’m working to tackle these feelings of being small so that I can once again be kicking ass right & left. Do you ever feel small, too? What do you do to lift yourself up?