Monday, November 25, 2013

a shot at a silver lining

This week, back in my motherland, it is Thanksgiving. (Or actually, my dad told me today that this year it is being referred to as the hashtag-worthy hybrid holiday "Thanksgivukkah.") Say what you will about the dodgy history and mass commercialism of this holiday: personally, I think at its core, it's quite a nice way to introduce Christmastime. You gather with your family--that magnificent group of people who annoys you until you would rather rip your hair out strand by strand while listening to Justin Bieber on repeat than spend another second with them, but without whom you would not survive life on this planet--and you eat and drink too much, and fight and laugh and watch football and a float parade, and then in the good old days of my youth It's A Wonderful Life would come on television to remind you what life is all about, now replaced by the National Dog Show (which is not without its own bizarre entertainment merits and unexpected life lessons, I must admit).

You get a nice four-day weekend out of it. The biggest and most hellish shopping day of the year occurs the following day; this is apparently to balance out the love and coziness of the previous evening's events with angry, headline-making consumerism so we don't overdose on the goodness. Memories are made on this day: there was the Thanksgiving my grandpa dropped the turkey all over the kitchen floor, which he followed with trying to make us children watch that feel-good holiday classic, Saving Private Ryan. Or the year my dad "surprised" us all by ordering Turducken--literally 15 pounds of chicken stuffed inside of duck stuffed inside of turkey. And the momentous year when I was allowed to sit with the grownups after dinner, listening to my parents and aunts and uncles and grandparents engage in spirited debates about Notre Dame football, right-wing politics, religion, and national health care policies.

I had a bad day today. I love Copenhagen, but there is always a time of year when this happens, almost abruptly: the temperature drops, a few more fifty-shades-of-grey days start to creep into the work week, sunset starts at 3:50pm and ends at 3:57pm. After a few such days, my emotional state and mind go from (borderline) socially-acceptable Jennifer Lawrence levels of manageable kookiness to a dark network of rainclouds and whatever the opposite of a unicorn is. (Maybe an Aye-aye? I--aye--don't know.) I can feel it immediately: one day, I am fine; and the next, I wake up and am actively not fine. This is the day I bust out the Vitamin D pills, but it takes a while before those kick in. And you know what, these days are the worst. Everything just sucks.

Like today, for instance. I had a really good morning class, but I still wasn't satisfied; my costumes didn't fit right; I started thinking about the anemic state of my bank account; I got sad about work and personal stuff; I worried about apartment stuff; I worried about my skin and the galactic bruise on my leg I got falling down the stairs leaving my apartment last Saturday morning; I worried about my future; I worried about hypothetical situations. And eventually I felt very completely sad and had myself a tiny cry, which helped, but then made me worry about looking splotchy in my also-pink costume. At least I was having a good hair day.

Anyway, I got through the day. On the boat ride home, I got an SMS from my dad warning me not to indulge myself in this. I snappily replied that I don't enjoy this, and I resented his comment. But then I thought, maybe in a small way--without me even realizing it--he was right; maybe I was, in fact, indulging a little bit without meaning to. Because I certainly don't enjoy when I feel like this. I don't think it's nice or fun, and it definitely isn't endearing to any other member of the human race. And it got me thinking about feelings, and what we allow ourselves to feel.

Most of us love to see others happy, and we are quick to celebrate the achievements and milestones in the lives of those around us. For me, I thought, why is it so difficult to give myself some of that niceness? I wasn't raised to hate myself, or to judge everything I do or think or say or feel. My parents are lovely people who raised four other very successful, (mostly) normal, wonderful humans I am lucky to call my siblings. Maybe it's a bit like advice: so many of us--myself included--are great at helping others with their things. It's only too bad we can't all listen to ourselves...though I suppose that's what friends are for, to keep the circle going.

There is something about misery that is easier to accept than happiness. It is very easy to find reasons to be sad or miserable; honestly, just open a newspaper, forget looking into your own life for problems. Allowing yourself to be happy, admitting that (despite all the problems in this shitty world, added to whatever problems are decorating your own tiny life in it) you do in fact deserve to feel good about things and that maybe you're just scared of happiness: that, in my opinion, is a far more difficult coat to wear than the depressing alternative.

Which brings me back to Thanksgiving. I have never been very good at tooting my own horn, and I deflect any compliment thrown my way with a self-deprecating remark because I am physically unable to just accept it. I far prefer the humor shield to emotional vulnerability; as a result of certain life experiences--though I feel things easily and can cry at a Kleenex commercial--I've become a bit harder, and not a very trusting person. I can talk a lot, and to anyone, and I can tell the same weird anecdotes until the cows come home, to the point of seemingly oversharing. (I am like the Dexter Morgan of socializing and sharing.) But I will always be waiting for the other shoe to drop, so to speak. There is always a line at which I stop myself from really letting most people in. There are things in this life I have only told one or two people; there are things I have never told anyone, which might sound unbelievable considering the amount of things I say on a daily basis.

This isn't to say I wish to be completely open and totally trusting of everyone I meet. I also don't expect to be happy all of the time. I think sadness is beautiful, and necessary: without all the emotions, how are the best of them to be appreciated and fully enjoyed? It's like when I was younger, I used to say I wished Christmas was every day. Of course I did. It is the best time of year, with eggnog, who doesn't want that every day? But now of course I realize that not only would be that be a ridiculously expensive culture in which to live--and we would all get big cholesterol and heart problems from so much delicious, artery-clogging eggnog--but that all of the things I look forward to so much about Christmas would not be things to look forward to anymore. It wouldn't be special. It would be every day.

What I would like is to stop convincing myself out of happiness. I let myself indulge in positive emotions, but always with a quick expiration date. With the knowledge that everything is constantly changing, and every moment--both positive and negative--must eventually be let go of, the thought of what it will feel like when the good moments go away is scary. I have a tendency, then, to push away the sunny moments and pre-prepare myself for a storm. Better to not enjoy life too much. (Welcome to my brain.)

But this is why I always liked Thanksgiving. It is a designated day for everyone where we can all be openly happy about things; we are expected to be openly happy about things. And you don't have to feel weird about it, or question it: you can just say "I am thankful for" in front of whatever you like in life. Ideally, one day I would like to scratch away some of the scar tissue that's been built up around my messy emotional core and be able to express other emotions as easily as I currently use humor to deflect them, and reach a point where I don't have to wait for the fourth Thursday in November to say what's good in life. I'd also like to stop terminating my happy moments prematurely out of some weird fear of losing them. But for now, Thanksgiving will do. And maybe, unlike Christmas, that's a holiday that could be nice to have a tiny part of every day. Without the food coma and family drama...though one's life can always do with more dog shows, and a float or two.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This was a very insightful post.
When I was about your age, and also a professional ballet dancer (I am not sure how old you are, but I assume somewhere between 20 and 30) I went through stages where I was so down, I could hardly move; when I wasn't dancing I felt almost leaden.
I am sure you are aware of SAD - seasonal affective disorder - having to do with being quite affected by the lack of light (or, conversely, by so much of it in the northern summers) and that there are things you can do about it, even going beyond high dosages of vitamin D3.
Actually, you seem to be quite able to pull yourself out of the blues, and you are articulate and can write about it, which is wonderful. These northern winters are brutal; if not in temperature then certainly in the lack-of-light. Take care, take those vitamins, and enjoy what you can.