You know it’s been a decent breakdown when the breakthrough a) takes you completely by surprise, b) causes breath-choking sobs and c) presents an instantaneous and throbbing headache directly behind your right eyeball.
The surprise part was because this breakdown had been so gradual and incremental that I’d begun to think I’d never shift it. I was starting to believe that instead of being in breakdown, I was just broken. I had a hell of a lot of evidence, too. Nothing was working and choosing differently wasn’t really working out so well. I’d owned that I’d been pretending everything was okay, so shouldn’t I have some sort of blinding-light epiphany, and be able to level up, so to speak?
Nope. I was increasingly angry and frustrated (and terrified) and by god, the saga of the washing machine and dryer (it’s not really an interesting story and you can use your imagination) had reached the point where I was a sobbing mess/seething ball of rage and misery. Must’ve been a real treat to be around. The appliances sat in the living room, abandoned by the installation guys and, at least to me, symbolizing my failure as a human being of any quality. Grimby had taken to following me to wherever I decided to sit and cry and just look at me with big brown empathetic eyes full of concern. I know, buddy, I know.
By this point, I was starting to feel pretty guilty about reaching out for support and not being able to generate anything other than "I don't know," but hell, my flying solo was definitely not working, so why not at least reach out and get supported (read: try to convince people to feel sorry for me or fix me, right)?
Tuesday, after waving the white flag on my work day, I saw that I’d missed a call from a teammate who is both a frigging genius and one of the blessings I count regularly. I called him up, with no idea what to say or ask.
We talked a bit about how stuck I was and everything I was doing to try and shift this crappy quicksand and find/uncover/create a breakthrough. I thought I was wasting his time. I was hopeless.
He asked me one question.
“Bay, what do you want?”
“I just want to be happy,” I said.
He got quiet for a second. And then he said this:
“I hear you say you want to be happy. And then I hear that you’re busy doing a whole lot of things that aren’t making you happy.”
And suddenly, it clicked. The proverbial penny dropped, like a lead balloon.
I held my breath, knowing that if I let it escape, it would erupt into a series of body-hitching sobs. One exhale and my sorrow poured out. Instantly, a tension headache materialized (believe it or not, I know this to be a sign that I’m onto something big).
He was right and I could suddenly see the futility of the game I've been playing, for approximately ever. I’d been trying to do happy. I used to be really good at it. I did all the right things, and I did them all really, really well. Everyone was impressed and praised me and so I knew I was good. I was happy, because they told me so. Happy was a place I could get to someday, if I did enough of the right things.
Suddenly I could perfectly remember being about, oh, three or four years old. Everyone at home (all the grown ups) seemed so angry, sad and scared all the time. It scared me. I vividly recall thinking, “It’s my job to make them happy. To make them smile.” You know, in the resolutely simplistic way that young children have, as they learn to make their world take shape.
I was really good at it, too. I was smart and pretty and talented and polite and generally super lovely. After all, if they were happy, then I could be too. Happiness was externally acquired and completely dependent on other people’s experience of me.
I've been trying to "do happy" for a good long time. It's my winning strategy to Listen for Problems/Unhappiness, so as to act by Doing All The Things, in order to Make Others Happy/Proud, thus being loveable and finally, getting to be happy.
My old strategy doesn't work anymore. It hasn't worked for a good while, if I'm being honest (and it appears that I am). While I sobbed on the phone, it was like I could actually see and hear the walls crumble off and fall from what I’d held was a solid castle around me, and was, in fact, a fragile and artfully constructed house of cards. This is what it looks like when you bankrupt a story that you’ve made real your entire life.
Here's what I got, right after the walls came tumbling down: It's not my job to make anyone else happy. It's not somebody else's job to make me happy. Happiness can't be done, but it can be chosen and experienced, every single minute. Happiness isn't something you do at all; it's something you are, because you choose to be.
[Tweet "Happiness can't be done, but it can be chosen and experienced, every single minute."]
Know what else is cool? I seriously got that I actually am smart and pretty and talented and polite and generally super lovely. I don't even feel weird saying that (typing that?).
This awesome teammate said that if he could give me a gift, it would be to know myself as he knows his experience of me. And I got it: Not just what I've been withholding, but what is available from the possibility that I actually deserve all the love I receive from the people around me. He loves me. And he loves awesome people. Ergo, I'm obviously super awesome. That's basically science.
I've spent the last couple of days really getting how awesome I am. It's been pretty cool.
Breakthrough in being and grammar. Who knew?