Sunday, September 4, 2022

The meaning of "happy"

     I find that I am constantly having to re-examine myself in the light of all the studying I'm doing about the psychology of trauma, giftedness, and neurodiversity. It's a very energy-intensive process, involving not just my rational mind but all my emotions and intuition as well. Evaluating and harmonizing all the things I'm learning with what feels true about myself, my understanding of myself, is really tricky. 

    Does this or that description or definition ring true, or not? Is this or that trait part of my fundamental personality, or is it a weakness associated with being gifted or ADHD or autistic, and what's the best kind of scaffolding to keep it from hampering me? Is my love of solitude all good and healthy, or am I keeping human relationships at arm's length as a dysfunctional result of trauma? Is it healthy boundaries, or cowardice? How can I know? 

    It seems to me that the most important way of knowing, for me, is to stay in my silence, solitude, and simplicity. Journaling, meditating, and reflecting on all the things I'm hearing and reading, and waiting patiently for the echo to come back from within me saying "this is what rings true" ... or, "this doesn't feel right."

    Sometimes I can't find a way to reconcile what I'm studying with what feels true about myself. And then, sometimes, the right thing to do is to reach out for a reality-check, for a second opinion. So I went out and found a therapist. I was sceptical that I could find someone with the kind of training to answer my questions. Trauma, neurodiversity, and giftedness are not part of basic psychotherapy training, so finding one person competent to help me tease apart all this complexity was not a given. But I got very lucky, and found a good one on the first try. 

    And here is the verdict: I'm fine. I don't need therapy. I'm coping quite well, actually. The relationships I have with family and friends are what is meant by healthy human bonding. I'm tripped up by what that word "bonding" evokes in my mind, which is more like "bondage." That's not healthy, it's not what is meant, it's more like "enmeshment." I'm fine, I'm a well-adjusted introvert.

    The bigger take-home lesson -- and it's not the first time I've learned it, and it's not the first time I've written about it, but there are layers on layers of it, so I needed to hear it again -- you don't ever actually "get over" trauma. It's like grief: if you lose your best friend, or a close family member, time doesn't actually heal that wound. With time, you learn to bear it, you might get back more resilience against being knocked over by it, you can get on with your life. But your loved one is still dead, that doesn't change, and the grief never actually goes away.

    The same is true of trauma. This is what my spiritual director told me years ago, that made such an impact on me: "you might never 'get over it,' because it's never not going to have happened." I keep working on it, and working on it, and working on it, as if at some point I can make it go away. But I can't. There is no amount of healing, no amount of personal growth, no amount of inner work that can make my past not be my past. It's past, it's immutable, I'm stuck with it. Things are going to happen, sometimes, that trigger that trauma response. I will spin out, I'll cry, I'll get defensive, I'll instinctively pull back into my shell, and it will take a while for me to make sense of what I'm experiencing.

    And that's OK. It's not actually a problem. It's just life

    Being mentally healthy, being whole, strong, and resilient, flourishing, doesn't mean feeling great all the time. What it means is feeling all the feelings. The aim isn't to be Pollyanna, with a big grin painted on, always full of energy, always in a great mood. Being happy, in a deep way, doesn't always mean feeling good. I'm a happy hermit, very happy -- and that includes crying, and hurting, and freaking out, and throwing up walls sometimes, as well as love, and joy, and pleasure, and confidence and hope. It's all good, amen.


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