Ok, so I adapted that bit of rapper financial wisdom (“Scared money don’t make money.”) to suit my purposes. Sue me. Thank you, oh ye wise sages, masters of the hoodrat anthem!
But it’s true. Pretending to be happy is more work than it takes to actually BE happy. Honestly, it’s exhausting from the inside out. And no matter who you fool on the outside, you still know the inside truth.
Emotional pain is a funny thing. It has a million different possible causes: grief, lost love, depression, career issues, education setbacks…etc. Yet with all those sources, there seems to be only one great healer: time. Everything can fall to shit in an instant…but
paternity test results time’s healing passage feels like the l o n g e s t wait ever. Time waits for no man…and it doesn’t speed up for a mofo either.
Thanks to a terrible break-up in 2005, perhaps no one knows that better than me. I learned a valuable lesson and made myself a promise: don’t fake happy for others’ comfort unless you’re trying to solidify your misery.
Despite breaking up in February, the warm month of May found me thin as a rail and sad every single day. My friends and family, bless their hearts, were tired of hearing me drone on like Eeyore with honest answers to the question, “How are you?” You could see in their eyes that they instantly regretted asking. I mean, shit…if you don’t wanna know, don’t ask! Instead, their whittled patience sometimes brought on charming responses like, “he was nothing anyway – you should be over him.” Not exactly helpful to a depressed person…
Joy seemed to be all around me…and in everyone’s life but mine. There was a glass wall around it: I could look and be close, but I just couldn’t seem to touch it on the other side. Everyone else was behind the wall, laughing and telling me I should join in, seemingly oblivious to the wall I was pressed against. They were sick of me not laughing too, tired of inviting me places I declined to go, and understandably DONE with hearing my “looks like rain” forecast on sunny days.
But I couldn’t help it. It was how I felt. I had to do something! At this rate, I’d be alone with my sadness (where I kinda secretly wanted to be) forever.
Where was time, with its late ass?! Father Time must be Jamaican. In hindsight, I should have sought therapy. But no one suggested it, and I wasn’t thinking clearly…obvs. So I made a wrong choice: I was going to FORCE myself into Happyland! I reasoned that that would make others around me happy that I was happy, and then they’d be relieved that I was better, and maybe I’d be close enough to THEIR happy to actually let some rub off on me! Like how lice hop from kid to kid in grade school! Happiness was like lice! Yes? NO. YES!
Well, if happiness was like lice, then sadness was like cockroaches.
I showed up at events and smiled a believable smile in picture after picture. I laughed THEEEEE loudest at a joke, and came back with a snappy reply of my own. I was in Miami and the Caribbean several times in just a few months, posed on a beach in a bikini like a lady of international leisure and mystery! But the only mystery was in my head: why is this not working? Everyone else seemed truly happy or only periodically down. But when the event was over – when the joking friends went back to work – and when the bags were unpacked at home…I still laid in bed, though tired from a day of pretending, and stared at the ceiling. The sadness cockroaches were coming out of their hiding places in the dark. Ironically, faking happy had only made me more legitimately sad. And each time a person bought my all-healed-now act, it made me that much sadder.
So…I stopped. Just like that. I stopped faking happy.
I said “today’s not a good day” and declined events I really didn’t want to go to. I stopped letting people pressure me into saying “I’m fine” when fine was actually far from where I was. Don’t get me wrong – I didn’t return to my “the sky is falling” face. I had hit the bottom of my sadness when that was happening. Instead, I reminded myself that the elusive “one day” WAS coming…if I could just hold on through the now…it WOULD be better “one day”. Easier said than done, but I gave it a shot and took the time I needed for me to face it, rather than burying it to make those around me happy. (I mean, didn’t they already have enough happy on their side of the glass wall anyway? Damn happy hoarders…)
“One day” did come. Somewhere along the way during the next couple months, I realized I had stopped TRYING to be happy. I just was. My laugh was back, my appetite had returned, and I really did want to go to the places I was invited. So I went…and I actually enjoyed myself.
In retrospect, imagine how much faster I might have been happy again if I had only had the courage to seek therapy or to simply NOT decide to do things I didn’t want to do for the sake of other’s comfort. I buried what I felt to project status quo.
Not worth it. Never is.
And that’s the lesson: be true to YOU. Honor your wants and needs rather than being concerned with how others think you should feel or what they think your “happy” should look like on the outside. If you need help, GET the help. Whatever the cause, do the work to get to happy, rather than employing the wallow/complain/hide strategy. Whether it’s a career change you need to make or an ex you need to get over, a relative you need to properly mourn… “one day” comes. I promise.
Bonus lesson: Raid Spray is very effective at killing cockroaches and ants. I also hear R.I.D. kills lice pretty well. You’re welcome.