Happiness to the Rescue!
I awoke to a cool summer day.
It was sunny outside and the sky was blue as can be. I drove to my favorite cliff overlooking the beckoning dark blue ocean. Everyone was outside basking in the sun and I could hear the giggles of children running around and playing, deliriously happy, while dogs barked and chased them. The grown-ups were slowly sinking into their plastic chairs for a long- awaited break with a cool drink, while lovers nearby held hands and smooched without shame. Everybody was happy. Everyone, but one. I stood at the edge of the cliff with tears streaming down my face. Nobody noticed.
You couldn’t find anyone more unhappy and downright miserable than yours truly. That had been my norm as long as I could remember. Not only did I suffer from clinical depression with all its symptoms blaring and tormenting me for more than 20 years, in a constant state of emptiness, hopelessness, and thoughts of suicide every day, but I was also diagnosed with the most aggressive and rare form of breast cancer with limited treatment options. And during treatment, I ended up referring my patients out, losing my psychotherapy practice and my livelihood, and ended up living in a garage. My life savings drained to cover outrageous medical bills and daily living expenses. At the same time, aging and menopause made a grand entrance with hot flashes, mood swings, and disco hormones, more than happy to humiliate me in public on a daily basis.
Not surprisingly, my depression, which took years to manage, returned with an irresistible vengeance. I had been hit so fast, so hard, one after another; I went into complete shock and became physically and emotionally numb, and I ended up having a breakdown and shut down. I froze for awhile, a long while. What does one do with all this? I had no great insight into this madness. I didn’t know what to do. Life was hard enough as it was and then all this.
I sat looking out my window as my body slowly healed from the cancer treatment, which had its own nightmarish side effects. As I felt so defeated and beaten up, only one thought came into my mind over and over. “Get busy living or get busy dying!” The answer evaded me. So, I flipped a coin.
More than anything, cancer changed my life’s perspective. I saw everything differently whether I wanted to or not. I couldn’t go back to my old life, nor did I want to, because it was such a negative, toxic, and an unhappy one. Besides, time, mortality, and death were front and center now. I had to find my true life and live it before it was all gone. But how? Kind of a tall order here. Hello?!
Happiness was the furthest thing from my mind, as it has been for a long time (like, since I was 9!). Like most people, I was working like crazy and waiting for happiness, believing that if I worked hard, followed the rules, and behaved, some things, and the right people, at the right time would make me happy. How foolish was that?! That all got thrown out the window, along with waiting. I don’t do waiting any more. Because I’ve discovered I don’t have all the time in the world.
After awhile, my dogs handed me a flyer and insisted that I attend a breast cancer support group, as they grew tired of listening to my problems, sobbing and blubbering, while holding them hostage. They needed a break. Attending a BC support group and listening to others, as well as myself, out loud made me realize a lot of important things crucial to my survival and sanity, and it led me on a self-discovery journey to find my life and what the heck I was supposed to do with it. And then, it hit me.
I got angry. Then, I got really, really pissed off!
I avoided asking the “why me” question as long as I could. But a year after my cancer diagnosis, I had to get it out of my system in order to move on, because it was always hanging around me like an unwelcomed relative. “Why me?!!!” I said it out loud. Nothing made sense, you see, because I was a vegetarian, exercised, didn’t eat junk food, didn’t drink soda, didn’t smoke, wasn’t obese, hardly drank alcohol, and had no family history of breast cancer. So what up?!!
I let out a long sigh. I felt like a fool. Why was I expecting anything in life to make sense? I guess I was still green in some ways.
While I was fuming with steam coming out of my ears, I had an epiphany. “The hell with everything!” I screamed and threw my arms in the air. I decided to let go and toss out all the “shoulds” and “supposed tos” and do whatever I wanted for the first time in my life. Being responsible, compromising, sacrificing and doing the right thing my whole life didn’t work, so what have I got to lose? Then there was absolute silence. I was baffled. “What is that?” I did not know what I wanted to do. Can you believe it?! For more than 50 years, I’ve been doing what I was supposed to do; what I was told to do by my cultures, society, peers, and people, dead and alive.
So, what do “I” want to do? How could I not know? I was overwhelmed with sadness, that I had lost touch with myself in life so deeply. I wept, ate some cake, and talked to my dogs, again. I asked myself, “Why did I treat myself so badly with my one and only life? Did I think I had all the time in the world? I wasted most of it on what?” I stood up and said, “No more. Starting now!” My dogs started wagging their tails. Hooray!
