If I had to define what it meant for me to be happy, I would call it a state of mind born of blissful contentment and a feeling that all is right with my little world. But as a chronically ill person, haunted at times by the ghost of depression, whose life feels turned upside-down, what does happiness mean for me now?
I always had the feeling that, even now, happiness still held the same meaning for me. The rules of the game never changed, only its appearance has changed; like instead of the familiar black and white chess board, we are now playing the same game with a blue and yellow color scheme! But “a sense of blissful contentment and a feeling that all is right,” when I am not “content” being a fibromyalgiac and everything is clearly not alright, how is that possible? How can it still be the same game?
These are questions I have been meditating over for a while now. But the epiphany came to me one day as I was showering after my pool exercise session. No, I did not run out naked yelling “eureka!!!” but it is funny how these things happen, isn’t it?
It has been a busy month or so for me. There were more social engagements last month than I had attended in a year. At the same time, the pressures at work have been mounting as well. The result was occasional increases in pain, fatigue, and self-doubt regarding how I was handling my situation . . . was I over-committing myself? Why did I accept the invitation? Why do I feel the need to push through when I should clearly stop?
Yet underneath all of that, I detected something else – I detected happiness.
And then I realized that it really came down to a simple equation! If you feel like your life is delivering more than you expected it to, you feel satisfied and content and happy. Conversely, if reality starts falling short of your expectations, the result is resentment and unhappiness.
Featured image: Light from a Blue Door (16X20, oil on canvas)
At this point in time, I had spent several months being utterly miserable, not being able to really do much of anything. So now, being able to be there at a friend’s wedding, or at their birthday dinners, or just a couple of evenings out goofing, being able to attend the Bob Dylan concert with my husband, all of this meant a lot to me. I had expected the extra activity to cause increased pain and fatigue. I knew beforehand that I will have to pay for it over the next few days. But all of those little moments shared with my husband and my closest friends brought me happiness! And the ugly reality of my fibromyalgia symptoms could not put out that glowing ember because it was nothing I didn’t know was coming! In fact, I was nowhere near as bad as what I had mentally prepared myself to be. So you see, my reality far outweighed my expectations, despite the aggravated symptoms. And there I was – chronically ill, and happy!
In many ways, I have been happier since developing fibromyalgia than I was before. The chronic illness forced me to slow down and appreciate what I have in the moment, instead of blazing through to next finish line. It gave me time to realize how much I cherished having a flexible job with a reasonably understanding boss, how much my relationship with my husband meant to me, how much I enjoyed pursuing my hobbies (something I had all but given up to the harsh mistress that science can be!). It taught me to live moment to moment and take life as it comes. This is in stark contrast to my old self (whom I haven’t completely disowned yet), who was in constant competition with herself! I was never “blissfully content” with anything because I wanted to be more than I was before. Nothing could possibly “feel all right with my world” if I am constantly dissatisfied with it! The chronic illness forced me to drop my expectations far below what I could have ever imagined for myself. And then suddenly, I found my reality fared much better than those new lowered expectations!
In the end, thanks in part to my chronic illness, I realized I didn’t have to do or be anything to be happy. I simply am!