Tag Archives: happiness

Lemons into Lemonade

Maybe it’s all the sunshine, laughs with friends and frozen boozy beverages that summer 2017 has bestowed upon me, but I’m feeling more optimistic these days. I was in a dark slump that surprised me with its timing and darkness for a few months, earlier this year and I wrote about it, talked to my friends about it, ran lots of miles in the hope I’d outrun it, then huddled up and watched Netflix with it for a while. Something seems to have shifted these days. My life situation hasn’t changed all that much but I’m starting to feel better. This may be delusional. I recently had a few weeks of a dating situation that turned out to be not very fun and kind of bizarre (Lesson: Never date the unGoogleable!!) but strangely, I still feel like I’m on the upswing. So I will just go with it, delusion or not. ¬†When I was younger, I used to pride myself in the fact that I was what I liked to call a “funmaker.” Inspired by my love of mentos, (not the fruity ones, all mint all the time, baby) the freshmaker. I had a genius for squeezing a good time out of very little money and few resources. I knew it was mostly about attitude and willingness to try something different, or to take a new route when things didn’t seem to be working on the path I was taking. Plus, I surrounded myself with other funmakers. It was funmaking at it’s best! I didn’t really know what I wanted to do with my life back then (hadn’t discovered my passion for the library sciences) but I knew for sure that I wanted it to be fun.

This all seemed pretty easy to do when I was young, but man, it’s been harder as time has gone on. Life just bogs you down sometimes and fun gets pushed to the side. Everything else seems so much more important and urgent. It was particularly hard for me when my kids were little and attached to me all the time, like cute little barnacles that I would long to scrape off, but would then miss like crazy when I did. I was always exhausted and feeling like I was failing in some way. And I’d think, “This isn’t fun! I’m a funmaker, dammit. I need to fix it!” But I couldn’t figure out how. One day I was driving with the kids and I heard them yelling out numbers to each other. “Hey guys, what are you doing?” I asked. “Counting all the fun things,” my middle son replied. To my great delight, it turns out that my kids are funmakers! When we got home, we made a list (’cause I am also the listmaker) of people, places, things and special treats that we could do, see and/or have that would add to our fun. We made a bulletin board with our list and would choose things from it every day. Some things were small and easy, like playing a favorite song, eating a favorite food or watching a favorite tv show and some were more involved, like getting together with friends, making fancy cupcakes or going to a place we liked. The list made it easy to do something fun every day. I also started really celebrating every holiday that came up, especially crazy made-up ones. Elvis’ birthday, National Donut Day, Talk Like a Pirate Day, etc. I took – and still take – great glee in tricking them on April Fool’s Day every year. And I researched routes on road trips to make stops at any weird, fun and unusual places that would make things exciting. I wanted so much for them to have a fun childhood and it made sense to work at it. I still do. It’s been harder over the past couple of years, but I do my best to remember to make fun a priority with them, especially now that we have less time together. These years have been so hard on them, too, so it seems even more important to choose fun whenever possible. But though I prioritize their fun, I don’t know if I’ve remembered to be a funmaker for myself. Why is that so hard?

