There have been times in my life when I thought I could never be happy again. Middle school was an especially rough time for me. The year after my dad died. The first (and only) time my heart was broken romantically. The loss of our baby late in the pregnancy. That one…I didn’t know that I’d make it out of that one.
All I’d ever really wanted was to be a mother. Giving birth to a baby who had died in utero…it’s indescribably sad. The sense of failure and sorrow and grief just flattened me. I was exhausted from grief, stabbed by the sympathy of friends, fearful that my husband and I would never be happy again.
And then one night, I went into the bathroom of our tiny studio apartment, not wanting to wake McIrish with my weeping. I sat on the floor and cried. When I stood up, I hardly recognized myself in the mirror. I looked so old (I was 28), so tired, so…broken.
It hurt my heart to see my reflection. This was not the person I wanted to be.
“I have to be different,” I told myself. “I can’t live like this anymore.”
I knew I would never forget my poor little son. I knew that if I did have other children, his brief time with me, and the loss of him, would make me a better mother. I knew I would—and have—and do—and will love him every day for the rest of my life. And I knew I couldn’t be this person in the mirror any more.
I decided to be happy.
What I was going through was grief; while I have been sad and depressed and melancholy at many times of my life, I don’t suffer from clinical depression, just to be clear. So that moment—I will be happy—was something I did have control over. I would embrace that crushing sadness, squeeze it tight against my heart…and make room for something else. I would find little things that brightened me even a tiny bit—a song, a view, a snuggle from a dog—and let those things matter, too. They wouldn’t take away my loss, but they might make it easier to carry.
I had to work at it, to be honest—it’s easier to be sad and morose than it is to be happy. But I made sure to do things, to take little actions. To smile at my husband, hug him more, tell him how much I loved him every day, more than once. I made a point to talk about pleasant things, even if they weren’t the most fascinating things in the world—the pretty sky on the way to work, the nice visit with my grandparents, helping an older gentleman carry his groceries. I tried to do things with sensory appeal—take a bath, iron the pillowcases, bake banana bread.
When I saw a situation, big or small, where I could be useful, I stepped in. Being useful is a huge part of happiness, I think. I didn’t just worry about the homeless guy I passed every day; I bought him breakfast and donated to the food bank. It didn’t solve everything, but it solved a little.
I rather hate the words “mindfulness” and “balance,” as they conjure up images of smug people on a yoga retreat, eating steamed vegetables out of wooden bowls as they stand effortlessly on one foot, like storks. But noticing the good things in life, the kind, the lovely, and letting them have as much room as the negative, and even more—maybe we all need more of that, especially after the ugly year we’ve had.
I wish you a gentle year ahead, filled with moments that do your heart good. May 2017 see you helpful, happy and healthy, my friends.