Tuesday, May 13, 2008

If You Can't Make Yourself Happy, Make Someone Else Happy

Such a non-Western concept:

If you are in pain, despair, sad or drenched in suburban ennui and you can't see your way clear of it, make someone else feel good. Oh how we bristle against it! "What? What about ME! I'm the one who's not happy! I need attention! I need love! Me! Me! Me! Screw you! You should be making ME happy, dammit!"

Yeah. See how far that gets you.

Years ago, hell, possibly ten years ago, my therapist gave me this self-same advice. I was in a pit of misery so deep, I could hardly breathe. I spent nights battling demons, battles I mostly lost. Battles that left me in a dark bathroom, my head resting on the cold porcelain of the toilet, weeping. I wept until I was weak, and then I wept some more. I stretched myself out across the tile floor and fell asleep there, more nights than not.

No one ever came to save me from myself. And clearly, I was in the grips of a beast that would not let me go. Make all the jokes you want about eating disorders, I know it's the hip thing to do, what, with all these celebrity anorexics to choose from -- but quitting an addiction is brutal. It doesn't matter if your addiction is a drug, alcohol, food, pain or righteous denial -- you need it to get you through the night.

It took me ten years of therapy to quit over 18 years of being bulimic.

I waged a private war against it, and it was a bloody war that took no prisoners. I lost more battles than I won. I reached out for help and was shoved away. I had nothing but shame and despair to comfort me, and an impassive husband who just didn't want to hear about it.

Had I known my husband was battling his own war -- a war he would lose -- perhaps things would have been different. Or perhaps not. Who am I kidding? Nobody expects the Alamo, or schizophrenia, for that matter.

I was sitting in my therapist's office one day, one of four visits each week, grabbing my head, rocking back and forth.

"I just can't make it stop. I just can't make it stop."

I was losing it.

I couldn't stop the pain. Chronic, excruciating mental pain. It never fucking let up. I walked around in the real world like a puppet, I moved my arms and legs and performed for the people throughout the day. But all the while, a constant torrent of invectives, slurs, hate-speech played in my brain.

"Sometimes, if you can't do anything to make yourself feel good, it helps to make someone else feel good," my therapist stated.

In that moment, I hated him.

"What about me! Who's going to make ME feel better!" I wailed, and then laughed at my own ridiculousness.

He laughed too.

"Maybe you can make you feel better."

Well that pissed me off.

"Achhhhhhhhhh," I said, making the sound of disgust in the back of my throat like we do in my family.

But I tried. Tentatively that night, as my husband and I lay in bed, I reached out and rubbed his back. I rubbed and rubbed, touching him for the first time in months. I stroked his back until he fell asleep, softly snoring.

I did this for a week. Seven nights of selfless love and kindness.

He never once touched me. He never once acknowledged it.

I felt lonelier and sadder than ever.

"It doesn't work!" I yelled at my therapist.

"Maybe you need to try it on someone else. How about your students?" he suggested.

So I did. Gave up on the husband, and began spending late hours at school. I let my students hang out in my classroom, laying on my carpet, staring at the ceiling. We dubbed it "Carpet Time" and I listened to them bemoan their various outcast states.

And we laughed.

And I felt better.

Last night I took my son to Toys R Us and bought him a cartload of toys for no damn reason other than the fact that I was depressed and lonely and couldn't make myself feel better.

"Can I have that golf set?" he asked.


"A T-ball set?" he asked again, giving me an incredulous, sidelong glance.

"You got it."

"Can I be a policeman?" his jaw was now hanging open in disbelief.

"Of course you can."

Oh, we loaded up that cart. All those toys, all that happiness, cost less than $50.

"You want to go to McDonald's and eat dinner?" I asked.

"What's Old McDonalds?" he asked.

So I took him and bought him a we ate fast food. Then he played on the giant PlayPlace, with the florescent lighting humming above us and the faint whiff of children's sweat and urine.

He was ecstatic.

Though I counted down the minutes before I could take him home and douse him in a hot shower, I couldn't help but laugh with him in his joy.

I did that. I made that happiness happen out of thin air.

When they named it a "Happy Meal," they weren't kidding. I just didn't realize that the happiness of the meal wasn't limited to the consumer of the meal. Turns out the buyer gets some of it too.

Just like my therapist said. All those years ago.


  1. Great blog. I like doing random nice things for my girls. I'm sure they think it's cause I'm a dad and have to do things like that. But sometimes I do it selfishly just cause making them happy makes me feel good.

    I think the world (or at least my small part of it) could use more carpets and ceilings to stare at.

  2. I still miss Carpet Time.

    Hm. I have a small area rug here in my Viewbicle. I just don't think my co-workers can fit on it...

  3. Perfect!

    "Sometimes, if you can't do anything to make yourself feel good, it helps to make someone else feel good," my therapist stated.

    Not that I felt that bad today but I tried to make my "Girlfriend" feel better. I will take her son this Thursday and I should get everybody some kind of Ninja costume! :-)

  4. Another brilliant piece of writing you shared for free. ;-)

    I find myself doing little acts of kindness, surprising people by giving them room in traffic or holding the door or whatever. But sometimes I forget to do things for people close to me. Like they already know I'm kind, so I don't have to prove it anymore. Or maybe the people close to me grow accustomed to it and I miss their looks of pleasant surprise? Or maybe I'm just lazy?

