Accepting the Good in Life – No ifs, ands, or buts

jabba_the_hutt

Why is it that bad things feel safer? I mean, they hurt like hell and you feel like shit, but it seems less terrifying than a good thing happening. I used to think it was the depression. I imagined depression as Jabba the Hut, feasting on my failures, my failures transforming into fat, pushing down on me harder. (Ugh. I know I chose the image but it’s still vile all the same.)

But I’m starting to think it’s a maladaptive behavior; a habit of safety and control. ‘Cuz if things start to get good, that means they can get bad. If I get something, it could be taken away. Or worse, I could enjoy it, and then it could be taken away or I could ruin it.

I know I have written on this quite a bit already, but I was thinking about it in the context of women recently. I think women are more likely to protect themselves through insults and assumptions of failure to protect against “embarrassment.” This is a generalization, but when my friends are waiting to hear back about something, they spend a lot of time talking about what they will do if they don’t get it or how they know they won’t because there are better people out there. They are already preparing for the worst, and they don’t know why. My male friends don’t seem to be that way. It’s not that they walk around like a sheriff, with their thumbs tucked in their pants, their chests broad like a rooster saying “I’m just kicking it, waiting for what’s mine.” But they don’t seem to spend as much time berating themselves beforehand like women do.

There is an Amy Schumer skit. (NSFW) I don’t actually think the skit is that funny, but I love the point of it. A bunch of women are standing around, and as one compliments the other, her automatic response is to point out something horrible about herself. They go back and forth, dissing themselves each time they get a compliment until one woman approaches. They compliment her and she thanks them, and they proceed to kill themselves. She has, by accepting the compliment, shaken the base of their lives to its’ core.

Are we stuck in a cycle where it’s never enough? Is that what the American Dream is attempting to create? Not a person striving to reach the top, but a person who is constantly told they can be better and therefore in their current state, is not enough. Because we can always be thinner, richer, “happier.” And evidently the fault lies with us, not with sexism, racism, homophobia, religious persecution, ethic-judging, classism, (any form of defeatism).

I suppose that’s why I hate the American Dream. It was created as propaganda to keep utilitarianism alive. But there isn’t really an American Dream. I can’t remember the last time I met someone who was content with where they were in life. I’m not saying you should get to a point of success and just stagnate there and quit. You should always try to challenge your mind, help others, question society. But that’s different than believing you need to be more, have more, want more in order to find this non-existent happiness.

What if the American Dream was rather a list of ideals to live your life by:

*Always respect those around you and treat them the way you want to be treated.
* Never assume to know who someone is, but always assume the best.
* Always help others, in whatever way you can, in whatever ways they need.
* Add value to the world in your actions
* Always analyze, critique and question everything in life
* Never stop learning
* Live your life in a way that makes you proud

(I’m clearly missing a few, so feel free to offer suggestions in the comment section.)

I don’t do religion, though in reading this, I suppose a lot of these fall under the tenets of most of them. I just think if we stopped trying to achieve and rather just tried to experience, live, understand, connect, and question, we might find moments of contentment, even if we can’t find this illusive and non-existent “happiness.”

Oh my goodness, did I really just write this cheesy ode to the world? Did I go hippy dippy on myself without realizing it? I better stop now before I go too deep and resent myself in the morning.

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The Dichotomy of Dread and Excitement For the Unknown Future of Tomorrow

o-nail-biting-570

I had a rush of overwhelming dread today. It’s not like my normal waves of panic when I have too many tasks before me, or when I have decisions to make for the future. This feels exhausting, frightening and sad – fearful of the days ahead, exhausted by the idea of making it through yet another week, sad that this hasn’t gone away.

The thing is, it’s fleeting. I might stop and think to myself “Another week of living this life until Thursday?” And then I’m back at the table, working on the computer. And I’m thankful for that. It’s just so intense in that moment of distress. It feels so strong and definitive.

I have been in a good place in a while, but I still feel exhausted by the prospect of life. Every day, even without clinical depression, takes energy, drive, and a lot of forced action against maladaptive habits. I fight rational and irrational fears from the morning when I wake up to when I lie in bed hoping to fall asleep. I don’t feel sorry for myself. Now that the medical depression is gone, I know that in due time, feelings pass, and if I allow it, so do my thoughts.

But every so often, I wonder if I have what it takes to make it. Is this week going to be like last? Is that good enough? What if it’s better, or what if it’s worse? What will that mean for the week after that? I felt this when I was clinically depressed, but in a much deeper, darker, and devastating degree.

So often in recovery, people tell you to take things day by day. When I was first starting out it felt like hour by hour, task by task. But now I feel the need to look at the week. And I’m being asked to make decisions in two weeks about something four months from now. If you asked me four months ago if I would be where I am today, I would have had no clue. So how am I to make a rational choice about four months from now when I have no idea where I will be, how I will feel, or who I will have become?

