The ice cream of happiness

I have been suffering lately from a bit of a case of BADD (that’s Being an Adult Dysphoric Disorder for those of you who don’t regularly make up maladies and their acronyms). I’ve transitioned to full-time at work, which is great except it means driving across town five days a week instead of only three. I’m also working on two new projects, which brings the stress of figuring out new data and new bosses and all of that. I’ll get the hang of it all eventually but right now I’m just exhausted and feel like I have no time because not only am I spending more time in the car, my time at work feels terribly unproductive some days because I’m still getting up to speed on the new projects and am re-learning different statistical tools with which I am not as efficient. Pour on top of that a generous helping of emotional malaise surrounding a situation that falls squarely into the “things I cannot change” category and you get a cranky, melancholy Sarahliz who becomes prone to trying to come up with cute names for what’s wrong.

Last night on the way home I detoured to cash some checks and stop at Trader Joe’s for bread. Of course when I got to the Credit Union I discovered that I had not actually put the envelope with the checks in my purse (meaning I still have to make a special trip to take care of that). Then as I was walking the aisles at TJs I started doing the mental “so what am I going to eat tonight.” It was already late and I didn’t feel like making anything. Plus, as per usual for the past couple of weeks, I was cranky. So I bought some frozen gnocchi, figuring I’d heat that up and have it with salad. I also bought coffee ice cream because I’ve been taking my lunch to work pretty regularly and eating a lot of salad and have generally been feeling pretty virtuous in my food choices. (Yes, it’s possible that the super crankiness is also influenced by the fact that I’m trying to lose a few pounds and save some money so have been bringing my lunch to work pretty regularly and eating a lot of salad).

Ok. We all see where this is going, right?

Yeah. I ended up having a HUGE bowl of ice cream for dinner. While taking a hot bath. It was awesome. And I woke up a great deal more cheerful and relaxed. Apparently I stumbled onto a fairly effective treatment for BADD. It helped a little with the feeling of being overwhelmed by work since part of my bath time was spent reading a work-related article that proved helpful. And I woke this morning with the sudden conviction that I actually will be able to accept the thing I cannot change with a modicum of adult grace.

That emotional malaise and the anxiety of facing a thing I cannot change has resulted in images from Alice Walker’s poem “Did this Happen to Your Mother? Did Your Sister Throw Up a Lot” tugging at my brain. Of course as they were tugging I could remember which poem it actually was. I remembered the bit about weeds coming up through the cracks. And I remembered the gist of the last two stanzas:

Whoever he is, he is not worth all this.
Don’t you agree?

And I will never
unclench my teeth long enough
to tell him so.

That was, after all, pretty much exactly what I was feeling as I hopped into the tub with a huge bowl of ice cream at my side.

So this morning I went looking for the full poem, with the hope of giving the rattling in my brain a little more form. While looking for it I found this article, an interview with Alice Walker’s daughter Rebecca. I think I had encountered things to suggest that the Walker mother-daughter relationship was strained. I just hadn’t read anything that really made clear how strained, or why.

It was striking to me to read this article today because I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how one balances a desire to change the world with a desire to live a happy life full of strong relationships. They obviously aren’t goals that have to be at odds, but fighting for change is hard work. Even just figuring out what issues one might tackle, what solutions might be best, is more than I seem to be able to manage. I can’t imagine the time and effort involved with actually going to rallies or doing things that might directly cause change (I’ll confess I find rallies and protests and civil disobedience perplexing at times because it is so hard to trace out what they actually do).

Lately I’ll admit I’ve been judging myself through eyes that aren’t my own. And those eyes have been judging me very harshly indeed for my lack of real action in the world. It is perhaps the case that, in channeling that judgment, I am actually judging myself much more harshly that said person would. Still, even knowing that, I was deeply troubled for awhile. I spent a lot of time trying to figure out exactly how to find more time, exactly what to give up, and exactly where to focus some world-improving energies. The truth is that I fully know that I need to do more to make the world look like I want it to. But, as I thought about it more and more, I realized that though I respect the person whose voice I was internally channeling a great deal, I have no desire to emulate his life. I have no desire to structure my relationships the way it appears to me that he has structured his. In short, after scribbling my way through circles of angst in my pen-and-paper journal, it suddenly dawned on me that my relationships to the people around me are more important to me than grander notions of social justice. I don’t mean that in the sense that I am selfish and think my life more important than others (though perhaps I am, and perhaps I do). I mean, rather, that if I focus all my energies on saving the world only to fail to feed and sustain my closest relationships, then I have failed. In doing so I would have undermined not only my world, but the worlds of those people close to me as well. I would, in short, have contributed to the circle of society closest to me to not looking like my ideal.

One could argue, of course, that the good that Alice Walker has done in the world–the positive effects she has had on people, myself included, through her writing–outweighs whatever negativity comes from neglecting her relationship with her child. I recognize that argument and recognize how, for some people, it is enough to justify consuming focus on activism. For me, though, it’s not the way I want to live. It’s not who I want to be when I judge myself through my own eyes rather than focusing anxiously on the judgment of others. I still feel guilty about not doing more, for remaining so inwardly focused. But ultimately I am slowly forming a better picture of who I want to be and how I want to live. And that picture involves a lot more focusing on real meaningful relationships than it does marching in the street.

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