Happiness (Part III)

About to graduate high school, I should have been over the moon. I wanted to feel the excitement of the people I saw in movies, people who did stupid things and lived life with a reckless abandon that wasn’t feasible when the grades still mattered. I hadn’t been the coolest person in high school, and college offered the chance to change my social standing if I wanted to. The promise of a better life lay before me, and it was there for the taking. So often I’d heard people say that these would be the best years of my life, but I didn’t feel it in my bones. I wasn’t completely happy, but I enjoyed the life i was living. The next step seemed so confusing, and I was so unsure of myself.

I didn’t know what was hindering my happiness, but again, it was about this time I started grappling with life’s bigger questions and mysteries, and this was about the time I became truly aware of my mortality. Yes, I’d lost two parents by age 18, but when you’re a kid and someone much older than you passes away, it doesn’t seem real, and it doesn’t seem like something that could happen to you. Reality didn’t hit for many years, despite how devastating life had been early on.

I wanted to be happy, but I didn’t know how to get there. I did end up seeing a therapist that summer, but I still wasn’t sure how it was supposed to work. I knew I had a core group of friends, and that a lot of strange things were happening, at least they were strange to me. In actuality, we were young and stupid, drinking and messing around, and there’s nothing strange about that. Even still, I spent a lot of my time discussing my friends and the day-to-day activities I was involved in. My therapist would interject with questions to try and give the conversation some direction, but I needed more than that. I needed to be shown how therapy was supposed to go, and maybe it can go any number of ways, but during that time, I’m not sure I got much out of the sessions that we had. Maybe I was still too young, even though I was legally an adult. The summer rolled on, and once August hit, it was time for everyone to shift gears and move on from the summer we’d spent together.

—-

Move-in day was a rude awakening. I’d been in denial, hoping in vain that summer would be endless. I thought it would continue indefinitely, a new normal and permanent state of being. The weight of the next step refused to hit me, and although I always knew I’d go to college, it never sunk in that when late August rolled around, I’d actually need to start preparing myself for what lay ahead. It just didn’t seem like college was going to happen, as if somehow all the students would forget to go, and the administrators would never open the gates.

The first few weeks of the semester were a blast, but once things settled down, my mental stability became tenuous. I experienced my first real bout of depression, and had no idea how to handle it. Everyone went home on the weekends, and I’d never felt more isolated in my life. My roommate literally went home every single weekend, and wouldn’t give me the time of day most days. He kept to himself, and trying to get him to come out of his shell was a laborious process that I just didn’t have the energy for most days. I found myself with an overabundance of time, and was unsure of what to do with it.

I wondered if I was in the wrong place, if I was doing the right thing, if I’d made a mistake, and if a correction was possible. I remember feeling frustrated, anxious, angry, and in some ways hurt. I was heavy on the self-pity, although once I started making friends with people in my dorm, the decision to stay was much easier. Maybe it wasn’t depression, I just knew that I’d never felt that way before. It cleared up for me, and I was able to just live the rest of the semester and that year. There were fun moments and even semesters, but my mental health was all over the place, and although I miss certain things about college, I do enjoy my current level of stability. I’m not sure if college was the best 4.5 years of my life, but these years were definitely the most interest of my life.

After graduation, I spent a lot of time being unhappy, and gave myself over to becoming a negative and pessimistic person. Anxiety introduced itself into my life, shook my hand, and then went to work on my psyche. I started to look at life with a certain suspicion. If something good or positive happened, I’d be waiting for the other shoe to drop. I expected the worst of people and situations in life, and when things would go well, I’d be pleasantly surprised. When things went poorly, I wouldn’t take it too hard because I’d readied myself for that particular outcome. I mentally conditioned myself for the worst-case scenario, so nothing could hurt me too much. Writing that out, it’s not hard to see one of the glaring residual effects of having lost so much at such an early age. I wanted to make myself impervious to bad happenings, which really isn’t a good way to live life, but it worked for a time. It was a philosophy that fit, that confirmed and reinforced the way that I viewed the world. I let it govern my actions, and nothing that crossed my path made me want to view things any differently for that period of my life.

I’m not sure at what point I gave that worldview up. Maybe it was around the time I left New York. I had many great experiences when I lived there, and had made so many friends, but by the time I left, I’d established so many unhealthy habits that I was ready for something different. I’d spent so much time unemployed, and while having too much time to think has been a disaster for me in many instances, it also gave me time to think about what I was looking for out of life. I knew the things I wanted, and more importantly, I knew what I didn’t want.

Above all else, I knew that the life I’d spent three and a half years establishing wasn’t working. I started to question everything I was doing, whether it should stay or go. I questioned every choice I made, which was exhausting at times but it was all in service of an overarching goal: I wanted to be happy in my thirties, and I didn’t want to wait until I got there to start. I was 28, and I still had a solid year-and-a-half before the big 3-0. The way I’d lived life for near thirty years no longer made sense, and I was ready to shake things up. I didn’t care if I never succeeded professionally, if I never found the right partner, or if I ever had kids, I just wanted to wake up each day with a sunny disposition, full of energy and positive vibes, and I set my mind on a different way of living life. Thanks for reading.

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