It’s such a weird feeling to dread the week ahead while at the same time feeling like I’m wasting the limited time I have on earth. I panic sometimes that all this work is for nothing. Will I work this hard and tragedy will strike and ruin me? Will my medications stop working? Will I push myself just a step too far and fall back down the steps of my progress to the very bottom? What if one day I stop progressing? Or worse, what if after all this work to find hope and seek moments of contentment, I just don’t wake up, or get hit by a car, or any number of things that happen to so many on a daily basis.

For so long I craved to leave this world. I had resigned myself to never getting better, my fire of hope was completely out. All of my dreams and fantasies felt like mean illusions – mocking me, taunting me, showing me what I would never have. And now, with life-changing decisions before me, I find myself timid. Or maybe just terrified to face the world outside. Out there, more decisions and their possibilities lie in wait.

Everyone keeps telling me they see me at a place where they feel safe for me, where they trust I can begin to live the life I have missed for so long. And I have tried so hard to gain that trust and understanding. But my fear of failure hangs above me, constantly threatening. And I know if I fail this time, no one will believe I could get back up. Especially myself.

The dichotomy in my head of both dreading and fearing (with excitement) the future is so odd to me. Everyone around me trusts me, but why can’t I? They believe in me, they see something there, but I can’t see it, I can’t feel it. I look in the mirror waiting to see the girl I believed was hiding behind the depression but my face stays the same. I have done so much and yet what if tomorrow I can’t or worse, what if I don’t want to? And how can each day seem like a challenge to become more whole, and at the same time seem like an exhausting future I don’t want to carry? And why, after more than a year, am I still asking the same fucking questions?

This will pass. I have thankfully learned that my emotions and thoughts do change. Even if I have them for a week, they can be changed, either naturally or by forced action. I just felt scared and exhausted by the notion of the days ahead. It’ll pass. I know it will.

Maybe I’m Not Sorry, And That’s Okay

I have been trying to cut down on apologizing. I don’t mean that I irrationally yell at someone and then refuse to say sorry, or I stand someone up and don’t apologize. I’m talking about the common sorries that (often women) are taught, in order to be liked, proper, and polite.

Here are some of the ridiculous examples of my automatic apologetic responses (please feel free to share yours):

I apologize before I complain to a customer service representative. (Partly because I imagine that most people take out their anger on them and they are innocent victims of the crimes their companies perform.) I apologize when I order food and ask for something to be taken off the meal that I am paying for and that will make me sick if I eat it (though I was a waitress, and I know how annoying that can be.) I apologize when I hit a wall or door by accident (yes, to an inanimate object.) I apologize when someone steps ahead me at the grocery store to get the produce I was looking at. I even apologize if I get near a person looking at the produce that I want to see. I apologize if I open a door and the person insists I walk in first. Did I mention that I apologize to walls?

But I want to stop apologizing when it is not necessary. Just today, and so many times before, I will be on the phone/walking/in a restaurant with a friend. I will be talking and a baby/cashier/stranger will start speaking to them and they will have to cut me off to answer/take care of the baby/deal with the issue at hand. And my very first reaction is to apologize. And I think that I’m apologizing for speaking. It’s almost as if I cut the other person off. I’m embarrassed and feel shame that I am talking about myself and at that. I start to think: “Am I talking too much? Am I boring them? Do they have something else to do?” And while those questions are common for someone who is insecure, saying “sorry” when I haven’t actually done something is like a natural reaction. I am apologizing for taking time away from their lives for myself – but that’s what talking to your friends is – two people sharing stories about their lives.

It’s particularly bad when I’m angry and trying to express my feelings. I’m constantly trying to invalidate and apologize for my feelings. I’ll say: “You hurt my feelings when you teased me about this issue I have, and I know that I’m horrible and I’m sorry that I’m being such a nag. It just hurt my feelings but I’m really sensitive and I’m sorry because you probably didn’t mean to hurt my feelings and I know that.”

I think part of it is fear that somehow I’m wrong to feel frustrated or slighted; a part of me tries to empathize with their side of the situation – and so while I’m angry, perhaps there was a reason for their behavior.

But I am allowed to express anger and frustration, even if in the end, that wasn’t the intention of the person. I also have realized that at its’ core, unnecessary apologizing comes from a place of self-hate and shame.

Think about it. Each of the examples demonstrate my feelings that I am less valid than the people around me. My feelings don’t count as much as theirs; I don’t deserve the same respect I give them. I think I am apologizing for existing. Wow. That’s awful.

If I’m going to try and find some sort of contentment in the long-term, I have to be able to own my right to take up space, to have opinions, to feel emotions, and to express myself. I have to respect myself as much as I respect others around me and know that my feelings are legitimate and valid.

