Rather A Serious Girl

This post was inspired by the inimitable David Rochester.

I’d like to quote fairly extensively from David’s post, for which I hope he will forgive me, because he has expressed it more articulately than I ever could:

It is very rare that I feel pleasure or contentment, and rare that I have positive feelings I can identify.  This makes life very strange, and makes me feel I am lying a lot of the time, as I have to translate my actual experience into language that people understand and won’t take offense at.  For example, it’s not acceptable to say: “Thank you for having me over.  I’m sure I would have enjoyed it if I were capable of feeling enjoyment; I’m deducing that this is the kind of thing I would like, if I liked anything.”

Instead, of course, I say: “Thank you for having me over; I had a lovely time.” 

…It’s not normal not to be able to enjoy yourself.  Most people do it without thinking.  They are satisfied with things they do, or they know they’re having fun, or they like people.  “I had a good time doing that,” they say, and they mean something by it that I don’t mean.  

…I have been joyless as long as I can remember.  My mother remembers noticing it when I was a very young child, at the age when most children have some sense of carefree happiness.  For most of my life, I have feared that in fact I lack something that other people have, and I can’t be happy or fulfilled.

At the moment, I’m looking into taking a course of Cognitive Behaviour Therapy to try and help me foil my brain’s renewed attempts to sabotage my life.  But I’m really rather terrified at the prospect of talking about Things.  What if I get upset and start crying? I HATE crying. I have only cried in front of two people since I reached adulthood almost 20 years ago.

And what if I don’t have any Things to talk about?  Thankfully, I wasn’t bullied as a child. My parents weren’t abusive or neglectful.  I’ve had my heart broken, but who hasn’t, right? I’m physically healthy, I have a great job in a wonderful city and a number of kind friends. Nothing to gripe about whatsoever, basically.

I’m worried that the therapist may say something along the lines of “Remember a time and a place when you were really happy”. I can’t remember such a time or place. Seriously; all self-pitying nombrilism aside, I really cannot.

What happy moments do other people conjure up?  Their wedding day? The birth of a child? Some idyllic childhood summer’s day playing with family or friends? Winning an important sports match or academic prize?

I’m not married – never even been close. No children either, and highly unlikely to have any at this rate.  As a child I know I played games with other children and with my siblings, but mostly, given the choice, I snuck away and read a book somewhere quiet – either way, I don’t remember feeling happy or unhappy about it.  In fact, the main incidents I remember from childhood games are a) getting stuck up a really big tree b) falling off an over-enthusiastically manned see-saw and c) nearly breaking my neck on a pair of new roller-skates.  I participated in sports at school because, as boarders, we had no option.  I was just above average at most sports, but never outstanding, and I didn’t care much.  I won every academic prize at my school with no effort whatsoever, so the prizes meant nothing since I had neither earned or desired them.  I simply expected them and duly accepted them at boring formal events where we had to wait in line without picking our noses, then step up on stage and be clapped while we were handed a nice, big book, the subject of which we were rarely, if ever, allowed to choose yet for which we were still expected to be grateful.

It has just occurred to me that in every single photograph of me as a child I am not smiling.  In some of the later ones from school I am doing a passable impression of the kind of face one expects in a photo – looking at the camera, teeth showing – but always a little watchfully.  I’m observing myself pretending to fit in.  

Which is odd, because I was part of the ‘in’ group at school. I was never picked on – despite being a brain – I adapted quickly and learnt to exploit the reassuringly harmless comedic value of being eccentric in a classically British way. I made people laugh. And when occasionally someone ‘saw through me’ (when we were 14 a classmate once said that I made her feel uncomfortable but that she knew I didn’t mean it) I wondered what I was doing wrong and redoubled my efforts to put others at their ease.

I’m usually a pretty active person: my iPhoto collection proves that in the last 12 months I have been kayaking, scuba diving, running, swimming, out for dinner/brunch, to the cinema, to the pub, to art galleries and museums, to gigs and the theatre, I’ve even been to an AFL match. But I had to force myself to do all of those things, to fight the urge to come up with an excuse not to go.

Now, unlike David, once there I did enjoy those things – with the exception of the AFL match which was crowded, confusing and crushingly hot.

Why, then, is my default setting still ‘find/stay somewhere quiet by myself and read a book’?

All of which is a long-winded and tedious way of saying that, while I can vividly remember several instances of being miserably, achingly, sobbingly unhappy, I can’t actually recall a single moment of giddy happiness. I’m becoming increasingly unconvincing at faking it for others, too.

