My parents and sister were down last weekend. Right before they left, my mom looked at me and said, "You seem happy." And she's right -- I am happy fairly consistently right now.
I would say I'm in a good place, only I no longer believe in good places and bad places, only places. One might think I'm happy because my novel just came out, but in actuality, I got totally anxious and angsty when I signed my contract, so good things happening for me professionally don't necessarily translate into good things happening to my mental health. I'm sure that seems ridiculous, but it happens all the time. Look at how many people -- particularly creative people -- fall apart a little right after they get a break. I think change is hard no matter what type of change it is, because it's fucking scary. Putting out a novel means I have to up my game next time, and people will read it and maybe hate it and talk about it -- so many things for my anxiety to grab onto.
I'm actually shocked I'm happy right now. Even though that sounds ridiculous.
Last Saturday I woke up snarly and snarled at Beloved and the little angel before I took her to ballet. As I was sitting there waiting for ballet to be done, I realized how familiar that snarl had felt, how I used to an extremely frequent snarler, and how I had committed to myself and my husband a few years ago to really stop snarling and try to look at the world more optimistically. I'm by nature melancholy, and it's a real effort for me to instantly see the good instead of the bad. However, I've noticed the more I work at it, the easier it is. When I snarled, he responded with, "Why are you yelling at me?" and I didn't know the answer to that question. I think I surprised him because I have not snarled quite like that in so long.
I sat there worrying I'd introduced a new tone into our house that was going to creep back into our lives. I texted him, called him, made sure he knew I didn't mean it and wanted to start the day again. And then we did, and my family showed up, and my mother's takeaway is that I seem happy.
I've learned to work toward happy. I still have mood swings, sometimes very bad ones, but I try not to show my irritability or randomly thrash those around me when my heart beats fast and the hair on the back of my neck stands up for absolutely no reason but my body chemistry. I pray with my daughter, and we talk about the best part of the trip instead of what went wrong, and I pet the cats and wish for the thousandth time I could invent a purring, warm neck wrap to wear around when they aren't available. I try to take advantage of sunny corners the minute I see them, even if it's just for a few minutes. I try to do one thing at a time and give that one thing my full attention.
And even then, sometimes it still doesn't work. Sometimes I find myself deep breathing and staring at the wall without knowing why, and in those times I've learned to ask myself what human need could be met right in that moment that would make me feel better. Am I cold? Am I stiff? Am I thirsty? Am I tired? Would I like some music, less music? Are my clothes itchy?
I tell people I spend as much time managing my anxiety as some people do managing diabetes or asthma. I no longer look at these little breaks as wasting time, because that makes me more anxious, and the faster I can get things under control, the more productive the day will actually be, the more creativity I will be able to bring to my work. If I am not anxious, I won't foist that tone on my household.
And so when my mother told me I seemed happy, I actually took it as a compliment more than an observation. I haven't always been a happy person, but I'm working toward that. I want to be a happy old person one of these days.