Is This What Happiness Feels Like?

This post originally appeared on my tinyletter, Where is my Mind?

We’ve moved. We’re completely unpacked. I found the book I needed to read but couldn’t find after the move because I put it somewhere “safe.” I read the book. I’ve already bought 5 books in the new year, started three of them, finished none of them. My kids started school. I started coaching again. Swimming and ballet are doing fine. We have a routine that doesn’t feel as rushed. My husband is cooking again. I’m writing again.

I take public transit now to get to work, and I sit, in silence, headphone-free, for the duration of the trip. I’ve always loved public transit as time to think. I can’t read on buses or trains because I get motion sickness. So I just sit there and look out the window or middle-distance at people, but not really seeing them. I drift. I let my mind wander, and almost miss my stop.

And my mind doesn’t spiral.

I think about the day, about the manuscript I’m trying to revise, about old friends, about maybe taking a trip, about my favorite songs or maybe my least favorite songs, about lunch and dinner, about the weather, about French…None of it is even a tinged with anxiety.

I come home at night and I’m not worried about what I am going to face. I still lose my patience more often than not with the kids, but I recover and can help them out of their spirals. I don’t fall into guilt or shame. I take a deep breath and I come back to myself and I come back to them.

I go to my job in the morning and I feel good about the work I do, good about the people I work with, good about my competency and my ability to do my job. Work is good. Family is good. I’m good. I’m good. 

I’m good.

It’s weird to say it and actually mean it. It feels weird to say it, mean it, and then trust it.

When you grow up in an abusive home, happiness, joy, or even just being ok, is fleeting and not to be trusted, because it leads you to letting your guard down and being punished in some way, shape, or form. Or the inevitable fall comes as a surprise, rather than the expectation. Maybe this time, it will last longer than fleeting. There are those memories in Inside Out that are both happy and sad, but for me the memories are often happy and terrified, happy and hurt, happy and crying, happy and anxious. Never just happy. Never just ok.

The ADHD didn’t help, because I was impulsive and at times defiant and at other times so scared that I could barely function, sometimes in the space of an hour. Other times I was oblivious and couldn’t read the cues and signals and then paid the price. And then there was the desperation that leaked out of me and followed me everywhere and tainted happiness, as I grasped and clawed, trying to squeeze it into me, instead breaking it, dissipating it. I have always known how to ruin a good thing.

We don’t have to worry about money, not really, right now, and that’s a blessing and I hate using the word blessing but what else can I say that I’m not worried about how bills will get paid and how groceries will be bought and how I will be able to afford to retire maybe someday maybe never. We’re ok. We’re better than ok, we’re fine.

So maybe this isn’t happiness, maybe it’s just contentment, or maybe it’s a healthy baseline that a lot of people experience as ordinary but to me it is extraordinary. I’m ok with being (relatively) still. I’m not anxious, just normal, run-of-the-mill slightly worried about the right things and not the wrong ones. I’m ok with what I have and what I’m doing and how I’m doing it and other people in my life who I love and who mean everything to me (basically my family) are ok with it too.

This isn’t a bad way to start off the year. A hint of cynicism might creep in, leftover from too many years of being constantly on guard, and voice whispers, this won’t last – be ready. But it doesn’t go further than that, it doesn’t descend into every single thing that could go wrong and how they would all break me in various ways. I know “bad” things happen, I know that there will be setbacks, I know I will make mistakes, and I do know that life doesn’t ever really turn out how you wanted it to.

But I’ll take this moment. And even if this isn’t what happiness is, it’s what it is to me.

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