Did I forget how to be happy?
That’s similar to what my friend Norbert explored in his poignant essay on his discovery of his own depression for the The Good Men Project. I revisit that piece often. It’s become a benchmark of sorts for me: have I too become numb to what’s going on around me?
I think maybe I have.
It’s not to say that I don’t feel. I do. In fact, I feel so much it’s detrimental sometimes. I was once told I’m an empath or at least I have a strong sense of empathy that helps me connect with others. It’s that thing that makes you cry when someone else cries. That makes you feel angry when your friend is angry. It’s supposed to be a good thing.
I can’t seem to handle the world around me now. Each day it’s a new horrifying realization that the world is changing and I’m not sure it’s for the better. I remember going on holiday trips, trapped in the car with my parents for hours on end, watching the world rush by in an elongated blur of color and light. I would stare out the window and wonder what the people in the cars were thinking, where they were going and what they would do when they got there. When I bored of that, I would pretend I was galloping alongside the highway on a great thoroughbred horse, jumping over fences and ducking under trees along the way. My mind would clear and I was able to escape the car for a bit. Escape my life.
I can’t seem to find that escape now.
My mind can’t seem to clear. It’s always full. Full of worry and doubt. The news terrifies me. The stories my friends of color tell me are shocking, more so because of how casually they tell them, as if this is just another day for them. My guilt for being born in a society where my outward appearance gives me advantages over others grows exponentially. I want to change it, but I’m overwhelmed each time I get involved.
Part of my privilege allows me to check out and take a break from the noise; from the guilt. But it’s necessary. I can’t look at my family without feeling how deeply lucky we are, but how close we are to losing it all. Not because of the changes in the world, but because of our own circumstance.
Hubs and I have both been unemployed; him for eight months and me for two years. We had massive debt and only accrued more. It’s taken us years of budgeting, cutting expenses and lots of tears to get where we are today. We are so lucky to own a home, even though we’ll be paying our mortgage off forever. We have food on our table. We have a car. We are fortunate to have Miss O in a public school we don’t have to pay for and can walk to. We finally have jobs that pay us enough to pay down our debt enough to get us to a reasonable level. We can buy things we want as well as what we need. I managed to save enough money to pay for our upcoming trip to Disney World in cash and still maintain the level of living to which we’ve become accustomed.
I should be ecstatic.
I can barely get through my day without a stress migraine or wanting to be left alone. I can’t wait to pick up Miss O from camp every day, yet when we get home, all I want to do is whatever I have to do to pick up the house, get dinner ready, or whatever else is, ultimately, not playing with my daughter. She reads to me while I putter around the house. The other day I realized I can’t actually sit down without doing something. I’ve taken to mindlessly scrolling through Facebook on my phone or playing one of my silly games. I tell myself it’s good for her to play by herself. She’s an only child. Being alone is not the same as being lonely. It’s true. I turned out okay. Didn’t I?
Yesterday I made myself stop puttering and ask her if I could play Legos with her. Her smile widened as she quietly said, “yes, Mommy. You can be Wonder Woman.” Then she went about whatever she was doing on her side of the Lego table, whilst I attempted to get Wonder Woman on a horse outside the tiny pizza parlor in Lego land. It’s good for Wonder Woman to have a day job.
I only lasted fifteen minutes. My hip started to lock and I knew I’d be stuck on the floor forever if I didn’t move. It upsets her to see me in pain, so I tried to adjust as much as I could before my face gave me away. Her empathy is off the charts as well, though, so it was too late. “You don’t have to play Legos with me, mommy.” That’s when I realized I hadn’t really been doing anything. I’d just been sitting there watching her play.
When I was her age, I had half the Legos she has and I played with them daily. I loved Legos. They were another escape. I could make them anything and I could be anything with them. They made me happy. I invented all sorts of things with them. Miss O does, too. I should be able to sit there forever and create with her. So why can’t I?
Has the weight of the world come down on me so much that I can no longer escape it or connect with anyone?
I know what happy feels like. I feel it when I wake Miss O in the morning and see her face, so much like when she was a baby, but maturing every day. I see it when I pick up Miss O at camp and she tells me all about her day. I am thrilled for her progress in the 3 feet section of the pool and so proud that she can move her arms and blow bubbles. She is growing and evolving right in front of me.
Yet, there’s something not quite right. Something is missing. Or maybe something is there. A gap of sorts. Not a void, really, but something in between.
Maybe it’s the overestimated expectation of what happy looks like and my perceived failure to achieve it. It’s not always pink fuzzy bunnies and rainbows in our house, that’s for sure. I know it doesn’t have to be, nor should it be, but shouldn’t there be something more? Shouldn’t the colors be a little brighter? Shouldn’t I be able to last more than fifteen minutes doing something I used to spend hours doing?
If I am numb, how do I feel again? Will I feel again? Will I be able to connect with my daughter before it’s too late? Or is it already too late?