When Happy Is Hard

I’m reading Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close for class (even though I literally read it two weeks ago) and it has become a game of ‘how much of this book can I underline? how many extraneous thoughts can I squeeze into the margins?’

There’s a line that reads, “I think and think and think, I’ve thought myself out of happiness one million times, but never once into it.”  And I can’t help but feel:  how sad, how fitting and true.  My wise and wonderful friend Chelsea recently (as in, the last time I posted here) explained that depression won’t ever fully vanish.  It’s a part of me unrelated to location or circumstance, but it will always inform the way I experience the world.  I’m not sad because I don’t know where I’ll live next year, I’m depressed because I think about it too much and feel the crushing weight of the unknowable.  That sounds so dramatic, and oh does it feel dramatic.  I would love to stop feeling these insane, dramatic feelings.

My school (and every school with an MFA program, I’m sure) hosts readings throughout the semester, giving graduate students a platform to share their work. Going to readings is one of my absolute favorite activities.  I’m so interested by the work my peers are producing.  Sometimes the readings are spectacularly terrible, but there are some evenings where the words are so inspired they float through the room, filling in gaps, wrapping themselves around ankle bones, whisper-warm.

The last reading before the semester break was so beautiful I’m still thinking about it.  Everyone read such impossibly good stories. One of them was about running away, to Colorado, to the mountains, to find someplace beautiful.  The story was arrestingly wonderful in a way that breaks you even as it fills you.  Eventually, the narrator realizes that “Colorado is just another fucking state” and making it there won’t ensure any sort of happiness or better life.

The feelings we feel aren’t determined by location… unless we’re talking about the soulless town I went to high school in.  I’ve been so absurdly stressed about choosing a graduate school, because I’m worried about moving.  I’ve spent my whole life worrying about moving; it’s the nature of the military. Even when life feels stable, the threat hangs low and heavy- don’t get too close; nothing will last.  All this anxiety is beginning to feel ridiculous.  Maybe I’ll live in Colorado next year.  Maybe I’ll move to Indiana or Pennsylvania.  Maybe I’ll go to Ecuador and protest the flower market.  I’ve spent so much time feeling anxious about where I’ll be in the next few months that I’ve been completely negating the loveliness of now.  I’ve thought myself out of happiness.

Some days I have to actively work to be happy.  It doesn’t always, or even often, come naturally or easily.  But I appreciate it twice as much when it’s there.  Depression and sadness aren’t fun- if you’ve been with me for a long time, before I made the WordPress move, you might remember the HUGE fight I had with a professor this summer.  She said, essentially, that it was good to be depressed, because you see the world more clearly.  I, in turn, went on a swear-filled rampage about how utterly juvenile that thinking is.  When I’m feeling especially depressed, I know I’m not seeing the world clearly.  I’m viewing everything through narcissistic lenses of sadness.

I refuse to give in to that sadness, because I still believe this world, this infinite universe, to be good and beautiful.  I believe I can have a profoundly happy life in spite of my sadness.  I have to work for it, I have to trick myself into it, or try to think my way into it.  I spend a fair percentage of my classes (classes make me so sad. I can’t really explain this) making lists of things to be happy about.  I have to actively avoid thinking myself into a depressive state.  But I really think all of this sadness makes me appreciate happiness so much more- like how you only think about how great breathing feels when a bad cold is blocking your nose.  It’s similar to those beautiful things Ann Druyan said after Carl Sagan’s death.

Of course, when you’re suffering from a nasty head cold, or grieving a deep loss, appreciating clean air and a wonderful relationship isn’t really…relevant.  Or helpful.  What’s that about broccoli and chocolate?  Acute depression is just a fact of my person, along with my blonde hair and blue eyes.  It has a hand in how I live (let’s talk about blonde hair/blue eyes/white privilege in another post, though… I can only tackle one social stupidity at a time!) but it doesn’t entirely construct or control my life.

I was very nearly killed by a speeding, red-light-running SUV this morning.  I realize this is obvious and pedestrian (being a pedestrian is dangerous!) but it left me thinking about the dual fragility and resiliency of existence.  Life is so shocking.  That it is possible to be a sentient being is miraculous and implausible.  But this existence is fleeting; it feels so nonsensical to squander our time here worrying about meaningless things or feeling depressed.  Even as I say that, I know I’ll go on worrying and feeling sadness intermittently.  And that’s okay, because we’re built to endure.  Nothing’s that bad.  Despite it all, this world is wondrous.

8 thoughts on “When Happy Is Hard

  1. “I’ve spent my whole life worrying about moving; it’s the nature of the military. Even when life feels stable, the threat hangs low and heavy- don’t get too close; nothing will last.” Exactly.

    But all of it, Lydia. I feel so engrossed in your words; they are wondrous, too. I don’t know what to say to make it better – I know I simply can’t, not in the complete way I would want to. I can’t exactly define my relationship with depression (I block out memories of the worst time; they blur, blur, blur), but I know… some things just stay. They become part of me, and I keep going, but the things are just so sad.

