My older daughter is six months shy of being a legal adult. The approach of this milestone has been fraught with anxiety, so I anticipated a rough night before she embarked on a new semester at the local community college. She’s taking an extra class this time. She has a part-time job. She worries about keeping up with it all. What I did not expect was for her to lament that she saw nothing to look forward to in the years to come. Community college will only lead to a regular college, which she is lukewarm about attending. College will only lead to a job she hates.
“What’s the point in any of it?” she asked. “Every adult I know is miserable.”
The weight of her negativity made remaining in her presence physically uncomfortable for this empath, but I couldn’t allow that comment to slide unchallenged. True, her father comes home shell-shocked from work most nights, but he isn’t all adults.
When I balked that I’m not miserable, she bestowed that special expression teenagers reserve for parental observations that conflict with their worldview. “Well, you’re not happy.”
I hadn’t given much thought to the idea of happiness lately, having spent the last four years as an involuntary sponge, absorbing the stress of one family member after another. I’d wring myself out only to fall into another puddle. I self-medicated with almost daily mocha lattes I no longer tasted, let alone savored. On particularly stressful days, I’d add a muffin, too.
I now own fat clothes.
She was right. I wasn’t happy, but what she had not lived long enough to understand is that happiness isn’t something that simply happens. It must be chosen. Every day we get to choose.
She had thrown down a challenge to prove her wrong, to show her another way. This was a wake-up call.
I’m convinced that much of what we call “writer’s block” is a consequence of emotional overwhelm. We are wired to put ourselves into the shoes of others, to share and, let’s be honest, sometimes to exploit their struggles by weaving them into a story. Easy prey to the perils of empathy, we become ensnared in that cycle of absorb/wring out/absorb and forget to allow ourselves to dry off in the sun. We forget to take care of ourselves. We forget to do the things that help us recharge, to pursue joy. Under these circumstances, when we have nothing left to give, is it any wonder our work can suffer, or even stall? [Read more…]