… Okay, fine, it doesn’t. And people usually say “You’re just in a funk” or “This too shall pass” and when you’re in your “Funk” those phrases simply translate to “Yes, please, I would love for you to punch me square in the mouth.”
Because you see, it’s easy for people who aren’t in your head to offer advice or “words of wisdom” or a little cliché to “lift your spirits.” But the thing about that is that I just end up getting angry. Because it doesn’t just go away after you say one of those phrases everyone says that is supposed to offer solace but really just make me want to Hulk-out and start breaking things. Like jaws. And knee caps.
Because it’s not a quick fix. It’s not an outside source (usually). It’s in my head. In my chest. And the ache doesn’t just poof away if you try to distract it with a stuffed animal or a hug. Doing one thing doesn’t fix the problem. And usually the advice you get doesn’t mesh with what the problem is at that moment anyway. If I have a pipe shoved clean through my leg, please don’t ask me if I’d like an antacid.
Sometimes, it’s not just a funk. To me, a funk is something that eventually goes away with little effort on your part and then things are as right as rain. But what happens when the funk turns into weeks? Weeks into months? Half a year? A full year? And what happens when it’s even longer? When the days where it all seems hopeless far outnumber the ones that give you a reason to get out of bed and try to enjoy yourself…
After a very long time of just… nothingness, I decided to give myself a project. I had to do something. I didn’t want to be miserable anymore. If you could even call it that. I was just empty. I didn’t care enough to move, or try harder, or see people (well, that hadn’t changed much), and I certainly didn’t have the energy to create anything. But I needed to try to do something about not caring, because I had to care about not caring. (Because logic.) I wouldn’t pick anything terribly difficult or overly taxing. Nothing with planning or organizing since my to-do list was fairly simple at that point.
But what do I do? I don’t even know what makes me happy anymore. What is happy? Is it a drug? Can you buy it in a store? What do I even care about… I don’t think I even know how to care anymore…
But I had seen a hashtag going around online. #100happydays. Take a picture of one thing every day that made you happy. That seems doable… Right? I take pictures pretty much every day anyway. I see pretty things. I can do it without any real effort. I didn’t actually think I’d make it to 100 days at that point. I thought I’d make it a week, two tops, and then I’d forget and I’d stop. But I needed to do something. I had to try. I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t write. I couldn’t think. I couldn’t even read. I had to try…
I started the next day. It was near the end of March. The weather was a bit warmer and the sun was out. I went for a run. The first one in years. And I took a picture.
It was a pretty day. Looking at the word in the hashtag was strange. “Happy.” I didn’t exactly feel happy. I felt a bit more awake. The fresh air was nice.
And then the next day I took a photo of a Skype date with my sweetie.
And the day after that, a memorial to a friend who had passed away when I was in school…
A week passed. I had made it that far. Just a photo a day. Today. That’s all I thought. Today. One day at a time. I didn’t go running or work out every day. I still didn’t really have much of an appetite, let alone have an entire diet change to healthy food. I didn’t start singing in the shower, or reading a book a day like I had before. But I took a photo a day. That was something small. I could do that. I would keep doing it. It took very little time. And the only effort was finding something that caused some sort of reaction in me. I didn’t try to think a day in advance about what the next day’s photo would hold. That wasn’t the point. And I didn’t have the energy for that sort of effort anyway. It wasn’t something to plan. It was something to embrace each day. Find something in that one day. One moment. Something that’s already there. And appreciate it. It wasn’t exactly happiness, and it wasn’t really contentment either. It was just… Not emptiness. It wasn’t a good feeling or a bad feeling really. It was just SOMETHING.
Three weeks into my project, I felt something. I wanted to read. This was the first feeling I had had in a long time. Wanting something. I wasn’t really surprised that it was reading. For as long as I can remember I’ve devoured books. The fact that I hadn’t read anything other than to edit newspaper articles in nearly half a year had been weighing heavily on me. And I found a book that jumped out at me, and not just because of its fluorescent yellow cover.
“You Are A Badass” by Jen Sincero. This book seemed to be written for me. I’ve always loved that about books. That the one that you need somehow has a way of finding you just at the right time. And as I read, I felt something else. It wasn’t happiness or contentment or that something like before. And the more I focused on the book, and the more I read, I figured out what it was…
I felt hopeful. That my project was working. That maybe I could keep fighting. That maybe things could get better. And that maybe, just maybe, I could make it to the 100 days mark.
Around this time, since I had started to feel things again, I began to get self-conscious about my project. What if people thought it was stupid, what if it was annoying, what if they talk about me, what if, what if, what if… STOP. I jumped. … Wait… was that… me? I yelled at myself. I stopped the runaway train of negative thoughts… But that couldn’t be right. Could it?