I’m going to go and have a cuppa now, and cogitate on this a little more.  Then I’ll post something full of cheerful nonsense, promise.

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10 Responses to Rather A Serious Girl

  1. Colm says:

    Thanks for that.

    As for the default setting, I think I can relate to this, as can most introverts I guess. It’s genetically inbuilt into us as in some super-intelligence saying: “ok, now we have built in the longing for his/her own space into this new human, now what about eyes and a nose?” The desire in us for peace and quiet, for a time to think (even if it is just rubbish thoughts, mainly) is so fundamental. Maybe us introverts are hardwired as a sub species to go over the edge and into a thick funk every so often – I don’t know. I have spent my whole life trying to understand this so far and I have yet to come to any conclusions.

  2. Jenny says:

    You’re a very good writer.

  3. modestypress says:

    You are only throwing more fuel on my insane and irresponsible scheme to bring you and David together. I suspect you can happily be unhappy together (though not very together–just visiting each other every other day and then after an hour or two saying, “OK, that’s enough–that’s all the happiness I can tolerate today.”)

  4. Hmmm, [I’m doing a lot of that lately – it hides the time I spend trying to get this old brain to work] I admit to being a bookish introvert – except I now use my laptop as a book and I meet wonderful characters from all over the world – and if I can find the correct URL’s, I know I will meet little green men from Antares as well. In real life, people are a bit of a problem. While I may enjoy company for a while, I almost always come away from a social engagement with a feeling of relief. Hmmm – off to wonder about this for the rest of the day.

  5. truce says:

    Colm – “Maybe us introverts are hardwired as a sub species to go over the edge and into a thick funk every so often”, you know, I think you’re right.

    Jenny – thank you! But in this case, most of the good stuff was written by David 😉

    Mr Random – *giggle*

    archie – yes, it has certainly given me plenty to think about for a few days. “In real life, people are a bit of a problem”. Yup. 😉

  6. There is nothing wrong with the way you are. The problem is, there are millions of people out there that think that if you are sitting in the corner at the party doing a serious session of people watching and enjoying the hell out of it that you should be out there cutting the rug with the rest of them.

  7. piereth says:

    You know, I read this post and then again; I see you in it. I wonder, if the therapist asked you to come up with your happiest moment, why it wouldn’t be all right to say that you don’t have happy moments in that way.

    CBT is a really useful tool for self-appraisal. And if you cried, well. You’re paying the person not to be sympathetic, and they won’t be!! We’ve talked before about how important crying is.

    I wonder if part of the problem for you at the moment is that you have NOT been going off into a corner to read often enough? Some of us prefer to be alone, and our default is calmness and centredness ,not joy or fizzing happiness or any other extreme of emotion. My ‘happiest’ moments – the moments when I feel most myself – are in the minutes of mindless calm and inner dry contentment that I get from digging the earth – hard physical labour and no brain input at all.

    Loads of love and I’m thinking of you xxxx

  8. truce says:

    hmh – that’s an excellent point. Although, at a party with music I am more likely to be off somewhere on the fringes of the dancefloor, dancing away by myself with my eyes closed, oblivious to everyone else! If I haven’t come up with an excuse not to attend said party in the first place of course 😉 people watching at parties is baffling – I simply cannot understand how anyone ‘pulls’ anyone else. I seem incapable of it.

    piereth – yes, I think if I accept my definition of ‘happy’ as when I feel most comfortable and peaceful, then either grubbing about in the earth (even just amongst the pots on my balcony) or reading a good book would certainly qualify. I’ll think back to my garden in Long Stratton, and what I achieved there, and that makes me happy. Thank you honey 🙂

  9. LazyBuddhist says:

    Truce – I think the definition of “happy” varies from person to person. From a societal level, I think we think of happiness as a kind of giddiness, a mental excitement. It’s very outward focused and is dependent upon an event, circumstances or other people. This kind of happiness is also quite fleeting, though rather addictive because we always are seeking it. In fact, if we don’t have these moments, we tend to pathologize ourselves. I think this is pretty common in introverts.

    The other kind of happiness, the more stable kind of happiness, the less showy kind of happiness is contentment. If you can find a sense of peace sitting in the corner reading, that too is happiness.

    So, just be yourself, girl. Stop worrying about not having an inventory of Kodak moments in your memory that scream “I’m happy dammit!” Just take your book and curl up somewhere and relax.

  10. Ed says:

    Search lolcats for happy:
    Searching for happy

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