On my 17th visit to my therapist, marking nearly a year with her, she asks me, What do you think has changed?
I could truthfully answer:
No longer frantic and empty
Like a cat
Tied to a stick
That’s driven into
Frozen winter sh★t1
But I don’t listen to Radiohead very often anymore, and that’s part of the point. The question doesn’t really have to do with the ways in which I feel differently, but with what I’ve been doing differently. So I answer that I live my life now as if living my life were a skill, something that has to be learned and practiced consciously.
Because it is. It would be absurd to imagine that playing the piano, or doing Kung Fu, or coding in PHP, was supposed to be automatic. It would be ridiculous to tell yourself that, because you weren’t born knowing differential calculus, there must be something wrong with you.
But that’s exactly what I’m sometimes tempted to tell myself about living life and being happy, even though living life — a balancing act between action and passivity, relationship and independence, grieving and celebrating, surviving and enjoying, all requiring billions of on-the-fly adjustments and split-second decisions and, probably most importantly, failure after failure — is exponentially more complicated than any of those other things.
It’s true that some people do seem to have a natural talent for living, the way some people have a natural talent for dancing: while we’re mouthing a frantic onetwothreeonetwothree and focusing on not stepping on our partner’s feet, they’re the ones grooving along like they were on living rails, whirling off into arabesques and syncopations without seeming to think about anything at all.
Maybe it’s because they worked very, very hard for very, very long. Or maybe it’s because they were born with rhythm. Or maybe they grew up listening to Bach and Strauss and Glenn Miller and the Beach Boys, so it all seeped into their blood. Or maybe they are on some damn good rhythm-enhancing drugs.
But I can’t know those things. All I can know is what I do and how well it works, or doesn’t, for me. So I make a point of things like:
- Planning out my Sunday morning so I don’t get to Sunday night without talking to at least one or two people that I love
- Switching the radio if I’m feeling raw and something too melancholy comes on
- Calling a friend before I start feeling abandoned and lonesome
- Working out on a regular schedule, whether I want to or not
And so on. I do this stuff because I’ve found out that nothing else does the trick, and with the knowledge that I have friends who can spend seven hours by themselves watching The X-Files, fall asleep on the courch eating fried pork rinds, sleep for ten hours, and wake up not feeling substantially worse about themselves; whereas if I did those things, it’d take a week of recovery before I could stop feeling like crying.
That’s just how it is. I dunno if it’ll always be that way, and I’m certain that it’s better than it used to be. Some of these things do become second nature. You build momentum and it carries you; when you’re moving along at a good clip, you keep doing what you’re doing; when you come to a screeching halt, you look at how you got there, and you start methodically doing the opposite.