Are we often more comfortable feeling stuck in the mire?
When I was an angst-ridden teen, all mopey with my incense and Smiths and exposed-nerve heartache, my mom would tell me “don’t look for hurts.”
I had always been the emotional type, ever since preschool when they told my parents that maybe ice cream rewards would keep me from crying so much. As I suffered through awkward stages and early puberty, blue periods came and went. I wasn’t necessarily depressed, but I definitely had big, weighty emotions, and an over-analytical mind to feed them.
Like a lot of teenage girls, I was hard on myself. My feelings would get hurt. I would decide, on and off, that my life sucked. That I was fat and ugly. My heart would break. To an outsider, I was a warm, happy girl, maybe even cheery, but when I was alone, my mind would replay some benign incident over and over in a painstaking loop. I would make it hurt, even when it didn’t need to. It’s like I couldn’t help myself.
Always though, those dark clouds faded about as quickly as they floated in, after a few days, maybe a couple of weeks. And because these storms would pass, they never really became a cause for concern, even as they continued into my adult life.
I was never prescribed drugs. I never saw a therapist. Instead, I wrote a lot of poems and short stories with dark themes and tortured heroines. I would vent to my friends about my woes until their ears bled. I would Google search my various ailments and stay up half the night convinced that maybe I was dying. Ultimately, in my late 20’s, I just sort of accepted that this is who I was: a reasonably content person, who also happened to be highly emotional and slightly obsessive, with sporadic low points and hypochondria.
Then, about five years ago, I went through a period where truly sucky things just kept happening: illness, job loss, family trauma, the usual. The hits just kept on coming. It went on for months, to the point that I wondered if maybe I really did have some dark cloud lingering over me, some curse or karmic payback.
As I suffered through it all, I wished for my normal life back. I thought about all of those times that I had been “looking for hurts” and realized it had been the petty pastime of a lucky girl, not touched by true adversity and struggle. I was learning that in real life, the hurts find you.
In the midst of it all, my husband had signed us up for an early morning horseback ride, an anniversary gift, knowing I found horses peaceful. Except, these horses had been trained differently than I was used to, and it wasn’t instinctive to me. So when I took my horse into a gallop, I panicked and couldn’t remember how to slow him down. Then, the poor animal scraped up against some cactus and started bucking, as I screamed and gripped tightly with my legs. It’s a miracle that I didn’t fall off. Finally, our guide grabbed the horse’s reins and managed to calm him down. Through gritted teeth, she reprimanded me for losing control. As she walked my horse and her own back to the stables, I cried, with relief and frustration.
Later that night, as I was lying in bed, obsessing over what had gone wrong on the horse, a thought came to me. The more I freaked out, the more crazed the horse became. Had I just calmed down and let it ride, the horse probably would have stopped when he reached his buddies up ahead. I didn’t know what was coming, I had no control, and so, I panicked. I just screamed and wailed, which didn’t help and, in fact, only made it worse. It was an analogy.
Crazy as it sounds, my horseback ride from hell freed me. I was sick of wallowing. I was done with the self-pity. It felt stupid and pointless. It felt indulgent. So, I got a grip. I saw a therapist, started exercising, did acupuncture. To steal from the Serenity Prayer, I began to accept the things I could not change and to do something about those things that I could. I shifted my perspective, choosing to focus on the positives in my life and be hopeful about the future. I had to start trusting that things happen for a reason, that it would all make sense when looking at it in the rear-view mirror.
I’ve had a couple of bad chapters since then, phases of suckiness that I just had to grit my way through. We all have them, but ultimately, most of us turn the page and start a new, better chapter. I’ve at least become better at steeling myself for the emotional onslaught that comes with the tough times. I’ve become better about steering myself away from the brink.
Life is full of unknowns, sometimes so scary that you almost wonder how you’re able to love anyone, hope for anything, or just open your eyes in the morning. But the good stuff is what keeps us grounded. The beautiful moments, the flashes of clarity, the lengths of peace. It’s just that sometimes you have to remind yourself to hold on to the warm fuzzy, the milestone, the perfect snapshot. To remember it for later, and cling to it when you’re slipping into the sinkhole.
I think to some extent, we all allow ourselves to get comfortable in the mire sometimes. Maybe for a day here and there, maybe for longer stretches. (Some need professional help to numb the pain.) When we do, it just means we have to try a little harder to rise to the surface. We have to redirect. We have to shake off the negativity and go for a run or do some yoga or eat a big cup of frozen yogurt, half full with candy pieces.
The pursuit of unhappiness can be an all too easy one. If you go looking for hurts, you will absolutely find them. Thing is, if you have to dig around for the bad, then your life is probably pretty good. You’re lucky. Not perfect, but lucky. Sometimes, the hardest thing is just to let yourself be happy.
Jennifer Benjamin is an LA-based freelance writer and editor with over thirteen years of experience writing for national magazines and websites like Cosmopolitan, Women’s Health, SELF, Parents Magazine, The Stir and Daily Glow. More important, she’s a Mommy to identical twin boys, as well as an avid cook, a terrible housewife, and a loungewear enthusiast. Find her on Twitter @JennyBenjamin or Facebook.