What is happiness?
Is it life satisfaction?
Is the absence of negative emotions?
Is it pleasure?
For almost all my life, happiness has been an emotion which is fleeting in duration and irritatingly it’s often during these moments of euphoria that the storm clouds roll back in with such force that I wonder if I will ever know happiness again..
It wasn’t always this way, though, because I remember being happy almost all of the time until the age of five. Then I started school, and that’s where it all went wrong for me.
Prior to this I was wary of the world outside of our gates because it made me anxious, but most of my time was spent in my fantasy world where I could emulate characters from books, films or tv. We had a large outside space with a separate brick-built garage which looked like a little house from the side, and there was separate door that I could sneak through unseen. It was the best play house ever, even though it wasn’t at all child friendly. It was full of old crap, wood shavings and the smell of engine oil, but with a little imagination it became whatever I wanted it to be..
Then one day in September my world changed forever because I started school, and what an almighty shock to the system that was!
I found myself in a very strange and unpleasant world with people I didn’t understand and who didn’t understand me. From then on happiness was generally found within the pages of a books, watching movies and listening to music. I was able to fully lose myself, and this provided me with some respite from the world.
This ability remained until I had a nervous breakdown in my forties when I discovered that I could no longer concentrate. I couldn’t finish a sentence, let alone a book!
Mental breakdown was inevitable because a life of masking has it’s limits and the mind (and body) will only take so much before it malfunctions. If my life was a movie, you’d see a gradual decent into mental illness with each rejection, betrayal and act of unkindness. The soundtrack, once jolly and uplifting, darkens appropriately. It’s Pharrell Williams’ “Happy” to Radiohead’s’ “How to Disappear Completely”.
Mental illness affects people differently, and I can only speak from my own experience, but I can tell you that it’s the worst thing I’ve ever been through in my life. My entire body malfunctioned, and by the time I completely broke down I was having numerous panic attacks throughout the day and night. I lost almost two stone in weight. One of the worst things, though, was the loss of concentration which meant that I could no longer read, listen to music or lose myself in a movie. To all intents and purposes, I was broken.
That was almost 5 years ago and it’s been a long schlep back to normality, normal for me, that is..
I’ve been telling myself that I’ll be happy when I can read a book in full or listen to a song without skipping it.
I’ll be happy when I feel well.
I’ll be happy when everybody understands me.
I’ll be happy when I can stop the catastrophic thoughts.
The problem is that I’ve been waiting for everything to be perfect before I can be happy!
The truth is that I have multiple issues with mental and physical illness and I am autistic in a world dominated by neurotypical people, many of whom consider me inferior to them. I’ve realised that I need to lower my expectations of what happiness is and remind myself that it’s me who is standing in the way of my happiness, now.
So, what is happiness?
For me, happiness is an emotion that comes from the heart – literally. It’s a physical sensation in my chest. I feel it when I’m with my children. I feel it when I listen to Earth Wind and Fire’s Star. I feel it when I watch the movie Bumblebee.
The trick is not to see happiness as a goal, but to try and find some good in any given situation, no matter how difficult the situation is. In order to do this I have to be present, rather than dwelling on a past that I cannot change or worrying about a future that I have no control over.
All my life I’ve been in pursuit of something that doesn’t exist, as in, perfection in order to be happy, so I’m learning to be happier with who I am and happier with my imperfect life.
I always wanted to be happy, so I decided to be ~ Neil (Nello) Baldwin