The Happiness Manifesto Blog

How I Beat the Living Hell Out of Suffering and Made It My Bitch

Archive for the tag “different”

My People

If you laugh a little too hard at Christopher Titus jokes (especially Norman Rockwell Is Bleeding), you are My People.

That’s kind of been my benchmark for years.

If it’s not been made clear, I come from a rather messed up background.  I’m not going to regale you with my “f**ked-uppedness cred” – because that’s rather beside the point.  And really – I am tired of hearing the same story at the beginning of every “rags to riches” or “success story” by a given author.  Every.  Single.  Time.  “Look, I overcame this!” and “Look, I overcame that!”  Maybe the first speech or book or radio show you hear them do, you say, wow.  But then if you like what they have to say and you want to hear more… you have to hear that same story twenty million times.  By about the fifth or fifteenth time, you’re feeling rather pitiless, like, “Yeah, I know, you were homeless and living in your car, or addicted to drugs, or an alcoholic, or Mommy didn’t love you, blah, blah, blah… I know!  Get on with it!”

Or as Christopher Titus would say, “…come down off the cross and use the wood to build yourself a bridge and get over it.”

Or is that just me?

Now, don’t get me wrong.  I am not an advocate of telling people to hold it all in, suck it up, or otherwise give themselves an ulcer.  But life coaches?  Motivational people?  STILL fixated on their troubled past?  Reliving it with every class or seminar or speech they give?  That just seems… f**ked up.

But Wren, you may be saying, they’re trying to show that if they can come from hell and succeed, you can, too.

Alright, fine.  But you can say, “I know what it’s like to be in a dark place,” without having to go into all the gory details.  And if you’re truly over it, you don’t need to go into the gory details with every Tom, Dick, and Harry you want to motivate.  But these people are telling the same exact story – either with so much pain in their voices you just know it still haunts them, or with absolutely no emotion at all, like they’ve become so numb to the telling of it that it means nothing anymore – over and over again.  Neither of these scenarios sounds very healthy for the storyteller.  And how are they helping others by self-flagellating, again?

So what’s the point of telling and re-telling your dark, gritty backstory twenty times a week to anyone who will hear it?

Oh, yeah.  F**ked-Uppedness Cred.

These people are trying to earn the respect of people who are still in the dark place.

You know you do it, too.  Hell, I’ve done it.  If you’ve been through hell, you look at the Leave It To Beaver-esque families out there, with their support for each other, unconditional love, financial stability, health, and tragedy-less lives, and you kind of stare, like, “are these people for real?”  When the worst thing that’s happened to them is a fender bender or a bad case of the flu, you scoff at their blissful unawareness.  You mock what they consider to be hard times.  You can’t take much of anything they say – let alone their advice or compassion – seriously, because you feel like they just don’t know what the hell they’re talking about.

So the F**ked-Uppedness Cred is important if you want to be respected and taken seriously, and not blown off as some airy-fairy self-esteem cheerleader, giving trophies to everyone just for participating.

Right?

Well, f**k that noise.

I’m a pretty easy-going kinda gal.  Even when I was a volatile brew of emotional meltdown, blinding self-hatred, and distorted thinking, I still put on the happy face, and no one had even the foggiest that anything was even remotely bothering me.  Again – I am not advocating this as a good idea.  In fact it’s a very, very bad idea.  Don’t do it.  But I digress.

I would smile.  I would laugh.  I would make jokes.  And I didn’t tell other people my crap.  When something dropped – usually innocuously – it would stun the hell out of people.  Because I came off as that innocent goody two-shoes whose biggest problem was that tragic C in math class type.  But then I would let slip some hint of my real life and inevitably, I’d get comments along the lines of, “Wait… what?!  You?!!” or “But you always seem so happy!”

Yep, me.  News flash: not every person with a tragic past a) does drugs b) drinks to excess c) dresses goth and/or slutty and/or gangster d) screws anything that moves in a desperate search for love or e) flunks out of school and/or gets arrested.  Some of us rebel by being good.

Yessir, when I was a teenager, I was an honor student, participated in all sorts of extracurriculars, held down a job, was a teacher’s pet of sorts, didn’t do drugs, drink, have sex, or get into trouble, and otherwise could have played the “good influence” role on any after school special there ever was.

All while… living in hell.

And I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been condescended to by people whose biggest problem that I could tell (since they lamented to me as though I was their confessor) was… they didn’t always get what they wanted.  But because I never said, “Let me tell you about real problems… ” and instead took their problems seriously, they presumed I found their plight to be equally tragic and the worst thing I’d ever heard.