A few years ago I was talking with one of my oldest friends and we were both exhausted and grouchy and she said, “Remember when we were young and fun? What happened?!” We both cackled at that, but it stuck with me. I’d think, “I used to be fun! Everything used to seem like a great adventure and now I’m apathetic and weary.” When I was married, for some reason it was rare for me to remember that I could choose fun for myself and not just for the kids or my husband. I forgot that I didn’t always have to do what everyone else wanted, while quietly feeling trapped and sad. Or feeling nothing at all, but tired. That was how I moved through the world for the last years of my marriage. And it wasn’t worth it. It’s not like my not being happy made anybody else happy or saved the marriage. It doesn’t actually work like that. At one point, I had a sitter for Valentine’s Day and my husband suddenly had to go out of town, abruptly canceling our plans (I could write an article called ‘Signs Your Husband Doesn’t Love You’, but I won’t, because UGH. Least fun article ever!). At first I was really disappointed, but then I had a flash of inspiration and decided that I should keep the sitter and get myself out of the house to do something just for me. Unfortunately that’s where my inspiration ended. It had been a really long time since I’d been out at night by myself and I couldn’t think of anywhere to go. I went to the library (another article idea: ‘Signs You Are a Nerd’. Yup, that one’s a winner!) and it was practically empty, as it was 7:30 pm on the biggest date night of the year. I thought “Hey it’s Valentine’s Day! I should definitely get some sort of sexy romance novel!” So I perused the shelves of books with muscley Fabio-types and ladies with heaving bosoms on the covers. I selected a few and went to the guy at the counter and he was all, “Are you having a Happy Valentine’s Day?” and then he realized the awkwardness of his question and blushed while fumbling with my pile of trashy, dirty books. And I said, “Obviously!” and started laughing. And I don’t know if that made it more or less awkward, but we both laughed about it, so it seemed to be a win. Then I took my books to Sonic and got a banana milkshake and sat in my car reading them and enjoying some quiet for a while. This may sound like a very lame night to some, but I loved it. Frankly, it was one of my better Valentine’s Days, which probably tells you a lot about my love life, thus far. But hey, lemonade from life’s lemons, y’all!

And going with that theme, a silver lining in having to end a doomed marriage that you wanted so badly to work, is that you get the space to figure out what makes you, as an individual, happy. That seems a good thing to know. Maybe other people don’t lose that in their marriages and children, but I definitely did. I didn’t mean to leave myself behind, but ten years went by in a blur and I left that marriage feeling like I didn’t know how to be happy anymore. It’s taken me over two years to figure out what I like again. I’m still learning. At first I said yes to a lot of things that I didn’t actually find fun, because they were other people’s ideas of fun and I was used to not really thinking about what I wanted and what I liked. I had trouble figuring out what made me happy. Lately, I’ve been thinking more carefully about those things. And I’m getting better at it. It’s easier for me say no to things that don’t sound appealing, despite other people’s opinions on the matter. And when I’m in the moment I’ll think, “Do I like this? Do I want this? Is this fun for me or do I need to walk away?” Sometimes I walk away. And that is working for me. I made myself a list of places and activities that make me happy and I keep it on my phone. When I’m feeling lost I break it out and make myself do something on that list. Sometimes I try a few things. I’ll admit, some things on that list are pina coladas and wine. But there are many other things as well. It’s helping. Making fun a priority instead of a luxury was a good first step to overcoming my slump. Perhaps I’m on my way to being a funmaker again? We’ll see.

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Happiness Dress

I found my Happiness Dress on June 23, 2015 in a New York City thrift store for $10. It isn’t anything special, although the cut is “fit and flare” which is good for someone like me, whose body has been described as “compact, but with booty.” Something that pulls in at the waist and then flares out in a twirly skirt is particularly flattering on me. The print would be called “white leopard.” Is that an actual factual animal? A quick Google search tells me it is! A snow leopard is a wonderfully sleek and powerful looking creature who seems pretty damn fierce. Like a total bad ass. Maybe that’s why the dress stood out to me. I don’t usually go for animal prints, but I needed some fierceness and bad assery when I found it.

It is slightly nubbly with those little pills that form when you throw something in the washing machine when you were probably supposed to dry clean or hand wash it, but who has time for that shit? I have one of those clothing shaver things that takes most of the pilling off, but I don’t do it too carefully because you would only really notice it if you were standing very close and I seldom let anyone get that close.

