Yes, I know this title is strange coming from me and all the whinging I do, but I’m going to attempt to tackle it anyway even though I’m so brain fogged I don’t know what day of the week it is 😉
I always thought I wasn’t a naturally joyful person. Other people seemed to be happy and I used to look at them and wonder what true happiness felt like. As a child I didn’t feel like I fitted in. I suffered from untreated clinical depression, had only one close friend, looked for love in all the wrong places, loathed school despite being highly academic and just felt alone and adrift in a world which made little sense to me. I found childhood confusing, joyless and isolating.
My saving grace is that I come from a northern working class family. Witty banter is the order of the day and, in amongst the daily rows and occasional plate throwing, there was a LOT of sarcastic humour in our household. Think Only Fools & Horses but set in rural Cumbria and you’ll get the drift. I’ve always gotten along with northern men better than anyone else alive, simply because of our shared sense of humour which is uniquely cultural and I think funny as hell 😉 I also swear. A lot. And I LIKE it.
Becoming an adult was a revelation to me. I left home at the first opportunity (I love my parents, truly, but they invented the words toxic and dysfunctional) and slowly began to discover who I was. One of the first things I did was become vegetarian. Being from a working class family, and living surrounded by farmers, in 1990 this was considered totally cuckoo. Looking back I’ve no idea what I survived on because no-one had heard of kidney beans, chickpeas, tofu or Quorn and lentils were only eaten by hippies 😉 But I do know that for the first time in my life I started to enjoy my food – until then I’d lived off Rice Krispies, Ready Brek, toast and mince. As a child I simply didn’t like food and I know my parents used to worry themselves stupid because I just didn’t eat. I’m convinced now the reason was that every cell in my body rejected eating animal flesh.
Fast forward a few years into my early twenties. I’d been diagnosed with ME by then, and had been severely affected and bedridden for about 18 months, when I dumped my long term boyfriend. Everyone was shocked and my Mother thought I’d totally lost the plot. He was an ex-pro footballer, who later became an Editor for Sky news. He was attractive, public school educated, had a degree, was impeccably mannered, from a well respected family and he was genuinely my best friend. He also flirted with anything that moved, which made me feel totally worthless. He was looks orientated, and let me know quick sharp if I gained so much as 3 lbs. He was critical of my clothing choices – I think people who buy designer gear are idiots, he liked hand made Italian shoes and bespoke suits. He was a snob who cared what everyone else thought about him, and I think all people are equal and couldn’t give a rat’s ass what people think of me. He couldn’t cope in any way with my illness – he could brag about dating a model, but he couldn’t brag about dating a sick girl. He didn’t make me feel special. I wasn’t good enough. And I knew I was special. And I knew I was good enough – sickness and all. So I chucked him and have never regretted it for a second even though it meant I was to be alone for the next two decades.
I lay in my sick bed for the best part of 10 years. You can’t hide from yourself. You have a lot of time to reflect and to truly learn who you are warts and all. Being that ill has little going for it, but one of its greatest gifts is that I now have an honest, authentic, relationship with myself first and foremost. I realised that society’s ideas of what makes a person happy doesn’t make me happy and that had been my problem from the get go.
- I may be mensa level intelligent, but I am not career orientated.
- I am not driven by money in any way (all my friends tell me I shouldn’t put my low histamine recipes up on this blog for free, but should do a book and charge – I can’t think of anything that would make me feel less authentic and it will never happen).
- I may be extrovert in some situations (I’m the first person on the dance floor in a night club, even though I’m stone cold sober), but I am innately introvert and happiest when alone or in the company of just one other person (thank God, given my circumstance). This occasionally makes me lonely, but not as lonely as I feel in a room full of people!
- I have no need for shallow relationships, which is why I loathe going to parties or having to make small talk, and may only have 2 real friends in the world, but they are GREAT friends who know everything about me and like me anyway.
- I see no value in ‘stuff’. I rarely buy clothes. I barely possess any ornaments or nick naks. I love my home (a product of being homeless for 2 years as a child), but it’s clutter-free, practical and functional – it’s not a home if you can’t walk about in your muddy wellies and don’t find dog hair in your bed 😉 I hold on to my gadgets until they literally fall apart (I still don’t possess a smart phone and see no need to own one).
The things that give me greatest joy were not encouraged in me as a child. I love nature, being out-doors, animals, photography, gardening, being creative (whether that’s interior design or crocheting) all of which were considered unimportant as they weren’t academic. And because I was so bright at school I was constantly pushed towards academia, which made me stressed and miserable.
I realised as a child that other children with issues naturally gravitated towards me – all my close friends had miserable home lives, as I did, and looked on me to listen to their problems and provide answers (it was often said I was an “old soul”). My Mum told me, however, that I was too open with people and “said too much”, so even my gift of communication and empathy was seen as a negative and I was made to feel bad about it. Consequently I closed down. When I became ill, however, I realised that so few people were writing about what being sick was truly like that I started writing articles, taking part in forums, and eventually blogging about my experiences and realised that in allowing people to see my vulnerability I actually felt stronger through our shared journeys.
Before becoming ill I suffered from clinical depression virtually my whole life. Since getting sick I’m no longer clinically depressed. Which, when you think about it, is amazing. I had it all and was unfulfilled, then I lost it all and my life became innately richer! I’m not saying I don’t have times where I’m utterly miserable, but unhappiness is a natural emotion – depression is a whole other ball game. When I was well I was surrounded by ‘friends’ but was stressed and lonely. Now I’m isolated but happier and more at peace. Humour, and being able to take the mickey out of life’s absurdities, has saved my sanity on more than one occasion (my step-dad frequently tells me to stop putting arsenic in his coffee because it makes it taste bitter, and I reply “well just die already so I can claim your bloody life insurance, then I won’t have to kill you will I?!”) 😀
Learning who you authentically are, whether or not this fits in with what Society tells you you should be, is the key to contentment. I’m naturally drawn towards all things spiritual, but haven’t yet tried on any one particular ethos and found it fits. I love the idea of Buddhism, but find people who are calm and level all the time actually quite irritating if I’m honest (shocker I know!). I kind’ve want to stick a bomb under their arse just to give them a bit of oomph 😉 I LIKE my emotions: I like being passionate about causes I believe in; I like being angry sometimes; I like being attached to my dog and my friends and my home. I find the idea of being “outside” of myself, and watching my thoughts without attachment or judgement really really weird – I want to take part in my life, not watch from the sidelines. To me, being calm all the time would feel like being dead! So I take bits of many religions and spiritual practices and use the parts which enhance my authentic self.
I’ve never rallied against my illness or ever done the “why me” thing. So much has happened to me over my life it’s not a question that ever enters my mind. It just is and I make the best of it. I live one day at a time – living in either the past or future is futile. I am, for the most part, content and am happier than I have ever been.
If you find the idea of what makes us happy interesting you might like these two TED talks: