Wednesday, January 2, 2013

When Happiness Attacks!

From the time I can remember, the days surrounding New Year's have always depressed me. I was a depressed kid as it was, and ever since I was aware of what "New Year's" meant, the days leading up to it have always made me unaccountably sad and mournful. There's absolutely no reason for this. There was no seminal event at that time of year that triggered bad memories, no particular emotional issues surrounding the holiday season, (I'm generally pretty indifferent to Christmas), no grand existential concerns about the turning of time. Everywhere I've ever lived, the weather was always dull, cold and gray in varying extremes during that time of year, but not even that was ever enough to cause such hopeless angst. It's just something that's a part of me, and it's been the same every year--totally predictably, I fall into a crippling depression somewhere this side of Christmas and New Year's, which lifts the second the clock turns to midnight on the 31st. It's like I've been weirdly cursed by some demented, highly specific fairy-tale figure who decided that I shall be utterly drenched in a darkness of spirit during the last ten to fifteen days of every December: "Bwahahahahahahaha! I hereby command you shall be immersed in blinding despair and powerless against it for ten whole days! Aaand, than after that, you know--feel however you want. S'up to you."

After about a solid week of this, on New Years' Day, I awoke with a sense of relief and lightness. I felt good, uncharacteristically optimistic and relaxed. I got up early and worked on my novel for hours. I took a long, fast walk in the cold winter sun, and realized I was craving lemon chicken soup, so I went to the store and bought all the ingredients and whipped it up and didn't even care that Mr. Typist said it was "a good first effort" even though I've made that soup, like, twelve times before. (It's been awhile, is all. And it got a little overcooked. But it was my soup, and I loved it for what it was.) Then I worked on my novel some more, and as I was sitting there pecking away, a really odd feeling came over my body. I realized it was happiness--deep, rich, peaceful happiness. And I realized that body simply didn't know what to do with this feeling. It was so unfamiliar that my body didn't know where to place it, where it should settle. It was fighting the feeling not because it didn't want the feeling, but because it was so unpracticed in how to host it. I sat there, looking on in wonder at this beautiful feeling buzzing just outside my skin, and noticing my body not blocking it exactly, but more feeling it out tentatively, holding back a little, wanting to be sure this was okay. 

In the end, there was no dramatic splitting open, no joyful reception, just a moment of curious observation: Oh, this feeling is deep happiness. Oh, I see my body is unfamiliar with it. It was an interesting experience, one that I remain mildly detached from. I suppose I should be somehow sad that this happened, that at my age, happiness has been so elusive my body doesn't know what to do with it, but I'm not. I feel okay about it. I feel that I could not have earned such a pleasure without knowing wild pain, stupefying grief. My body will get there, my body will know what to do with happiness in due time. I will just keep opening the door when it comes over, and fumble my way through helping it to its favorite chair. It's just as equal and welcome as my despair, my depression, my fear, my anger. Come in, come in. You're new, you're unfamiliar. I would love to get to know you better. 

--Kristen McHenry


Frank Moraes said...

I don't know much about the deep happiness, but I'm glad you are experiencing it. It sounds nice. I do know that it takes time to process new feelings. Until we do, they just are.

I'm much more familiar with depression. To me, the opposite of depression is mania. I enjoy my mania. To a large extent, I live for my mania. It is what makes the depression bearable.

I think there is a reason for being depressed between Christmas and new year. It doesn't necessarily apply to you, but it is true of me. I'm not depressed during this period, necessarily. But I am sad, which--all things considered--is not that bad a way to feel. I feel this way because it is an alienating time. This is a time when other people are busy doing things and yet work is kind of sidetracked. I find myself at loose ends.

I get through bad times hoping for good. And good times are always modulated due to faith that it will all soon end. A survival skill?

Enjoy your happiness!

Kristen McHenry said...

"I get through bad times hoping for good. And good times are always modulated due to faith that it will all soon end. A survival skill?"

I would say it is a survival skill, and probably a wise one at that.

Oddly, I never fully trust any good feeling to last, but when I feel bad, I'm convinced that it's going to last forever, that it's permanent and there's no way out of it, ever.

Jo-Ann said...

You know, it took just shy of 50 years of mood swings to finally have it sink in that everything passes. Even in my darkest moments I now know that it will pass. I think that is the blessing of being a writer: we observe, we feel; we write down.

I even remember the moment when I realized the dark would someday leave. It was a couple of years ago. I was walking along the seawall and realized that while everything ... the water, the gulls, the people ... seemed coated in shadows... just a few days prior, the same scene was the most beautiful place on earth. The contrast shook me and I began to realize, for the first time, it was me that had changed... my environment was still the same.

Funny how you can be told that again and again but not have it sink in until you experience it viscerally.

And I agree with Frank. Although my manic periods are quite subdued now, I too, felt the depression as kind of a payment for the euphoria.

Glad you popped out, J

Frank Moraes said...

I understand what Jo-Ann is saying. I'm curious about how far it goes. There are two kinds of "thinking" that I do. Even when things are black as black, I know it will get better, in an intellectual sense. I've been through it so many times, I'd have to be an idiot, not to know that. But maybe I am an idiot, because on an emotional level, I know it will always be as bad as it is. It is like I have two minds and they don't agree. What's more the more rational one is of no use. It is like the friend that tries to cheer you up, "Things 'll get better, bud!" I appreciate the thought, but if anything it makes me despair more.

Anyway, Jo-Ann: are you to the point where you really feel that things will get better? Is there hope for the future? (I hope that doesn't sound flip, I am deadly serious.)

Jo-Ann said...

Its a good question, Frank, but not one I ask myself anymore. My depressive episodes do not last as long as they used to and although they can be just as intense, I dont contemplate suicide anymore. Regardless, I dont hope for a day of release anymore either. I used to think that if I could meditate more (or better); eat healthier; and resolve all my childhood issues, I would be cured. That day on the seawall helped me see the cyclic nature of my moods: that I wasnt going to stop them but I could change how I view them.

Oh, and I dont tell friends anymore when I am going through one cause, yeah, nothing like being told its going to get better when you are in the hole. (Or better yetm dont you love it when they say: "I know what you mean, I'm depressed too".)I just curl up, pretend when I have to, and manage the best I can till its over. Ironically enough, I am a "happier" person because of it.