I found the dress 90 days after I learned that my marriage was over and that it hadn’t ever really been a marriage, but more of a failed experiment. I’d been a blind participant in that experiment for ten years of my life. I never had all of the information I should have had until it was too late for me to do anything but watch it all fall apart around me. And I fell apart, too. I cried every day for 90 days, usually several times a day. Sometimes I didn’t even know I was crying, tears would just leak out and I’d think, “I should probably drink some water, because I’m going to get dehydrated.” I cried alone, I cried with my friends, I tried not to cry in front of my kids, because they deserved so much better than that. I cried while I finished my freelance job, I cried while I packed up the things I wanted to take with me and cast aside many of the relics of a pretend life that I would not have chosen, had I known better. Through it all, I understood that my soon to be ex-husband hadn’t done any of this with malice or specifically to hurt me. It was just that he had never really considered that I was my own person who deserved to have choices too. And the knowledge and choices should have come long before he realized that he could no longer pretend to be someone he wasn’t. Long before I spent years of my life thinking that I was all wrong, feeling like I deserved the blame that he pushed on me and living in a smog of secret resentment that I couldn’t understand. I hadn’t been happy in the marriage for years and now I knew why. But that knowledge didn’t give me much solace. Nobody wants to find that they are the collateral damage of someone else’s triumphant life story, even if you truly hope they will have a fulfilling life and get to become the person they were always meant to be. I doubt anyone actually enjoys being the selfless and endlessly sacrificing wind beneath someone else’s wings, even if Bette Midler will sing your praises. At least I don’t enjoy it. I need to fly on my own.

After three months of this brand of agony, I had to get away for a while. Luckily, I had a week and a half in June where I could. First to Massachusetts, the state of my birth, where I stayed with family and old friends. I still cried every day, but I started having longer moments in between where I didn’t feel like crying anymore. It was beautiful there and being with the people who knew me when I was young, before this marriage and my children, seemed to help. A night in New Hampshire around a fire pit, laughing with old friends did wonders for my spirit, as did a night of karaoke, scorpion bowls and an Elvis impersonator in a Chinese restaurant. I could feel myself coming back. I did cry behind sunglasses at the train station in Fitchburg, where a fellow named Sippy sat next to me after I gave him two bucks. He said, “Are you this sad over a man? No man is worth your tears.” I said I was sad about everything. He told me I was a strong, beautiful woman and that I was going to be ok. “But learn from Sippy and don’t get into any bad shit. That’ll fuck you up forever. You just gotta keep going and keep it together.” Good advice, Sippy. Thanks.

I went to New York to stay with my friend T and we planned a day of fun. We wandered the city, had a delicious lunch with another dear friend, spent hours at the Met and then popped into a random thrift store, where I found the dress on a sale rack. I put it on and looked in the mirror and even though it was a little nubbly, it didn’t look half bad. And I noticed something else. My eyes were less puffy. I realized I had not cried at all that day. It was the first time in 90 days that I hadn’t shed a tear. I might have even been happy. It had been so long, far longer than the 90 days I’d been crying, and I’d forgotten what happiness felt like. I bought the dress. Later T reminded me that my happiness wasn’t new or fleeting. It had always been in me and I was learning to find it again.

I thought about that day a lot when I had other days where I felt like it was entirely possible that nothing could ever be good again. I’d remember June 23rd and I’d know that I had been happy for a whole day. Moments of happiness were really possible and I could have them again. This reminder pulled me through some very dark times. This too shall pass. Everything does.

I’d almost forgotten about my Happiness Dress. The March days have been warm and I was recently looking in my closet for something to wear to work, when I spotted it. I think I need it right now. The latest slump I’ve been in is taking an embarrassingly long time to lift. I keep moving forward a little and stumbling back. I’m still doing the things I know to do when you’re in a slump: I’m running regularly, trying to eat healthily and get good sleep – although I’m writing this late at night/early in the morning in a bout of insomnia. But I’m making my insomnia productive instead of watching The Office on Netflix. I’m hugging my boys, I’m walking my dog, I’m seeing my friends, I’m working. I’m not into any bad shit. I keep on going and I’m keeping it together. But damn, I’m tired and low and there seems like a lot to dig through to get to my happiness. I think it’s still there, though. I think so. I will wear my Happiness Dress to remind me that I have all I need. It may seem silly that a dress can remind you of things you should probably already know, but that’s what I’m working with these days, so I’ll take it. Besides, I will look like a fierce and bad ass snow leopard and that feels pretty good.

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