Happy Be Damned, I Can Be Alright

by: Patrick Gill


These are the things I am trying to understand, these are the things I can work to change.

My boots are off, because somehow the street’s slush wormed in.  Pervasive and cold, it turned back to water on contact.  I fidgeted, tried to slip my boots half way off,  in the lobby of my therapist’s office for the 15 minutes I was early—it’s just as awkward that I’m early, well, I’ve been trying to be at least on time to places for the last few months.   I’m also trying to eat slower, to drink less coffee, these are goals I made in therapy.

Once I was in, once I got my ritual bottle of water, after slumping off my bag and only unzipping my top layer, I asked him if I could take my boots off.  He said it was fine, “We’re not so formal here.”  His large print of a vintage Italian ad, his rose tinted salt lamp, his office’s musk brown walls that complimented the honey colored coat of his dog, whose picture was in at least 3 places around the room in slick black frames;  everything is just on the cusp of fancy, but it chose to be mellow instead.

It’s wrong that we have missed sessions for the past three weeks. I really get untethered when that happens.   I used to never even notice, I would just get angry and anxious and then I wouldn’t leave the house.  At least I can see when I’m wriggling off the line now, sometimes that’s worse though, I haven’t developed enough measures to keep my anxiety in check.

Even though we have missed three sessions, we start it like almost any other.  Unwillingness turns over like an old motor, once it’s humming, everyone should be ready.  I rally, I rant, I work a conversation until I get a wry laugh, I work until I get a little sick in my throat; I shut down when I hit my tipping point; when I don’t know how to come up with a solution (yet) or when I know a solution and can’t seem to grasp it.  So it’s like any other session.  This one has its own minor break, one idea that steams up through the fissures.  I like to think I bottled this one though, like a mild perfume.  I make a lot of goals that I am now learning to attain and celebrate, I note of things I have to keep in mind, especially in the face of anxiety, but I tend to let them go.  I’m writing this one down so that it might stick.

It came first in an admission, there was an I guess to preface it, because you know, that’s therapy.  The sharpened point of it was:  I believe that of I’m not happy, then I must be sad.  I act accordingly, from bliss to crisis.  This extends past me to my interactions with others, if someone isn’t happy around me, I have to do something.  Transitively, I believe if my relationship with someone isn’t good, then it’s bad.

I have this toddler-like desire to be liked, it’s understandable to have a degree of it—but damn it I am working on living in degrees.   I have to be bubbly, affable, or if that isn’t my mood, to be snappy and brassy.  I always end conversations where I am unsure of myself with “We’re good, we’re good right?”  It’s a low bark, I usually try and initiate some sort of hug handshake after too.  It’s kind of annoying.  It wreaks so much of desperate reconciliation and misplaced masculinity.   The times I have thought out loud about trying to contact a former partner who probably doesn’t need to hear from me.  The times friends have had to endure a waxy coat of resolution because I couldn’t take the thought of someone not liking me.  The times I have just wallowed because nothing else seemed to be doable, when really, so many things were in may grasp.

Because it’s okay if we’re not good, it’s better than me bullying or pushing towards a false resolution, one with a false floor that could fall out as soon as another conflict stomps in.  It’s okay to not have a complete handle on a situation or a mood, as long as it can be navigated.

These are the things I am trying to understand, these are the things I can work to change.  It’s unstable to think this way, to need beyond my health for what I call good or happy.  It makes me unstable, at times, to act according to these thoughts.

I have to learn to just be quite sometimes, to stop defending, to stop rectifying, to give space instead of anything and everything I find in myself, to give my ration of rage or joy or indifference, to be indifferent—that would be a blessing.

I need a quick 3 times reading of Sylvia Plath’s “The Courage of Shutting Up”  (The courage of the shut mouth, in spite of artillery!).  I need to things ride, to recognize not only when things are good (thought I can’t seem to get this sometimes) or bad (I tend to dwell on this), but then I am at stasis.  At rest.  I need to remember rest isn’t confinement or worry, rest is just, well, is.

I need nuance.  My life isn’t some epic, where right and wrong are the only options, where a resolution must be met.  For all my love of nuance in media I consume, for my appreciation of gray areas in areas that aren’t immediately in my realm, I have lived in a world where I require finite, measureable, marked interactions; like I could use them as planned stepping stones or footholds in the cliff’s face.

Often I can’t even put a name on what happy is, which makes my work all the much harder.  I need to do that, I do need to know that; moreover though I need to be at peace.  I need to know that can be neither happy nor sad.  I need to know that the time which change can occur determines itself, no matter my fervent insistence.

I put back on my boots.  I was heavy.  I was fine with that.  It was a quiet session for the most part, though I did brim with a certain energy afterwards.  I was careful to temper it, to not succumb to the usual “Now I know it, now I change it, now now, now I can…” That usually leads to exhaustion.

I paid my co-pay, scheduled my next appointment.  I called a friend.  I tromped through ice puddles, my boots got wet again.  When I got home I dried my socks on the radiator in my room, I laid in bed with just my top layer unzipped and my boots off.  I didn’t start writing this for the next two days.


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