    I hate being told not to be depressed. (I’m not right now, but my personal roller coaster sails creakily up and up, down, etc.) I hate the fact that depression isn’t seen as real. I hate the fact that [all the drawn out family implications] exist. But at the same time, I find parting with them difficult. They have been my reality for so long. (It was my father’s birthday yesterday, and for the first time ever I did not call him. I felt guilty and good and… feelings.)

    The way I view myself and my life has improved so impossibly much since starting counseling. I get emotional thinking about it, so emotional and grateful. But at the same time, the coming to terms with things is something like knocking over a carefully constructed brick wall and attempting to rebuild. It hurts, too.

    Most of the time my only longterm goal is “to be happy.” I don’t know how to be happy – I just don’t. Surely, there are happy moments. Feeling happy makes me feel guilty, too. So guilty.

    I want you to be happy. But it’s such a weight, the wanting for it. What if it isn’t enough? Impossible? If we cannot find happiness for ourselves, what can we do?

    Once again, I have inundated you with only vaguely relevant feelings in re: your breathtaking words… Thank you for still loving me. I love you! It may not be enough, but it is real, and I am truly grateful to be your friend. You make me happy.

    • Firstly, thank you for being so nice and not mentioning my total lack of smooth transitions! *facepalm* I decided to go ahead and embrace the jump cuts.

      I’m perpetually being surprised by little memories that float to the surface. Or, I won’t have realized how bad/abnormal things were, and I’ll be telling a story that I think is a little funny or sad, sad-funny/funny-sad and the recepient of my story will gasp, utterly horrified by [stupid, insensitive, harmful, idiotic action of my father] and I’ll sit back thinking, “Oh. Oh, yes, I suppose that is a bit horrible.” So, even when I think things are going quite well and I’ve moved along, well…Boats, currents, the past, etc.

      I can say that it gets easier and better every year. Being told to “give it time!” is useless, but it’s the only thing that’s worked for me. I think about “forgiveness is the only way out of the labyrinth” or however it goes, but I think it’s time more than forgiveness. I guess… time has given me apathy toward the entire situation. I’m not actively angry at my father. I rarely even think about him, unless he’s harassing me on the internet. (guh.) If anything, I just feel sad that he’s so… pathetic and disturbed. If anything, I suppose I have forgiven myself. Even though I didn’t *do* anything, there was the need to forgive myself of the perceptions of guilt. And that’s the only way I don’t feel guilty about feeling good, etc, etc.

      I like listening to this. It so thoroughly captures how I feel when I’m sad…and is so hilariously apt. I know I should go chat with someone but UGH. FEELINGS. AND TALKING ABOUT THEM. TO A STRANGER. You are braver woman than I! We’ll be happy, Katherine, my beautiful tropical fish. We need to think about it a little less, I reckon.

      I love you. &;!

  2. i love your blog. you are able to put complex emotions into words so precisely.
    it’s so true about being able to appreciate happiness so much more after having been depressed. and the way you can’t shut off the worry. It’s so maddening sometimes.
    right now, since i’m not depressed, i’ve taken to worrying about when the next depression (inevitably) will come. like i’ll almost feel better when it finally does come so i can stop worrying about when it will happen. (why do our minds do this to us?!)
    “But this existence is fleeting; it feels so nonsensical to squander our time here worrying about meaningless things or feeling depressed. ”
    it’s this thought exactly that has me obsessed with time and making the most of it. sometimes i’m so busy worrying that i’m not making the best of my time that i forget to make the best of my time. i’m slowly disentangling myself from these endless, worthless worry circles.

    • Chelsea, I love you. Minds are such weird and wonderful things. It’s like you’re stuck in an endless loop!

      Oh, endless loops. Wasn’t that a great episode of RadioLab? Incidentally, I just listened to last week’s, and I’m super confused about how they say the universe has an edge and Hank says there is NO EDGE. I need to know the truth!!

      Also, I can’t tell if thinking about the infinite universe incites happiness or depression. I guess it just depends on the day.

      • i love you, not “too,” but just as much. if not more. we have to come up with a better word than “too” for this response. all this “as well” business is terribly mitigating.
        it WAS a good episode! and i, too (:P), was left wanting to get to the bottom of this edge business.
        also, (i’m re-reading TFiOS) i just got your reference to chocolate and broccoli. and while chocolate will always taste like chocolate, and broccoli will always taste like broccoli, chocolate could never taste FANTASTIC without having had broccoli. it would just be more good stuff piled on more good stuff, and while it would always be pleasant, it wouldn’t be special.
        …i guess while i can’t say i wouldn’t mind a life full of endless heaps of good stuff, i’m glad i can appreciate how special that good stuff is.

  3. Pingback: Depression | The Daily Blog

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