Now I know I sound a little heartless here, and I don’t mean to be.  If you don’t have the perspective to put the little annoyances in perspective, then it’s going to seem huge and horrible in your vision when you encounter them.  I get that.  But if there’s a continuum of tragedy, and death and rape are on one end, and a parking ticket is on the other… the death and rape end gets to shake their head at the parking ticket end when they start going on like they’re a cast member in Hamlet.

So, I’ve been scoffed at for not wearing my F**ked-Uppedness Cred on my sleeve, and it used to annoy the bejeezus out of me.  But I still couldn’t bring myself to do it.  I don’t know why.  It’s just not in me.

But I’ve come to the place where I Just Don’t Care and It Doesn’t Really Matter.

Think I’m a naive?  Go right ahead.  Think I’m BSing you when I say “I understand where you’re coming from”?  Scoff away!  Because I Just Don’t Care and It Doesn’t Really Matter.  I don’t feel the need to win some tragedy contest or earn Extra Horrifying Bonus Points.  If someone is in a place where they can hear what I have to say, then they’ll hear it.  If they’re not, then they’ll find some other excuse to not do so even if I gave them a detailed dossier of Why I Understand Your Pain.

This isn’t to say “my secrets will die with me!!!” as much as it is to say, you’re not going to hear my sob story twenty million times.  If something is pertinent to a conversation, and perhaps actually helpful to furthering the discussion, maybe I’ll share it.  But I’m not going to go around announcing it so that I have the immediate respect of the other F**ked-Uppedness Survivors in advance.  Because I shouldn’t have to.  I want people to judge me on my present, not my past.  If my words have value, they have value in the now, not because I have a good sympathy-garnering story to tell.

So, judge me how you will.  There will not be a Chapter One: Out of Darkness autobiographical horror story in The Book.  But hopefully a few folks will read it anyway.

And I will try really hard to not stare at the Cleavers of the world like they have antennae sticking out of their heads when they talk about how wonderful their life is, except for that awful day when June broke the heel of her shoe and skinned her knee.

Because isn’t wonderful what we’re all aiming for?

A Time For Every Purpose

Modern life is filled with a whole lot of tossing aside of natural rhythms and forcibly conforming to some arbitrary man-made order.  If we don’t mold easily to whatever contrived system is deemed “normal,” we’re freaks, we’re lazy, we’re procrastinators, or we’re just plain weird.  If your energy, your muse, or your motivation doesn’t come in eight-hour bursts five days a week, then something is just wrong with you.  I’ve already discussed my struggles with the fact that I do not have a 24-hour circadian rhythm and how that has affected my sleeping and waking life.  But I’m not just talking about sleep.  My energy and my inspiration comes in waves, and it does this with everything.  I’ll have a spate of painting inspiration, or writing inspiration, or knitting inspiration, or cleaning inspiration.  For a while, be that a few days or a few weeks, I will be painting like a being possessed, or writing at a pace that if sustained would get something the length of War and Peace turned out in a couple of months.  But do I sustain this frenetic knit-a-thon until I’ve made a cozy large enough to hug the cash register building (attention non-Denverites: look at a picture of our skyline.  We have a skyscraper shaped like an old-school cash register)?  No.  The wave of knitting mania peters out before it goes that far.  And then I won’t knit for possibly months until I feel compelled to pick up a pair of needles again.

Sometimes I wish I could control when these bursts of focused energy hit, but that’s the thing.  I can’t.  No one can.  I can’t say, “Writing muse, activate!” like I’m a Wonder Twin.  When it’s there, it’s there.  When it’s not, it’s not.  That’s how the muse works.  And it’s not just creative endeavors, either.  I mentioned cleaning, for one.  Sometimes I go on a cleaning/purging/organizing binge that would make Mr. Monk proud.  Other times the mere sight of the dirty dishes piling up in my kitchen sink fills me with dread.

Here is where I estimate about 50% of my reading audience is going to attempt to diagnose me with bipolar disorder.  And though I will admit that idea has been floated to me by a doctor at one point, I really don’t think it is the case.  Because usually the “swing” isn’t a swing at all, but a shift.  One day I might be a cleaning fool.  Then the next day I might be click-clacking away at the keyboard.  It’s not that I’m “high” or “low” – it’s that my focus has changed.  And you can put away the ADD diagnosis as well.  When I’m inspired, I have the focus of a laser.  For HOURS.  Or days.  Or weeks.  You get the idea.

