I don’t think that enjoying the Nana saga is weird at all. Hell, I’m waiting for updates. (Thus far, still silence. And we’re all more peaceful for it. It’s so much simpler once you stop rationalizing, isn’t it?)
I’ll let you know as developments occur. But right now I’m going to try to articulate what I hinted at in my prior post: the Big Changes in my outlook on life.
I am in a good place, and what follows is part one of a rough travelogue of how I got here. (“How” in the sense of snapshots of sights along the way more than where to book a reservation for yourself – I have no idea if it will be of any benefit to anyone else, though I certainly hope so.)
I’ve been working on my own outlook for years. I am a tremendous fan of many of the tenets of AA — especially “act as if” and “fake it till you make it” — despite not having any addictions myself. I figured out long ago that you don’t have to feel something deeply to act as if you do; often, the feeling will follow. For instance, in medical school, I started out being too reserved, and then learned to act as if I were outgoing. Eventually, I started to enjoy the sound of my own voice, and there was no looking back. I advise my own students to appear interested and happy, and they may become so; even if they don’t, they’ll get higher marks. As an intern, I noticed that my favorite residents were the ones who appeared serene no matter what kind of insanity was going down. I resolved to be this way myself, and I became famed for being unflappable and cheerful. (I admit I am by nature relatively unflappable, but when you have 12 admissions to your team and they’re bleeding out or seizing or screaming about the bad food or scoring crack in the cafeteria and then developing chest pain, the temptation to freak out is great.)
I learned to give up anger. (Apparently another recovery thing! Perhaps I’m an addict manquée?) As with flappability, anger has never been a huge problem for me, but I started to notice how dangerous an emotion it is. Righteous anger in particular is radioactive. So I quit it. Not that I never feel it — I often have that immediate flash — but I am able to let it go. The trick is, pretty much anything that makes me angry also makes me something else. Humor is the most frequent fallback; a situation that can piss me off can also make me laugh. There are others: pity, envy, sadness, compassion, on and on — I swap out the anger, and there you go. If someone cuts me off while driving: maybe they have an emergency. Or maybe they’re just lost in thought. It’s not like I’ve never cut someone off, and I don’t think I’m an asshole most of the time. I have a sticker on the back of my laptop that reads “HAS ANGER SOLVED YOUR OTHER PROBLEMS?” that is quite entertaining to make people gaze upon in meetings.
I made an “attitude list” years ago when I was hunting unsuccessfully for a job and a baby. It helped immensely (I think I’ve lost it, but mostly it was about realizing I’m not the center of the universe, that pride doesn’t help, and that I have to connect with people), but I can’t say it made me happy. I have arranged my living and working spaces to be as bright and colorful as possible. The rooms in my house are painted yellow, green, red, orange, and raspberry (the guest room is a pale cream, so visitors have a safe soothing place to retreat to if they’re rattled by the loud palette). I have nearly a dozen pairs of different wild eyeglasses to match every outfit. I run, of course, which is the closest thing to mainlining happiness I’ve ever found.
So I’ve worked for years on at least appearing to be one of those serene, cheerful people who make others happy (at work, anyway; home was harder), and for the most part it worked. And sometimes, just sometimes, I came close to making it.
But over the past few years, I stalled — maybe even backslid.
Having HB was a derailment of sorts. It was a hard five years. There were most certainly moments during that time I felt I’d made a mistake in deciding to reproduce, when I had to just have faith that one day it would get better — though I did have a sense that most of the things that made his baby and toddler years so hard would also make him a really cool kid eventually.
This is the year. He is perceptive, analytical, logical, kind, loving. He is magnetic — everyone in the neighborhood knows him. The other day I dropped him off at school and a very hip-looking middle-schooler leaned over the stairs and yelled, “Hi HB!” He waved, then whispered to me, “I don’t even know her name.” He has gained much insight and control over his frustration. The lines that made me happiest in his recent progress report from his teacher: “His intellectual and emotional understanding of what is going on in our class is really exceptional for a child his age … He, more than almost any other kindergartner I have known, really seems to care about his friends’ thoughts and ideas.” I let out my breath and thought, I haven’t totally messed him up. Don’t get me wrong — he’s still prickly, quirky, and exhausting, but it’s finally becoming worth it, you know?
Work has also been going well. So the ground was fertile for me to feel good this year. And yet — I wasn’t there.* I was starting to wish that I could just be anesthetized to get through a lot of my normal (nondepressed!) days. (I am ashamed to say I sort of tried that, in fact — fortunately it didn’t work.)
I think things started turning around sometime in December. I was putting together a seminar for my interns on well-being, and I spent time looking over some of the happiness literature. As I was reading, I was thinking, yes, I know that. Yes, I do that. And that. And that, and that, and that. So … what the fuck is wrong with me? I have a wonderful husband, child, job, friends, city, family; everyone’s healthy; I have no money worries; hell, I don’t even want to lose weight. If I can’t be happy, who can be? Am I really going to spend the rest of my life bitching, moaning, complaining, and feeling not really here?
A phrase started to knock around in my head like a moth looking for an open window: This is your one life. This is your one life. This is your one life.
(Part 2 coming up within the next week ... )*Why be happy? A comment on my earlier post mentions the “cult of positive thinking,” and my answer was: well, yeah, I know what you mean. But shouldn’t we — and by “we” I mean anyone who has the means to access the internet and the leisure to poke around on blogs — be able be positive and appreciative? Including appreciating the importance of sadness and the existence of suffering. It’s the whining I have a problem with, not the acceptance of reality. Especially when one’s own reality is very, very good.