Here’s the tough part about closing a restaurant that stays open expressly to have access to the late-night, insomniac, thesis-due-tomorrow college crowd: coming home to no one. Now, this isn’t really anything new for me. From my junior year in college, I lived in a single room or single apartment. What’s different now is that I rarely have a chance to discuss my day with others anymore, and when I finally get home from work, no one [sane] is awake. I’ve tried contacting people. The silence is actually deafening. I did get one response once, which was that I am sometimes “too much to deal with.” I guess I can’t blame them. I’m dangerously close to some sort of blind edge right now and it’s probably best I don’t take anyone down with me. So here I am. Turning to anonymous strangers. God bless the Internet, eh?
What I’m trying to say is that there are few things lonelier than 4am in Oberlin. The only thing lonelier might be 4am in Oberlin in the rain. So, instead of vainly trying to find someone to talk to about the pains and gains of the food industry, I decided I’d find something to distract myself online. Facebook and Tumblr, despite my slew of international friends from studying abroad, encountered similar problems to texting. Once the newsfeed ends, the newsfeed ends and there’s nothing to grasp onto that can keep you from very same void. Netflix is another story. Netflix, much like I’d like myself to be, doesn’t depend on other people to function. Three cheers for Netflix, folks. Hip, hip, hooray!
Because I’ve been in such an emotional slump recently, I decided to watch the documentary Happy (2011, dir. Roko Belic). Happy follows people around who are happy, while simultaneously investigating the reasons for this joy. The underlying causes of happiness which the film discusses most are genetic predisposition to be happy (50%), material possessions and financial success (10%), and intentional actions (40%). There was a screening of Happy at Oberlin last year, but I missed it because I was, ironically, busy being unhappy in the library. It’s something I’d been meaning to watch for a while, and I was excited when I saw it under the “cerebral documentary” section.
Apart from “cerebral,” I’ve heard the documentary called “eye-opening,” “inspirational,” and “ground-breaking.” In my opinion, it is none of these things. That’s not to say it was a waste of my time. I love hearing peoples’ stories, and the filmmakers did a really great job getting to know their subjects and providing a variety of happy stories. It simply did not fulfill the purpose I expected it to, which was to help me figure out what to do next with my screwed up life. (In hindsight, perhaps that expectation was a might unrealistic.) What Happy does is show you a ton of happy people…to the point where I honestly felt a bit like it was beating me to death with them. “This person is so happy. Look at how happy that person is even though they have nothing. There are millions of people on earth happier than you. Look, there goes one now!” And then, I felt like Happy proceeded to inform me that all the ways these people acheived this happiness are ways that are generally unopen to me, due to what I’m now considering my genetic predisposition to hate everyone. (Thank you, science!)
What these happy people have (close friends they trust, tight-knit families, partners who love them, dreams they can drop everything to follow) are things I just can’t seem to locate anymore in my own life. I might have them; I definitely had them once; I could have them again…someday. Right now, though, I’m spiraling all by my onesies. Happy didn’t inspire me. It just made me feel bad about myself for not being one of those lucky people you meet in life who are always smiling and who can find success and friends everywhere. If anything goes wrong for them, it only seems to last for ten minutes before they’re up and ready to conquer the world some more. “Sad” seems to be as foreign to their vocabulary as “happy” is to mine. So, maybe Happy is a good documentary for what it is: a study of truly happy people. But what it isn’t (at least in my opinion) is a documentary for sad people. There is very little it taught me that I wasn’t already failing at doing. While it mentioned that some of the subjects it followed had experienced periods of depression, the focus was on happiness. Not the road to happiness. Just the happiness.
Unsatisfied, I sought out another documentary on emotions to watch while I drank alone in my room after late night shifts. My second try at a self-help movie came in the form of This Emotional Life, a PBS series that explores human emotions and what causes them. While much of the subject matter (especially the science) was a repeat of what I’d “learned” from Happy, where This Emotional Life succeeds is in fleshing out the emotions to explore a more dynamic range of feeling. Yes, you need close friends and healthy social interactions to be happy, but what happens when those go wrong? Yes, having someone who loves you makes a world of difference, but what if you’ve been alone for 22 years and have lost all hope? Fears and anxieties get in the way of success, both spiritual and material, and how do you cope with those and eventually overcome them?
As for what I’m going to do with my own emotional life, I’m still not 100% sure. I’m working really hard on rediscovering and recreating Positive Jen as a real thing in my life. I’ve identified a few things that have gotten in the way of my progress. First off, I desperately need to reprioritize my interactions with people an with myself. I’m sick of the churning feeling I get whenever my phone vibrates in my bag. I’ll actually stop brushing my teeth mid-process to answer a text because…what if it’s from that person I’ve been trying to hang out with for weeks, and…!!! (It never is.) The point is, I can get so hung up on one or two people who made me feel good once or twice. I’ll postpone plans. I’ll wait to respond to someone else’s message. Even if they make me feel terrible ninety percent of the time, I live for that other ten percent and typically ignore or push everyone else away. Essentially, every text I send sets me up for heartbreak, and the sad part is that I don’t think I’m ready to free myself from that misery. It’s exhausting, but the sad part is, while I have very little hope in other aspects of my life, I have this crazy eternal hope that the next time (or the next-next time [or the next-next-next time]) will be good. Because I deserve good, don’t I? Honestly, though…until I can recognize and act upon the fact that these people probably aren’t going to be positive forces in my life, I don’t deserve good things. I already have them, and I’m taking them for granted…
There are myriad other things I need to work on in my life, but I think one at a time is enough for now. I’m already 5% happier than I was last week. I did loads of things this week with people who actually wanted to be around me. I spent time in the library. My housemates are great and came to visit me at work, and we have Thursday wine and cheese shindigs. I saw an amazing concert and had an amazing dinner last night. My coworkers are amazing and I get an employee discount on shots. I went bowling with a group of people I wouldn’t normally have hung out with on a Friday night. Mom and I repotted my plants, and one of the new pots is purple. I got sick of waiting around for some people, so I went out and I did stuff. It felt great.
I’m not going to lie; I still cried. (Did you know it’s incredibly hard to whistle when you’re trying to keep the tears at bay?) Watching a documentary and one episode of a mini series isn’t going to fix my problems for me. I’m tired and strung out, and having one happy weekend won’t make my problems disappear. My mind doesn’t redirect easily. Things that happened months ago still shoot pains through my stomach and I cringe in embarrassment when I think no one’s looking. But I do hope that, if I work really hard, when I do hit rock bottom and start working my way back up to normalcy, people will still be waiting, reaching out to pull me back over the edge. Because, as much as I can do everything on my own, I can’t do anything on my own right now. I may not trust easily, but I’m not going to get anywhere by pushing my true friends away. So, if you read this at all and you’ve put up with me these past couple of weeks, I just want to let you know that you are appreciated. Thank you.