  5. Last week I tried random acts of meanness... it didn't work out quite so well. Especially the old lady who hit me with her purse after I yelled at her for no reason.

    Maybe I should have tried your way.

  6. It's way easier to be nice to children.

    But The Boyfriend unselfishly volunteered to let me practice some of my Kindness To Others Therapy on his person.

  7. Great lesson to learn and share, hon. We (in the U.S. particularly) are too self absorbed and would benefit greatly by being more other-centered, Whether it makes us feel better or not!

    Cracky doesn't understand but I bet he thinks he won the lottery! xoxo (notionally)

  8. Gosh if only you had an insurance number I would send you payment for therapy sessions.

    You are great.

    I cant believe that that that is what I am doing and didnt know it.

    Lately the only joy is either when I am taking the kids to ChuckEE Cheese and letting them play until THEY are done, or when I am helping in the food shelter. But it is me who is feeling better.

    Thank you.

    Now if only the grass would wish to be mowed!

  9. Such a wonderful message...thank you.
    I'm kinda feeling like some carpet time myself ;)

  10. Damn I had a flashback when you talking about rocking back and forth in your therapist's office. "Make it stop" was always my mantra.

    Yup, I found that being nice to others cure a while ago, it's fucking fantastic.

    I'm happy for you, darlin'.

  11. I love how "happy" meal ties into this.
    And it's true. It can help tremendously when you do nice for others. DO NICE, BITCH!
    I did this when I had my first real heartbreak and it helped a lot. If couldn't be happy at least I could help to make those around me happy.
    good blog!

  12. "Carpet time."

    I want some "carpet time."

    (Licks lips. Thrusts hips.)


  13. You are so filthy you should be ashamed of yourself.

  14. I try to practice *Random acts of kindness*...but people usually piss me off too much.

    I'd love to have 'carpet time' in my cube..except it's so small, I can barely fit in here, let alone someone laying down (plus I'd probably get fired...)

  15. How do you know that was me? It could've been anyone.

  16. Carpet Time.


    Students are missing out, missing out on you. Maaaaan! If I had you for a teacher.... whew. Or maybe not. We're all different people then and now. Aaaaand, I'm rambling.

    Throwing pity parties was never my thing. When I get upset, I clean, or make a piece of art for someone. Now I understand why.

  17. Truth be told, I miss teaching so much sometimes it makes me heartsick. Some of my former students left me comments on my Facebook page on my birthday and I totally cried.


    I miss Carpet Time. I miss those girls.

  18. Your writing never ceases to amaze me. And I have no reason to suck up to you either. Huh, I suppose that was a random act of kindness...

  19. Damn girl, your writing just keeps getting better! Make ME happy and get that damn book published already...

  20. I was physically and verbally abused as a child. The main result being that I don't believe in myself. After my daughter was born, I was determined that she would grow up believing in herself. At every opportunity I rewarded her successes with an emphatic "You did it, my girl!" On day, I was doing something (can't remember what), but I succeeded at it, whatever it was. My daughter chimed in and said "Alright Daddy! You did it!" It still brings tears to my eyes when I think about it.
    I can't make myself happy, but I can help make her happy. And I have.

  21. YOU kick ass! OM.

  22. I fight depression...with happiness...my two daughters keep me laughing at the most inappropriate things....pee....poop...farting....tickles...growls...we are a funny bunch, us girls.

    too funny...simple humor gets me.

  23. Loved this entry! I miss carpet time and discussing the perils of being 16 :) You were very good to us, and even if we never said it, we appreciated you.

  24. Ahh, after all my years of therapy, my doc said something I thought totally inappropriate (should've gone down the hall to your guy) and I walked out. I still figure it out on my own, day by day. But today you gave me a life lesson I shall never forget. It makes a lot of sense that when I was helping communities and constituents, I was extremely happy.

    Thank you

    The Saint of Hockeytown!

  25. This was beautiful. At least I now know that I'm not spoiling my kids, I'm just making everybody feel better by giving them pretty much whatever they want - most of the time.

    Namaste myfriend. Your writing brightens my day.

  26. shifting the focus of depression to a lighter note is definitely good medicine, albeit temporary, but definitely good. xo

  27. good idea.

    i will request that my flavour of the week selflessly give me more carpet time.


  28. I was talking with my better half on the phone about the burns I had acquired during our carpet time, and all of a sudden he said, "You're on speaker phone" and I could hear all of his work cronies laughing and cheering. I'm still avoiding them.

    Plus, I was really mean to a Jehovah's Witness that knocked on my door today and I still feel awful about it. I usually just kill them with kindness until they f-off. I wasn't feeling the mindfulness this morning.

  29. You take a difficult subject and transform it with you damn fine writing...where is that book already?

  30. Here's to you and me getting over those birthday blues...
    Every year like clockwork..I need to schedule it for next year that way it wont suprise me!


  31. The birthday blues always sneak up on me, even when I think I've eluded them.