That little voice got quiet. Because this project wasn’t about them. It wasn’t for them. It was for me. I wasn’t going to stop. I had to keep going. These posts were helping. People hadn’t helped me. I was helping myself. And I needed to keep doing that. This was my happiness, my life, at stake. And I wouldn’t, couldn’t stop because I was afraid. Afraid people would make fun of the project and think it was stupid. I couldn’t give up. Because I wanted something else now. I wanted to get better.
My project progressed. I kept taking pictures. Sometimes it was of inspirational quotes. Sometimes it was food and geeky things.
And on Day 100, it was a video from friends of mine that made me laugh so hard I cried.
It was Day 100! I had done it! Woohoo!
But… Why didn’t I feel good about it? There was no relief at the task being done. I didn’t feel whole. I didn’t feel accomplished. I still felt like there was more to be done. I wasn’t finished recovering… and I didn’t want it to be over. I didn’t want to slide back into not caring, not fighting and not looking forward to something every day… I didn’t want to stop.
So I changed the rules of the game.
This wasn’t someone else’s challenge. This wasn’t part of the hashtag circulating that people had jumped on only to quit a few days or maybe weeks in. This wasn’t about them. This was about me. This was about my happiness. And I wasn’t done finding the little things in every day. I wasn’t finished yet. And I wanted to hold myself accountable for finding the things that made me happy because I still wasn’t sure what those things were yet. One hundred days wasn’t enough… But maybe 365… Maybe an entire year of documenting the things that make me feel, the things that make me smile, and the things that bring me joy. #365happydays was my new challenge. And I was going to do it.
I didn’t really think about the overall number when I was doing this project. The big picture was too much for me to try to get my head around. I took it one day at a time, just like I had during the first 100 days. And I kept at it. And about 5 months into my project. I received a message on Facebook from a former coworker. We caught up a bit about his new job. And as the conversation was winding down, he said something that I hadn’t expected:
Color me surprised. I had worried all along that it would come across as stupid or people would make fun of it. But here it was: Someone actually enjoyed seeing the posts every day. And it was like a switch had been flipped. This project is actually helping. And it’s not just helping me… It’s giving other people something to look forward to. There was no way I was going to stop. I could do this. Just keep on chugging away. Find that happy thought in each day.
Near day 265, I began to see a pattern. I was bored in a waiting room for something and was looking through all the photos I had taken and noticed I had more photos of some things than others. And the things that turned up most often? Geeky things and games, books, food, and nature.
Now as my good friend The Doctor says:
But as I wasn’t particularly busy, I didn’t ignore it. And suddenly, I had it. The answer I’d been looking for: What things make me happy. Wasn’t that the point of this whole project? To feel better and figure out what makes me happy? I knew geeky things filled me with child-like giddiness, and while some people may say that it’s immature to continue to watch superhero movies and play video games, I invite them to kindly suck it. I am unabashedly thrilled when I see new additions to geek culture, will play Nintendo games far to close to the screen until both of my legs are asleep, and will quote from fandoms regardless of whether my present company will understand the references or not.
Nature wasn’t a hard one to figure out, especially given that my Day 1 photo was a nature shot. Food was surprising though. But since I had apparently inherited my dad’s skills in the kitchen (the man is a culinary genius), I suppose it shouldn’t have been such a surprise that I enjoyed baking, and thereafter eating, delicious goodies.
And considering autumn and winter have the best holidays, and if I do say so, the best desserts and treats to go with them, I was definitely feeling an increase in the Happy Meter. (Even if some of that was also making my jeans a bit tighter.)
And of course, I always knew books hold many of my happiest memories. But I had abandoned them when my emptiness became too much and all my energy was sapped by Dementors feeding on all my frequent adventures into magical worlds and fairy tales. But the ever present friends, they would always be there when I needed them. And I had begun reading with a new ferocity. Which made me feel more ready to take on the many lives I would live between the pages with my favorite authors and some newly acquired ones.
More days passed. And I eventually reached Day 365. I had done it. I took a photo a day for an entire year. And along the journey, I crossed off an item on my bucket list (a photo a day for a year), found what really makes me happy, rekindled some of my passion, and found that I need to stop and find the happiness in each day.
It’s a constant battle. Some days are harder than others. Some days I can feel myself slipping back to being empty. I don’t post a photo every day. But I still try to take the time to appreciate what makes me happy. Just for a few moments to keep the demons at bay. Some days I imagine I’m fighting them with a blaster in one hand and a saber in the other. And some days I need to call in backup, have the Guardians by my side to fight in my own universe. But each day, I keep on fighting. Pulling strength from those around me and for the things in my life that bring me happiness and help push back the shadows.
So maybe a project is what you need when it seems like all is lost. Something small. Like a photo. Because sometimes the smallest things can make the biggest difference. And remember to give yourself a push. You can handle it. Always Keep Fighting.