Allow me to be vulnerable and to admit to something which is a tad embarrassing. Even though I have been spouting off for months how happier I am as a result of doing a Happiness Project, I nonetheless recently found myself down the valley rather than blanketed in euphoria.
Indeed, after post after post about bliss, mindfulness, choice, happiness, and joy, I found myself having a “woe-is-me” attitude.
Care to join my pity party?
My happiness project momentum came to a grinding — and unexpected — halt in early April.
I am not entirely sure.
Down the Valley
For lack of a better adjective, I found myself bleh and unhappy. I was enveloped in some thick “my-life-stinks” fog.
I am well aware that now, for me, home is in the Southwest United States which is a far cry from my small French town by the ocean. In truth, I don’t wish to move back to France. However, there is a restlessness in me which longs to be “there” walking on paths traveled by my ancestors. The very same paths I also traveled until I was a young adult.
I want to touch the old stones of my childhood home or the home where my mother was born. On a gloriously sunny day, I want to pay my respects at my parents’ grave.
I desire to feast my eyes on long ago familiar sights, rich with faded memories of a time past, and visit intimate places which brought me joy and solace as a child.
Likewise, I want to stand on a rock with the salty air on my face as I watch the sun set over the Atlantic while listening to the melodic crashing of the waves.
Foreigner in a Foreign Land
Leaving home is never easy. Being a foreigner in a foreign land even less so.
While I have been welcomed in the States, and I have adapted quite well to being “here”, in complete honesty, I still sometimes feel “other.”
For instance, this happens when, when my husband mentions childhood TV shows I have never heard of, or when there are talks about football and baseball, sports which still seem foreign to me — and in fact are.
Likewise, I have memories foreign to most Americans: Streets paved with 600-year stones, towers which proudly guard the harbor’s entrance stared in the 11th century, a glimpse of a German bunker in a courtyard or peppered along the coast, and market day. Also, the marvelous smells from the corner bakery early in the morning.
Sights, sounds, and smells not from “here.”
I am left conflicted. Wanting more of “there” while being “here.” Feeling from both “here” and “there.”
There is not one person in the United States who knew me as a child. Those who recall such stories are “there.”
Likewise, when it comes to my life as an adult, there is a rift because this life is “here,” and never “there.”
There is something otherworldly about my parents being buried “there” and not being able to visit their grave at will.
I am from “here.” My passport says so, a proud American. I am also from “there” as my birth certificate declares. I am from both places and from neither.
My unconscious mind betrays me as I sleep.
Unnoticed, my gloom grew until it hung over my head like a pesky rain cloud.
I felt small and irrelevant.
Valued only for my “doings” rather than my “being.” All lies I was told. While my head readily agreed and my conscious mind reminded me of all who cared for me, my heart had none of it. To the contrary, it randomly betrayed me by selectively picking stories to prove its point: you don’t matter…not really.
How had events once cherished become arrows to pierce my heart? Memories which mocked me?
Suddenly, my joy at observing my happy family became a “they don’t even know you are not there with them.”
My carefully planned dates became “I do all the work.”
My unclaimed gold stars became “I am taken for granted.”
This new narrative added to a new conclusion: I am invisible.
In truth, this conviction was not new. I felt invisible as a child as well.
I was born and raised during the “children-should-be-seen-and-not-heard” glory years and I felt neither seen nor heard. Mission accomplished.
Childhood is less than a quarter of our life expectancy and yet it has such a profound impact on the rest of our life.
Your Attitude Stinks
What had changed?
Where did my Happiness Project go wrong?
Did I take a wrong turn and if so, where?
The only real change I was aware of was with my attitude. I no longer saw the world as a canvas waiting for my touch. Colors once bright and intense were now grayscale and boring. Rather than feeling like the empowered mistress of my domain and of my destiny, I felt like a child’s toy boat tossed about on a stormy sea. I felt dejected and defeated when in truth, my circumstances were unchanged.
Something was for certain: the place where I had landed was no preferred tourist destination spot. No one was going to willingly travel there for my pity party. This gloomy place wouldn’t grace the cover of “paradise magazine” any time soon.
I was miserable.
Misery is Down the Valley
Since misery likes company, I attempted to liberally share the blues with everyone, especially hubs. Sadly, those we love most and we feel most comfortable with also become witnesses to our darker side.
To his credit, hubby did not take the bait.
The thing is, I didn’t fully comprehend my newfound pessimism. With total candor, I can admit, I had visited this hovel before. Why I would choose to return was beyond me.
At times it feels as if we are actors in a story not our own or likewise, that old tapes play incessantly in the recesses of our mind — and there is no off button on the player. There are indeed gremlins which undermine our best intentions.
Our brain on occasion proclaims itself Lord and Master and hijacks our prefrontal cortex. “Thou shall NOT change,” it shrieks.
I will no longer listen to these obsolete narrations.
It’s a Small World
Allow me a small detour if I may.
Over 25 years ago, I found myself on a trip to Disneyland on the “it’s a small world” ride. While not a heart pumping, adrenalin-inducing ride, it was still a ride I wanted to try as part of my Disney experience.
All was going well until our ride lurched and stopped in the middle of the tour. The ride’s song which up to that point had gone mostly unnoticed suddenly became akin to Chinese water torture as “it’s a small world after all” played over and over…and over.
All we could do was sit and wait.
It felt like hours but I doubt that’s the case. It was with great relief however that we were asked to disembark from the — now — tortuous ride and we were escorted off the “barges” to an open plaza.
I am free at last!
This story of mine is a great illustration of our brain.
My Brain is no Friend
We’d like to think our mind is for us. It certainly thinks it is. The problem is that its main job is not to partner with us to maximize our happiness — as well as assist us in growing and changing — but instead, its primary function is to ensure our survival.
This aspect of our brain is great when we are in the savannah about to be lunch bait for a hungry lion — not a likely scenario in this day and age. A fact which our brain seems to overlook in its great desire to ensure our permanence.
“Run baby run” is no great help — nor advice — in today’s world.
Breaking the old narrative is often perceived as a thread by the organ between our ears and it will have none of it. At this junction rather than being a friend, our cranium becomes a “domineering bodyguard” as it attempts to convince us our new mission is not only foolish but also dangerous.
Our cerebellum will make the daily events of our lives fit its preferred narrative. It will try to convince us it is right and I must say, it is very effective at its job. Most of the time, it is successful in its mission of doom.
Lessons from Down the Valley
At this point, I now realize I allowed my feelings to dominate my reason and to run unchecked.
The emotions of not being enough are not exclusive to me. I am very aware that others feel this way. My recent client proves my point.
For most of us, these feelings are old friends met in childhood. However, let’s remember not all relationships are meant to be lifelong. Some should be released to the past as we forge ahead to write a new story.
Our stories while real and true to us, aren’t THE Truth. They are greatly affected by many factors and they do not have to remain constant from birth to grave. They can be altered. If they are not serving us well then they should most certainly be rewritten.
Is it okay to stumble and fall?
I would venture to say, it is inevitable.
My trip to “pit-land” was not enjoyable. However, it was still valuable for the lessons I gleaned. One of them being that I now see I was so busy focusing on everyone else for my Happiness Project that I left myself behind.
Note to self: take care of me. Nourish my soul and keep rewriting my story — especially the parts which no longer serve me — until it sticks.
As part of my new resolution: book a massage (long-term goal) and have some chocolate (short-term goal).
Chocolate down the hatch. Check.