The Painful Path to Happiness

© Andrey Kiselev | Dreamstime Stock Photos

© Andrey Kiselev | Dreamstime Stock Photos

Being alive isn’t something we all get to do. Some of us are born dead. Some die from illness before we get to speak our first words. Some grow into teenagers before we get wiped out, by a drunk driver, say, or a rare form of cancer. Some people are technically alive but our souls are dead – you can see it in our eyes. Life isn’t a right; it’s a gift. And not everyone gets to keep it.

If we’re lucky, we live into our twenties. If we’re even luckier, we live into our thirties and beyond. Just breathing isn’t something everyone gets to do but for those of us who have made it this far, we’re the lucky ones.

Lucky doesn’t necessarily mean happy.

Depression plagued me for most of my childhood and my teens. In my twenties those feelings peaked. As a twenty something year old I tried, multiple times, to wipe myself off the face of the earth but survived. I made it through, into my thirties. Not so long ago, turning thirty was considered reaching middle age. Yet here I am: I don’t feel like I’ve even begun to live my life. Or I’ve begun but I’m only now starting to get into the swing of things. Call me a late bloomer. Where to begin?

Why is it that some of us experience happiness so easily and others can’t ever seem to feel it? Why does suffering exist? And how can we get away from it? Can we really put it aside for good?

That pretty much sums up what I’ve been obsessed about for most of my life. Everything I’ve ever done, every measly moment I’ve spent with the covers pulled over my head, has been a step toward understanding the nature of my suffering, and has driven me to seek out new ways to combat it.

But combatting suffering doesn’t get you far because it’s not the enemy. At least, you can’t stop suffering by treating it like the enemy. I’m learning that.

I used to think that if only my parents had loved me for who I was I would have turned out better. But they had their own demons to wrestle with. It’s unfortunate but there it is. It’s possible that had I had parents who were truly capable of being there for me, my life would have been slightly less painful, maybe a little less lonely. But that’s not how life happened. You play the hand you’re dealt.

And the suffering I experienced because of their rejection of who I was, as a trans man, as a teenager suffering  from severe depression, as a child whose emotional needs were largely neglected not because of malevolence on my parents’ part, but because of their inability to alleviate their own suffering and therefore see mine, means that I appreciate the happy moments when they come now.

And happy moments do come. Like when I lie in bed next to my partner and she smiles when I stroke the outline of her ear. Or when my dog crawls under the covers and her warm body presses up against the back of my knee. Or when we adventure together, camping in October or taking the Boltbus to Seattle.

I snap pictures of these moments because I want to remember what happiness feels like. I am building up my toolbox, one day, one night, at a time.

Writing, too, is part of that toolbox. I write to understand my suffering. In my vulnerability I find life.

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