It’s been almost three months since I recommitted to picking the happiness tasks back up, and though there’s been a day here and there where I didn’t reach all five, I’ve done a pretty damn good job for the most part. I think the difficulties of the holidays and turning 40 slowed the results down a bit, but last week I noticed the shift—less fear and anxiety, less of that darkness that feels like your bobbing alone in the middle of the Pacific at night waiting for someone to save you or something underneath to eat you. Note that I say “less,” and not “none.” Because I’m reminded that those things don’t go away, you just learn to bounce back a little quicker. They become episodes, blips, instead of permanent ways of seeing.
A friend of mine forwarded me a Fresh Air interview with Scott Stossel who wrote a book about living with anxiety. It could not have been more well-timed because the less I rely on quick fixes like booze, TV, and constant napping, the more I see the symptoms that led me to those in the first place. Anxiety has been a big one, and now that I’m not constantly numbed out, I see it everywhere. I live every day worried that I’m going to get fired, that someone’s angry at me, that the train I’m on is going to explode, that I’m going to get evicted, that I’m one bad decision away from being homeless, alone, or destitute. It’s there all the time, and those numbing devices take it away instantly. This happiness work doesn’t; it’s not instant, it takes time and work and a constant shift between frustration and success, but it helps in ways that are way easier on the skin, liver, and ever-growing ass. This Scott Stossel guy was talking about meditation as a way to help—not to get rid of it, but to learn resilience.
“Resilience? Screw resilience! I want this shit out of me!” said the panicked, desperate voice that is usually the first of my inner others to react. But the more I thought about it, the more it sounded pretty spot on. Getting rid of anxiety or depression completely is the stuff of myth that sets you up good and proper for a whole mess of failure. Learning to cope with it, to talk to it, to bounce back when it crops up—not the easier answer, but definitely one that makes a whole lot more sense. It’s the difference between chopping off your head because your brain doesn’t work right vs. learning to use your brain. And with the TV and the booze, I’ve pretty much been chopping off my head.
For my 40th birthday, some friends and I rented a house near Mendocino on the coast. These are dear friends that I’ve known for a while but haven’t seen in some time. I was terrified of two things: 1) the news that it was whale migration season and we’d probably see them passing from the house (you know how I feel about whales); and 2) that so much time had passed that we wouldn’t know each other anymore and we’d have a terrible time quietly tolerating each other. I took brief meditation times during the weekend (nothing showy, just took a few moments to breathe and focus), and two things happened: 1) the whales didn’t get me and looking out for them was kind of fun; 2) we had an amazing time doing nothing but talking and laughing like teenage girls on a Frappuccino bender, and we love each other as much as we ever did. The anxiety was for nothing. It was there, but I didn’t let it get in the way, and when it cropped up, I talked it off the ledge. I was resilient.
I also did a 40-mile ride on my bike last weekend and climbed some pretty gnarly hills that seemed to stretch for miles. I didn’t quit, curse, or shoot someone, so I’m calling that resilient, too, because the last time I tried those hills, I swore someone would die if they took me that way again. We all lived, and I’m the stronger for it.