I spent the next several years working on finding my real and true life; the one I WANTED TO LIVE. It took a while because a lot got in the way. I had to rummage through decades, perhaps a lifetime of emotional garbage, anxiety, self-hatred, societal brainwashing, depression, fear of recurrence, and endless voices of criticism, saying that I’m no good and I won’t make it, and I don’t deserve it, and on and on. After all, I had to go against what the “norm” was for someone like me at my age. Many times, my demons had me by the throat, as I succumbed to its dark voices: “You can’t do it, you loser!” Plus, I was always physically exhausted from my cancer treatment, which made it tougher. I trembled for awhile, wept some more, and then I said, “Oh Yeah! Watch me!”
At first, I was like, “Whoa, where did that come from?” Then a very loud inner voice said, “I am battling cancer, depression, poverty, aging, and insanity, so what the hell do I care?” Soon, my survival instinct kicked in and I got angry again and then I got up and kept moving. I finally made a promise to myself. I chose to get busy living.
No one told me that the easy part of the cancer journey was the surgery, treatments, being nuked, dealing with endless doctors, appointments, and being infuriated by my health insurance companies. Nope. That was the “easy” part. When my daily treks to a dozen doctors and specialists, labs, and imaging centers where I was poked and prodded stopped, I found myself all alone with nowhere to go, not knowing what to do, or even who to talk to. It was like being released from prison, where there was an orderly chaotic system, and then I was pushed out the door with a faint, “Good luck.”
I took some time to breathe, but noticed I was holding my breath most of the time. Then, like most survivors, I tried to go back to my old life, but I had little to go back to, since I no longer had my practice. And I kept to myself, not ready to tell anyone about my cancer diagnosis. It was so personal, to say the least. And it seemed I had changed a bit, but I didn’t know how. For awhile, my days were like a yo-yo. I felt good one day, ready to rejoin the living, and then the next day, I would plummet into deep depression with suicidal thoughts, where I felt exhausted and defeated, with aches and pain to accompany it all. This went on for awhile uncontrollably. I looked out the window a lot again, wished for rain, and wept profusely, day after day. There were no manuals for this.
Happiness to the Rescue!
I tried all the usual life survival methods I knew from before the cancer diagnosis, but nothing worked. The same old, same old didn’t work anymore. After awhile, it dawned on me that I had to do something different, something entirely new. I couldn’t go back. I could only go forward. I had to discover new tools to match my new perspective on life. But, what the heck are they and where are they hiding?!
While I was doing some research, I stumbled on the topic of happiness. I had read a few books on it. I also watched a documentary on happiness awhile back that was intriguing. But this time, for some reason, I was drawn to it like a bear to honey. I became mesmerized in a subject that rarely made an appearance in my life. After all, happiness is not what is usually associated with cancer, depression, or menopause. But I started to gobble up everything on happiness. And wouldn’t you know it? Happiness was what eventually brought me back to living. Shazam!
It was the oddest and the most ridiculously wonderful thing. I was rescued by none other than happiness. I’ve discovered that happiness was not just an emotion, but a powerful tool to help me with any issue, small and big, to keep me moving, helping others, and even make my dreams come true. And, this time, I got to define what happiness was and no one else. This was my greatest discovery. Wish I knew this in kindergarten, but it’s never too late.
Happiness became my survival tactic. It also gave me back hope, a will to keep living, and to seek some sanity in such perfect madness. To my surprise, happiness was easy and simple, and it felt right and natural. Thank goodness, because I can’t do anything complicated any more. I’ve become allergic to it. Nobody needs more of that. I’ve also discovered that my happiness was within me and not outside of me, as I believed. So I soul-searched like mad, read everything on happiness and dove heart first into my happiness journey.
It turns out that my lifetime of suffering, heartbreak, disappointments, frustration, humiliation, rejection, loss, aging, bad luck, loneliness, and body parts going south, (just to mention a few) wasn’t all for nothing. In fact, it gave me something amazing in return: character, life lessons to be grateful and happy, and tools to survive and thrive in my one and only life. Wow!
My happiness methods were eventually derived from my life experiences. Imagine that. I’ve learned that I already had the tools to make myself happy. It took some time to dig them all up. But once I did, I sorted them out, trusted my instinct, compiled life lessons and stories, and eventually, they became my happiness methods.
I practiced my set of happiness methods diligently everyday to battle all kinds of demons, and it became an unbreakable habit. To this day, these lessons help me physically, psychologically, and spiritually, and in my darkest and most frightening times. Who knew that underneath all the fears and its ugliness, I had precious tools and treasures, that were hidden inside of me, that were designed to not only help me survive life’s challenges, but to help me respect, thrive, cherish, and find joy in all its mysteries.
I’m sure if you gave it some thought, you have your own set of lessons from life that can work for you, so try taking the time to learn from them. It’s good to know that something precious came out of all your life and living. Nothing in your life was ever a waste. Let it pay you back twofold, at least.
Here’s What I Have Learned So Far…