Volume Control

09 Jun 2015

Last night I watched a girl burn to death.

Her parents were there. It was horrible. But I wasn't alone: the latest installment of Game of Thrones is as popular as it is brutal.

The show is satisfying on an intellectual level, with complex plots, maneouvres, schemes and betrayals. But it's also a traumatic emotional rollercoaster. I watched all of Breaking Bad, too, and it took me a long time to work out why.

It was a cinema ad that make it click for me, a full-size billboard shouting "FEEL". I'm doing this to feel something. Anything; even bad things. Even horror, terror, anger, grief.

Through my teens and even my twenties I'd have done anything to avoid more of those. I had enough of those emotions, and all the others, daily, thank you very much. Even novels, let alone movies or real life, would get too intense for me and I'd have to put them down for a day or two.

Not any more. Through meditation, or experience, or just the natural emotional dampening of age, I've successfully turned down the volume on everything.

I haven't been to the pits of despair for years, and I probably won't again - things might get bad, but they won't be like they were. But running hand-in-hand across the road outside the Austral, drunk on joy and soft drink, having just met my first love, I'll probably never feel that again, either.

I've craved this level of equanimity, and if you'd asked me then if the trade was worth it, I'd have accepted without any hesitation. Now, I'm not so sure. Now, I find myself taking increasingly drastic steps to get the same buzz, whether it's extreme employment (running a company is never the safe option) or extreme sports.

I mean, on the weekend, I literally paid money so that someone could throw a grenade at me.

I don't think I'm unusual in this. I worry that we spend the first half of our lives learning to feel less, only to succeed, and spend the second half trying to feel more.