Which brings me to the larger point: why do we seek to label things that don’t fit the “normal” mold as disorders?  I’m not saying actual disorders don’t exist, but why is it a problem if all I can think about is writing for a week, or if I have twenty things I am flitting about in one day?  If I’m functional, I hardly think that’s a disorder.

Aha, therein lies the rub: define “functional.”  You might say, if I’m so absorbed in what I’m doing that I skip a meal or a shower then slow down, turbo, that’s just craziness!  But would you think so if you were reading about some great artist and how they created their masterpiece?  I’m guessing you’d just label that “artistic genius” (unfortunately, telling my mother that I was an artistic genius growing up because Leonardo DaVinci was supposedly a slob didn’t get me out of cleaning my room, but ya know, worth a shot).  And how many gamers do you know that get whatever new game they love and will not be seen or heard from for the next two or three days until they’ve beaten the thing?  Are they disordered or just passionate about that game?  Since it’s an actual thing for significant others to call themselves “<enter name of game here> widows,” as in, “Are you free this weekend?” “Yeah, I’ll be a Skyrim widow for the next few days, so I’m free!” …I’m thinking that’s not so abnormal.  So why do we treat it as such?

Why do we make exceptions (see above gaming example) for some things, but that is absolutely out of the question for other things?  Why can’t you call out of your day job when you need a mental health day without faking a cough?  Why isn’t it enough to just say, my focus just really isn’t there today, and I wouldn’t be very productive if I tried to force it anyway?  Because it’s seen as immature to admit to the fact that you can’t turn your focus and passion on and off like a switch?  I would think it would be more mature to know your “limitations,” though I hesitate to call them such.  I don’t see these things as limitations; I see them as natural cycles.

Think about it historically: people living closer to the land had natural cycles built into their lives that us modern city-dwellers don’t even acknowledge today.  There was planting season; there was growing season; there was harvesting season; there was the cold season when you retreated indoors.  Your focus was on different activities, in different quantities, at different times of the year.  And those activities were influenced by things like the weather, and how much sunlight you had, and how many people were working together to accomplish a goal.  Yet we’re expected to still maintain a year-round five days a week, 52 weeks a year, eight hour burst of focus on the same exact thing for our entire adult lives.  Sounds rather arbitrary, doesn’t it?

So why is it “irresponsible” to not fit that unnatural mold?  It sounds more like being in tune with the real world to me.  But we’ve become so conditioned, in a very short period of time, when you think about it, that this is just the way things are, and how they’ve always been.  But in reality the industrial revolution, and with it, the scheduling of people’s lives around factory schedules instead of the natural world, is a relatively recent development.

I say down with a man-made contrivance, and up with listening to your body, your spirit, and your natural rhythms.  I find I accomplish a lot more of value this way, as opposed to a pile of busywork and an ethic of butts-in-seats.  Do what is worthwhile.  Time is relative.

Let It Be

For the past couple of months, I have been largely in what a friend of mine calls “cave time,” that is, time when you turn inward and live in your inner world rather than participating so much in the outer world, or as some might say, “the real world.”

I’ve had a lot of good insights into myself, my path, and life in general during this time, as well as a lot of “What on Earth have I done all day??” moments.  That was part of the lesson I learned during this time.

We often feel in our go-go-go, work-work-work, now-now-now society that “just being” is just a polite way of saying “lazy,” and of course, being “lazy” is “bad.”  We’ve got that masochistic work ethic drilled into us so much that the idea of “rest” is foreign and to be sneered at.  I’ve had this theme become rather ubiquitous in my life as of late.  Someone I follow on Google+ – or was it Facebook? – commented one day how it was brought to their attention when they had shared an update that they were taking a “lazy Sunday” and just resting and relaxing.  One of their friends had commented “Don’t make a habit out of it.”  Why not make a habit out of it?  They wondered.  Isn’t that the idea behind the weekend?  The sabbath?

Remember that notion?  One day a week where it was religiously mandated to relax and live in your inner world and commune with a higher power.  Why is that now “bad”?

