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.