Today, sitting on my couch, where we have sat chatting a hundred times before, Ali asked how I was feeling. Our couch conversations are always honest and more often then not they take us down a rabbit hole of spiritual exploration – sprinkled with personal and general insights. These conversations are sometimes funny, sometimes serious and other times fantastical. This one was healing.
Since losing my husband, Brendan, two and a half years ago to cancer, I have had a few stock-standard answers to the “how are you going, or, how are you feeling?’ questions.
Pretty good thanks, not too bad and Ok are the most common answers and none are true. So when Ali asked today, I was honest. The couch requires it.
“Sad. I feel sad, and like my period of accepted sadness should be over by now. But it’s not. I feel like I’ll never be happy again.” I said.
She empathised and then she asked a question that took us down the rabbit hole.
‘What does happiness look like for you?” She said.
I paused for a minute. “I don’t think it’s ever looked like anything. It was just who I was inside. I never remember being generally unhappy before losing Bren,” I said.
I agreed throughout my life things had happened that made me feel unhappy, but I feel like happy was always my default setting. Now that setting has flipped.
“Funny, the other day I was talking about happiness with someone else. They told me they were unsure if they had ever really felt happy,” Ali said.
“I wonder if their default setting had been flipped at some point and they were too young to know, or maybe it was always sad, or neutral and they experience moments of happiness and sadness around that,” I said.
“Yeah, they said they have definitely experienced moments of happiness, but it’s not how they normally feel.”
“I get that now,” I said.
We went on to talk about how complicated the simple act of happiness can be. It feels like we are all expected to have the same happy baseline, with the beats around it making up every other emotion we experience. I think this puts a lot of pressure on people to be happy, even when we’re not. And most of that pressure, for me anyway, is internal.
I accept now that my happiness heartbeat has changed. For years, it was like a regular heartbeat. It recorded the ups and downs of my life, but always showed a steady baseline of happiness. Then my husband died and my happiness heartbeat flatlined. My feelings were numbed and I spent almost two years faking happiness where I could, until, slowly every once in a while a happy beat sat right alongside a sad one, as my baseline slowly moved into neutral.
Feeling happy didn’t feel right at first. I knew experiencing happiness again wasn’t a reflection of how much I loved or didn’t love my husband. But, I wasn’t ready for happiness when he didn’t have a heartbeat at all. I still feel confused and muddled a lot of the time. Widow fog is real. And frustrated that I can’t get my head or heart around my grief. It can be a scary place to be.
Two years and one day after we lost Bren, my mum died and I flatlined again. This time the numbness wasn’t as severe as it had been when I lost Bren. The pain, however, was the same. My happiness heartbeat baseline has stalled in sad again and has become deeper and denser.
My aim now is a neutral baseline and more happy beats, while I continue to sit with the sad ones. I wonder if neutral is where our baseline is designed to naturally sit anyway – especially when life has kicked the shit out of you a couple of times.
Maybe neutral is just another word for wisdom, and wisdom allows us to ebb and flow with life, as it changes around us, regardless of what we go through.
After much discussion on this topic, Ali and I considered the possibility that no matter where our baseline sits, happy, sad or neutral, we all have the same ability to be happy, even if that happiness sits side by side with sadness.
We came to the conclusion that if we worried less about how we were meant to feel, stopped trying so hard to be what we thought was normal and just started being, we could be sad when we’re sad without apology and the same for happy. No matter where we are in our grief or loss or other circumstance that may have affected our heartbeat of happiness.
I don’t really know, it’s just a thought. That’s how our couch conversations go when we fall down the rabbit hole.
I hope everyone is having a fun weekend 🙂