I was browsing Kindle books a little while ago and found this gem I had never heard of before: “The Right To Be Lazy” by Paul Lafargue (Karl Marx’s son).  I’m not done with it yet, but in it he talks about how historically “work” was something to be scorned by free people, and how being free from work spawned a lot of great philosophies and discoveries, such as in ancient Greece.  Back then, the work was foisted onto slaves, but now we have machines that can do much of this work for us (and keep in mind, this book was written around the turn of the 20th century, so this holds even more true today than it did then).  So why didn’t automation become a way for people to work less and have more free time and still have enough to get by?  Why did our society develop the way it did, with “workaholics” and overtime galore, or even if you didn’t want to live that way, feeling pressured to perform thusly or risk losing your income?  Why did automation become a “threat” to our livelihood rather than a blessing?  Why didn’t EVERYONE benefit from these technologies, instead of just stockholders and CEOs?  And why do CEOs continue to work so much, despite being filthy rich?  If you won millions of dollars in the lottery, wouldn’t you quit your job and do what you wanted (say, travel around the world or volunteer or hobbies or whatever it is you like to do)?  These guys win the paycheck lottery every year but they keep working 80 hour weeks, instead of quitting after a while and living a comfortable life.  Instead of passing the torch for someone else to win the paycheck lottery, they feel driven to “keep busy”.  People, when talking about retirement, often say that they “wouldn’t know what to do with themselves.”  Why is that?

Have you ever read a Jane Austen novel?  Monied people didn’t work.  If you watch Downton Abbey, the family is rather scandalized when they discover that the next in line to inherit the Earldom is a LAWYER who WORKS (gasp!).  Back then, if you had the means, you didn’t work.  But many people who have what I would consider to be plenty to live on insist on working, even though they don’t need to.  It’s shameful if you don’t have a job, even if you don’t really need the money.

Why do we define ourselves by our livelihoods?  When people ask me “What do you do?” I have often said, “I write, though that’s not how I pay the bills, if that’s what you mean.”  Why do I feel the need to make that distinction?  Because I have never defined myself by my job.  The job was just a way for me to pay the rent.  What I WAS was an artist (painter, sculptor) and a writer.  I WASN’T a secretary, or a medical assistant, or a cashier.  That was what I did by necessity; writing, painting, sculpting, etc. is what I did for love.

So, just being.  One of the things I’ve discovered since losing my “regular job” back in June was the nature of the sleep issues I’ve had all my life.  I always chalked them up to being “a night owl,” but even when I worked nights I still wasn’t sleeping enough, or sleeping through five (yes, five) alarm clocks, or any variation of “not being able to maintain a decent sleep schedule” in between.  And yes, I read just about every article on sleep and tried just about every remedy besides drugs, and nothing helped.  What I’ve discovered is that apparently, my circadian rhythm is not set to 24 hours.  Once I finally let myself sleep when I was tired, instead of when I “should” sleep, and stay awake when I was awake, instead of trying to force myself to sleep, it became clear that I just don’t cycle every 24 hours.  For instance, for the past few days, the cycle has been: awake for 26 hours, sleep for 10 hours, awake for 26 hours, sleep for 12 hours.  That’s about three days but for me it was two.  No WONDER I was either an insomniac or comatose.  I’ve beat myself up over my sleep habits – or lack thereof – my whole life.  I’ve been deemed “lazy” and “irresponsible” because of it, even when the majority of the time, trying to squeeze myself into a “normal” schedule meant that I averaged about five hours of sleep a night (or less).  Accepting that I’m just not wired like most people, and not beating myself up over it or trying to force it into submission has been a boon to both my waking and sleeping hours (not to mention my mood).  I feel great, and for once in my life, rested.  One of the many reasons why I’ve been trying desperately to find my niche and earn a living writing/freelancing – I’d get to keep my sleep schedule the way it naturally is.

It took me months to get to the place where I am now, of neither trying to force myself into the “normal” mold, nor feeling guilty about it.  I still struggle with it some days, especially during the winter months when the day is so short and THAT’S when my body decided it was bedtime.  But the difference it has made in how I feel usually means I can override that guilty feeling with, “Don’t mess this up!”  Or maybe “You’re allowed” or “You’re worth it.”  Because you know what?  We’re all worth getting a good night’s rest.  Or staying up when we’re not tired.  Either or.  It’s not a sin.

And that’s been the overriding lesson learned these past couple of months of “cave time.”  I’m allowed to turn inward when I feel the need.  I’m allowed to let my body dictate when it’s tired or awake.  I’m allowed to work like a busy bee or take a day off.  I’m even allowed to have a bad mood some days, and not feel guilty for it.  It’s called being human.  We’re not perfect, and we’re not all the same.  And I don’t have to internalize society’s dictates on what I “should” be or do.  I needn’t feel guilty because I don’t fit the “average” mold.  For years I beat myself up and hated that I didn’t fit that mold.  Today I’m finally glad I’m different.

Post Navigation