Like every other human being alive, my moods cycle. Sometimes they cycle more rapidly or reach more pronounced extrema, but they have usually centered somewhere around a baseline that was basically happy.
When I first moved, I was soaringly happy for days and weeks on end. I thought I had solved all my problems, moved forward toward an exciting new future, and that everything was going to be okay all the time. Things started wearing a little around the edges sometime in October, and it seems as though it all spiraled completely out of control shortly after that. I have a lot of ideas about why and how it happened, but I sunk into pretty protracted unhappiness and desolate depression for more than a month now.
This instance has been unique because it is sustained not by anxiety or exhaustion or the typical things that get me down, but by a kind of weariness and dreadfulness about going forward in time. I used to pull myself together with the exhilaration of fascination in some obsessive project (usually art or research), or I would distract myself until I cycled around again, spurned on by this belief that I could have an extraordinary future if I could just get out of my own way.
Lately, though, it seems I am unusually affected by the unchanging unkindness and selfishness of humanity at large, by the pervasive cynicism that increasingly seems to guide decision-making, by the futility in seeking meaningful connections with people, and above all, by this sense that no matter what it is I’m pursuing, I will always be disappointed and dread getting out of bed. I have internalized the negativity that used to disturb me and thought the ugliest, cruelest thoughts about myself and others effortlessly and remorselessly. I have acted like – and for all intents and purposes become – a heartless, unrecognizably cold and indifferent person.
One of the triggers for this despair is the sense of never having any free time. I’m taking too many credits this semester, and the classes I’m taking are both crammed with busywork and entirely unchallenging. I knew that undergraduate classes wouldn’t be as intellectually rewarding as master’s-level art history seminars, but my courses this semester are reaching new levels of tedium that make my teeth hurt. Yet I am overwhelmed with the sheer volume of work to be done and the time it consumes, leaving me sucked dry with no creative or social outlets to make it more bearable. Each day, I find myself increasingly frustrated, with uncontrollable annoyance at how much my time and resources are being wasted.
I realize that the only way to be happier with my life is to stop shuffling through the same cycles and perform a hard reset. I have put my foot down and taken on my best inner drill sergeant to declare that from now forward, I pursue happiness. This pursuit will include nailing down what is currently a poorly-defined and amorphous definition of happiness, and I’m sure it involves a number of disciplinary tasks to get my act together, but the intent is restored and with it, I think I have dislodged the sulking weight in my heart that was steadfastly refusing to move forward.
I decided not to go with my parents to visit our family in Virginia for Thanksgiving so that I can catch up on work and get my life together. I feel terribly guilty and sad to miss seeing family, but I can’t keep on being miserable and stressed out anymore. My brother can’t take time away from work to travel, so he and I are having Thanksgiving together in New Jersey. We’re having a nontraditional meal that he’s preparing, and I am catching up on laundry, visiting with the dogs, and mellowing the hell out while I’m there.
I’m taking time this week to catch up (and maybe work ahead some) so that I can be calmer and less frantically busy the rest of the semester. I’m going to be smarter about how I spend my time, and even if it means never sleeping again, I’m going to make more time for creativity, being outdoors, and connecting with friends.
More than anything, though, I’m going to be nicer to myself and open my eyes again. When I lost my sense of optimism and well-being, I lost what was probably my biggest strength. The ability to find joy and beauty in this world is what makes the difference between me living or simply surviving, and I need to cling to that more tenaciously and passionately than ever.