Monday, November 27, 2006
I Am Happy, Dammit
Did y'ever have the experience of trying to convince someone that you're happy when they're certain you are not? Fun, isn't it?

I think I may have succeeded last night, but it was an uphill battle.

To back up... hmm. How far do I need to go for this to make sense? I could pick lots of places, because of that whole snowball/butterfly/dustbunny/pearl phenomenon - change one thing, change everything, and once something starts it just continues to roll along and accumulate consequences.

So, okay, then, I was born in upstate New York in... no. Just kidding. Not quite THAT far back.

Let's start with January 2005. That's when I hopped off the internship roller coaster for the first time, by abruptly backing out of my thus-far apparently successful internship applications and deciding to take a year off. We were planning to move that summer so that Willem could start grad school, Emily was on her way into kindergarten, and Jacob was about to turn one - just a lot going on and it seemed like me going back to work full-time was not right for my family. Or my sanity. I'm not sure which is more important, or even whether they're all that different.

So that was attempt #1, done. Attempt #2 happened last winter, and during that application process I made a big mistake: I was honest. I explained in my applications that I had taken a year to be with my family, thereby proving that I had a life outside of psychology internships, and I was rewarded for that honesty with no interviews at all. (Well. That's not entirely true. There was one interview, but it's at a site which tells you right in the application to save the date because they interview everyone who applies.)

This was... huh. There still aren't words for it, nine months later. Devastating, mind-boggling, consciousness-altering, horrible, scary, sad, pathetic... all apply a little, but I don't know of the right word to encompass the whole experience. This was the first time in my life that I had failed at anything - the first time I had set my goals and been unable to reach them. Suddenly my life plan was uncertain and, in fact, doubtful. Suddenly I wasn't going to be a forensic psychologist, or work in a prison, or any of the big career-related things that I had sort of, arrogantly, viewed as a given. Suddenly I didn't know who I was, or who I was going to be when I grew up.

This threw me into a pretty intense depression, and most of this year was sucked up by that. I didn't take pictures, I didn't write much here, I didn't maintain correspondence with friends or show up on time for playdates (speaking of which, I got a very angry email about that post, explaining that I have an incorrect memory about just about everything and I'm not ever allowed to write about that person again... but I'm not very obedient). I just wasn't me, and I don't especially like whoever I was. Then I hurt my back, so once you toss chronic pain into the mix, now you're got a real party.

I was never suicidal. But in retrospect, I should have been in a hospital, for at least some of that time. I wasn't, and I'm better now.

I AM better. Seriously. I've had time to work through the whole concept of failure, and to readjust my goals and plans and the ways in which I measure my own success. I've figured out a new career plan, one that is not dependent on someone else's artificial time constraints or academic hoops, and I've shuffled around my priorities, and in general have figured out how to be mellow with where my life is at now. Sure, it's vastly different than I ever expected, but life happens. I've been through major career changes before (I used to work as a photographer, and then on IBM's helpdesk) and I've gone through major non-career life changes, traumatic and otherwise.

Things are better. So much better. And it's not a case of having sat down with my head in my lap waiting for the storm to blow over, it's a case of thought and effort and activity in the face of an overwhelming need to curl up under the bed and hide.

So you can see, then, why repeated statements from Willem about how I don't seem happy, my baseline is lower than it used to be, he regrets going back to grad school when he did because otherwise I'd have an internship by now, etc., etc., might drive me a wee tad bit insane. There was a time and place when that was all accurate, but not now. And then to be told that I'm only calling myself happy now because I don't have any choice in the matter, because I can't change the circumstances... well, so what? Life is what you make of it now, not what you wish it had been.

Wow, deep.

Anyway. We had a long talk last night, some arguing and some listening and some communicating, just like grown-ups. I think he understands more of where I'm coming from.

I wish I could ease more of his worries, because I think a lot of where he's coming from is this sense of responsibility - we moved here for his grad school, so therefore it's his fault that my plans, my life, have changed so much. And that may be true, to an extent, but I never felt coerced or obligated into it. I'm not especially impulsive, I thought things through and certain parts of my brain, at least, had contemplated the what-if's, even if I didn't really understand what failure might mean. But I don't view my situation as pitiable or sub-par, and I don't believe in regrets. So, I'm okay. I'm happy. Dammit.

Change one thing, change everything.