I remember the first time I got an inkling that the world was a scary place. I was nine years old and the oil crisis was happening. You could only get gas on certain days based on whether your license plate ended in an even or odd number, and the lines at gas stations were ridiculous. Americans get incredibly nervous at the thought of never being able to have something or at the thought that someone else was getting more than their share of a commodity. It’s just how we are.
So lines were long. (I read a statistic on Wikipedia–so it must be true–that we wasted an estimated 150,000 barrels of oil a day just by idling our cars in gas lines, panicked that we’d have to walk or bike everywhere from now on, god forbid.) Anyway, the adults were angry and scared and talking a lot about things going on in some country called Iran. I remember sitting in the passenger seat of my dad’s MG convertible, inhaling gas fumes because I liked the way they smelled and no one knew at the time that they were giving us all cancer, looking at the line of cars stretching out behind us into the street, and thinking that the world was a big and scary place.
Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t instantly converted into an angry, fearful cynic. I was nine, fer chrissakes. My parents were still doing a bang-up job at softening blows for me. But that was my first glimpse into the fact that the world wasn’t all hopscotch, swimming, and tire swings.
And that was the Seventies, a time that seems quaint now by today’s standards. It’s not that the problems then weren’t real; it’s just that now everything seems to have gotten so much worse. Right? Everywhere you turn, shit be BLEAK: geopolitically, financially, environmentally, socially, racially. The country is more polarized than ever, partially because we now have an African-American president and a Congress that panders to its basest, most ignorant constituency. The rich have gotten richer, the poor have gotten poorer. The middle class is getting fucked too. There is an active, vibrant, and dangerous war on women. Our climate is going to hell and people are politicizing that, fer fuckssakes. Corporations pollute, they poison our food, they dump toxic waste into our rivers, they influence elections. Scary and violent wars are happening all over the world. Shit is unstable, yo.
In short, how in the fuck are we supposed to actually be HAPPY in all this mess? You keep yourself informed by reading the news in the morning, then spend the rest of your day in the Slough of Despond because the world is going to hell in a hand basket, and there’s not a damn thing you can do about it.
So everyone walks around angry. I mean, pissed the fuck OFF. I spent a decade riding San Francisco’s joke for a bus system, and I saw it firsthand–the number of people walking around with barely contained rage in their eyes was alarming. We can now carry concealed handguns in some states, thereby increasing the chance that when two strangers have an altercation, like a car accident or a misunderstanding in a coffee shop, one of them will resort to easy violence instead of honest communication.
We feel lost, alone, impotent, hopeless, and there seems to be no outlet for it. Some people bury their heads in the sand and choose to live in ignorance. I don’t blame them; it’s not a bad strategy for keeping yourself happier. Some people go to the gym for two hours a day and try and treadmill this vague unease out of their minds by exhausting their bodies. And honestly, if you’re not in therapy, I’m sure you know six people who are.
And then there are some who walk around with this marvelous balance. They’re smart, well-informed, politically active, but most of all–happy. They’re happy, those fuckers.
How do they do it?
I used to be one of the uninformed. And then I became a news junkie. That, combined with the usual adulthood problems and developing chronic pain at the age of 36, fundamentally changed who I was a person. Sure, we all change as we move through life, but I mean I fucking CHANGED. And the change was largely negative. I went dark. I suddenly looked up, after about three years of being pretty much eternally cranky, and realized there was a word for what I was experiencing: DEPRESSION.
Shit y’all, I had no idea how to handle myself at that point. I was a mess. I was focused 24/7 on the pain I was in, which didn’t leave much emotional room for being a good spouse, being a good friend, having the same, rich social life I’d always had, being a motivated employee, just being a good person in general. I was way too agitated about the crackheads in front of me in Walgreens prescription line screaming that they need their methadone or the slow-ass old lady with her seatbelt hanging out of her car door driving in front of me to care about devoting time to living life. I went from someone who’d spent a couple of decades being a bon vivant, being confident, and liking myself to someone who was furious at humanity all the time, mistrusted her own emotions, and hated who she was. For a chick, your forties are supposed to be your time to shine: you finally feel confident in who you are, you know what you want, and you finally maybe have a little bit of coin to realize your dreams or at least take a nice vacation finally.
I was none of that. And I felt entitled to it (I am an American, after all, we’re nothing if not entitlement junkies). I felt cheated.
And because I’d been such a happy person up til then–I mean like most of my life I’d been happy–I had no fucking idea how to cope with this shit. And then, about that time, smartphones and tablets came out, which meant I didn’t have to get out of bed or leave the house–I could just lie in bed and furiously read about the state of the world and watch horrible videos and documentaries about how we were constantly and alarmingly fucking up the planet. I became glued to my devices.
By now there have been many articles written about how these devices are ruining our lives, making it so no one actually has to interact with their fellow man anymore, giving us all the attention span of a fruit fly in a garbage dump. I’m glad they’re being written. I recognized I had a problem almost immediately, but I was depressed, so I just kept burying my face in mindless games, GIFs, reddit, Facebook, etc. Anything that kept me isolated from my wife and friends and kept me from talking about real shit.
So yeah, I’ve been through some shit these last five years: chronic pain; yet another stupid addiction (in a life already jam-packed with them); and a world that, on a large scale, was going to hell, and on a small scale, saw people being more and more horrible to each other.
And in all that, let’s pack on some guilt about the fact that you have a loving partner, an amazing family, fantastic friends, a job, food on the table, and a house so what in the fuck are you bitching about? It’s not like you have cancer, or are a starving child in Africa, or have to worry about getting bombed or raped on your way to work. You got yourself some real First World Problems, girl.
YOU’RE NOT MAKING MY FRAPPUCINO FAST ENOUGH, ASSHOLE!!!!
I had become one of THOSE people, the people we all hate, the person who sighs loudly behind you when you’re taking too long to pay, the person that honks and gives you the finger if you took too long making that right-turn, that person who automatically gets snippy with salespeople. Ugh. I was gross.
So it took five (okay, maybe six…fuck off) years for me to finally realize I would not be able to rely on my usually strong self to pull myself out of my mental morass. I needed help, and I needed it to come from as many sources as possible, but mainly within myself. Even in my isolation and confusion I understood that.
So this is my story. This is my journey to reclaim happiness. I don’t claim to be any kind of expert on this sort of thing; I’m just muddling through, trying different things, trying to keep an open mind and not react with knee-jerk sarcasm to everything as is my norm, trying to keep moving forward towards a goal of life balance. Balance–mental, physical, emotional–is my goal. And I’ll try almost any damn thing to achieve it, no matter how hippie or weird.
Hop on, bitches. It’s gonna be an entertaining ride.