Monday, June 24, 2013

Answering questions - Changes in happiness

I would like to hear about what things make you happy and are they the same things pre- and post- assault.

I’ve thought about this question for a while now.  I was having trouble organizing my thoughts around it because of the word “happy.”   “What things make you happy”(external)  is different than “being happy” (internal).   So I will try to tackle it from both perspectives.

I believe I have always been a “happy” person.  Although, as you know, I have been unhappy at times about some aspects of my relationships or work,  I have always loved and been loved, had nurturing relationships and things to look forward to.  I have always found satisfaction in my work and in volunteering.  I  have always had creative outlets.  I have always been optimistic about my future, and been very connected with community and nature.  And healthy enough to do the things I most enjoy  (except for this recent blip which made me very frustrated, but not unhappy).   I have always been content and grateful for all that I have.

I don’t think any of that was really different pre- and post- assault.  Obviously I went through a long period of numbness and mourning and grief and an even longer period of trying to make sense of it all.   Yet even through those years of extreme sadness, I probably would still have considered myself a happy person, if that makes sense.    A happy person  just going through a very, very rough time.

Things that I enjoy that make me happy  - sharing meals and conversation with friends, being out in the woods or at the beach, gardening, sunshine, woodworking - those have not really changed either.   I have always been a person who enjoys simple things, connecting with and learning about people, public service and contemplative down time.

I think there are two things that changed the most.

One was the ability to allow myself to feel joy.   I can remember having so much exuberance about life.  I was that person doing cart wheels in the sand and dancing in the rain.  And just generally loving life in a big way.  After the assault, that seemed to shut down and I became very introverted and frightened.   Not unhappy really.  Just feeling much more reserved and confused about life.  After a time I could enjoy friends and activities but it was never really the same.   Until recently.  Now I feel like joy is making a comeback.  Although I'm pretty sure my cart wheeling days are over.

The other is that  the scale of my life became much smaller.  For example, I used to be very politically active - on a large scale.   I was very involved in state and national politics, spoke at rallies, had meetings with movers and shakers, etc.   I was a very public figure in that world.   Today, I still work in a political environment but I generally focus on local issues, only do things behind the scenes, usually on a one-to-one basis.  I never, ever want attention on me, or to be in the spotlight and will go to great lengths to avoid it.

I used to go camping with large groups.  Now I will only go backpacking with one or two select friends and avoid campgrounds all together.  Same with any socializing - while I was always on the shy side, I enjoyed going to things like beach parties and political rallies and such.  Post assault,  it is still a struggle to feel comfortable with a group of people or any strangers.   I suppose the big change was that my world had always been a safe place.  And then it was not.   It is a constant challenge for me to put myself out there - but I do try because I really enjoy people -  well, safe people - in smaller, safer places.

Another big thing that changed is my need for privacy.  Or at least my need to control what parts of my life become public.   I never really recognized this until recently when a friend talked about my issues to someone else.   It uncovered all these very confusing feelings of my soul, my being in someone else’s hands, which triggered something pretty ugly in me.    I'm trying to work on that in therapy now.

So generally, I'd say the biggest change was my need to have control over my life and my environment in order to feel safe.  And this has played out in making my world much more private and protected than it had been.

But the good part  is that although my stage got smaller, my relationships to people and to life became much deeper and richer.   First, because my life has become so concentrated on my little sphere of family and friends, my work, and my hobbies, it has allowed me the time to nurture those relationships without the distractions of the larger world.   (Not that things in my life are always perfect.  They're not. )    And also because I know how fast and horribly things can be taken away,  I have become immensely appreciative of life. right. now.   And that, in turn, has probably made me happier than I've ever been.



12 comments:

  1. I'm so glad someone asked this question because it is such a great illustration that events, even horrific, unfathomable events, may impact us, but they do not have to define us. Unless we let them.

    Bless you, my friend.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It took me awhile to learn that lesson. But I wholeheartedly agree.

      Delete
  2. If I would have answered this question for you, I would have said that pre- assault you were extraordinarily happy, and that post- assault you were extraordinarily sad. But perhaps that sadness did not negate your basic positive spirit. Maybe it was just another dimension that you needed to experience and process. And, may I say, that it is wonderful to see the sadness fade and the joy return.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm not sure that sad and happy are opposites. To be happy one has to live fully. And to live fully, I think one has to experience all emotions as they come. I have never minded sitting with my sadness. In fact, I kind of like it. That said, feeling joyful does feel better than feeling sad.

      Delete
  3. One of my big issues is forgiveness. I cannot forgive and it eats at me all the time. I wonder did you forgive your attackers and do you think that is why you have been able to be happy now?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. My most honest answer is that I never really think about them. I remember things about them - their smell, their clothes, their voices, their words - but I don't remember them as people. I have very much dissociated them and play the day in my head almost without them. So no, I have not forgiven nor do they eat at me. They do not exist. And that is how I cope.

      I think I am happy now because I have so many reasons to be happy. Simple as that.

      Delete
  4. Well. This answers some of the things I'm struggling with. Huh.

    Thank you. I have to go away and think about it.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Your welcome?

      I have no doubt you will find your answers.

      Delete
  5. AnonymousJune 24, 2013

    Is being grateful the secret to happiness then?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I do believe it is the secret for me. I'm not saying it is the answer for everyone. Especially since I know that I have much more to be grateful for than many others. But I do think there are many paths to happiness.

      Delete
  6. I am so glad for you that the ability to feel joy is making a comeback. That is such an important part of our healthy psyche. And, the ability and knowledge to treasure what and who you have in your life... so very important.

    I interpret your discomfort with someone external talking about your issues as frightening vulnerability. Unfortunately, your vulnerability is based in experience. It is perfectly understandable. I struggle with vulnerability as well. It brings up huge issues around safety - physical safety and emotional safety. I am, generally, an open and friendly person but I have walls that are impenetrable. Trust is hard.

    I love your answer to this question. So well thought out and deeper than I could have imagined. Thank you for being brave enough to post it. I wish you knew how strong you are and how much I admire you.

    xoxox

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Vulnerability, yes. It is an issue I have struggled with. I have really worked on being more open and this person just crushed me. Knowingly. So yes, back to trust issues . . . again.

      I think I am finally feeling my strength. Thank you. I admire you too. In more ways than you know.

      Delete