Sometimes you have to perform an action before you actually believe it internally. Like in DBT, there is a skill called “half-smiling.” It’s exactly what you think: basically it’s fake it till you make it, but in this case it’s fake it until you start to feel it. If you smile long enough, you will start to feel better. So maybe if I control my apologies, over time, I will realize why I deserve the respect to exist, to want, to need, to feel, to be who I am. I want to be worthy – not only to others, but more importantly, to myself. And I’m not sorry about that.

My Failed Attempts at The Pursuit of Happiness

This is not only the kid from the movie

This is not only the kid from “The Pursuit of Happiness,” he is demonstrating my feelings on finding happiness.

Every time I see my therapist, she asks me what I’m going to do between then and the next time I see her that will make me happy and bring me joy. And every time, I come up blank. I can list things that make me feel productive, helpful, or good. And I suppose in a way, those things make me happy. But like I tell her, happiness to me is a fleeting emotion. Contentment is what I think we are all aiming for. After all, contentment implies an acceptance and peace with the life at present. While something might give you a kick of happiness, contentment means you are okay with your life, warts and all. Maybe you still have dreams, and you still want to move forward and achieve things but when you sit down and look at your life you think: “Yeah. Not too bad. Good job self. We should rock out because things are what they are and they are good.”

Ok, so I’m not really content either. But I felt so sad when I couldn’t think of anything that made me happy. I think part of it is because of where I live, the fact that I do not have many people my age with my shared interests around me, and because it’s so much easier to do things because you are supposed to do them, than because you want to do them. With choice of your actions, comes the stress of fear and failure. What if it’s a bad decision and I don’t enjoy it? What if I do something wrong or embarrass myself? What if others look at me and think I’m pathetic? I’ve always had so many fears, some instilled by my family and friends, others created by me, that have held me back. I’ve spent the last three years just trying to stay alive – so I’m a bit thrown by this idea of doing something that I want to do not because I have to, but because I want to and because I know it will make me feel joy or strength or confidence.

In the past, I think I did things I thought I should do rather than things I wanted to do. I mean, we all have to do those things. Sometimes I need to cook, keep the house clean, get books from the library. And I enjoy most of these things – but do they provide me with happiness?

In the past, going to work was also on that list. I liked people-watching but in retrospect I think it had a lot to do with being depressed and being curious to watch others around me that seemed to have their shit together. I enjoyed public spaces because I could step back and see how unique and odd we all are. I liked museums because certain art makes me feel something deep inside me, but I always felt so sad afterwards. I actually think a lot of things that would give me happiness, have in the past brought me down hard afterwards. The feeling could never be sustained.

So I look at my life for signs of happiness. I mean, I enjoy spinning but does it make me happy? It makes me feel strong, accomplished, and I get a little endorphin kick for the day. I like hiking but I never do it. I like walking around the city but I don’t live there so I rarely do that as well, and with my knee, it’s not as fun as it used to be. I used to really enjoy giving platelets but evidently in the area I live in, the nurses are just unable to find my veins and give up on me way too easily. I enjoy a good talk with a friend or a successful social encounter, but those seem so fleeting and usually leave me coming down, exhausted and nervous about the fragility of the future conversations.

As my therapist continues to ask me this question and I continue to look at her with a wincing face of self-doubt and frustration, I am truly trying to figure out what my barrier is that is blocking my mind from finding something that I could do to make me happy. A part of me knows it’s out there. I imagine it would be something simple – I tend to roll that way. Maybe it’s something I’ve done in the past but given all of my worries, anxieties, and self-doubt, I’ve never really been able to feel the full effect of the deed at hand. Maybe I haven’t found it yet – it’s waiting for me to take a taste and understand that it’s what I am meant to do when I need a little extra “jazz hands” in my day.

I want to find things that make me happy. I imagine as time goes on, especially if and when I begin to work again, I’m going to need things in my life I can turn to for relief – and not just the gym or volunteer work. Or maybe those things?

I’m jealous of those who have a passion. I can see it when they are talking about it – that high they get from whatever it is. For one friend, it’s running. She doesn’t do it to stay fit (though I’m sure that’s a side perk) but because she truly enjoys it. Before, during, and after. My mom even has something – she just loves to garden – I don’t get it, but it truly gives her pleasure. It’s adorable but frankly I find it quite dull.

Do you believe in the idea of happiness? Joy? Contentment? Are they different things to you? How do you define these ideas? And more importantly, what do you do to find them? What do you do for pleasure? If you had a day ahead just for you, what would it look like? What do you do to make you happy?

I guess all this thinking of happiness makes me feel empty, boring, and melancholy. After all, isn’t life about the pursuit of happiness?