By: Shamyla Tareen
As I lay on the couch pondering the meaning of this word (with one eye open), I couldn’t even make myself think about how to start this blog. It was 19 degrees outside; the whole world seemed like a giant icicle and I couldn’t get enough warmth from my Snuggie no matter how I tugged at it. This Monday was one of my few precious remaining work from home days, and I wanted to sink into the oblivion of my couch and forget how hard my life was. I didn’t want to start writing because sitting up would remind me that this was my last few days at the job that I’d been at for the past 3 1/2 tumultuous years… and saying goodbye to all the families I’d worked so closely with was something I was dreading. I definitely wasn’t sure how I could feel any vitality for the New Year when the past one had been one of the hardest of my life. In 2012, my mother got diagnosed with a serious illness, so I took time off from work to help my family; it was difficult for all of us. At the same time, my career turned upside down when my company hit some financial difficulties, and the entire staff left within 3 months. Many of my friendships came to a close or became redefined, a couple that simply shattered my heart. And here was January 2013, I was freezing, and I was supposed to write about vitality. Vitality, Shmitality!… What could I even begin to say on the subject, when all I wanted to do was sleep?
Finally, I looked up the word “Vitality” in the dictionary and there were two definitions that struck a chord with me:
a : power of enduring
b : lively and animated character
Aha! I couldn’t have found two better ways to describe myself! I’ve endured a lot- that’s one of the hallmarks of who I am. And as for the second, it fit- a professor once used the word “verve” when describing me – (that is, when I’m not lying on the couch trying to hide from life.) “The Happiness Project” asks you to start your project by asking the following questions: “What makes you feel good? What gives you joy, energy and fun?” Well, writing this blog was a start – and putting words together and playing with how they sound in a way that interests the reader has been something I’ve been passionate about since I was 10 years old.
So off that sinking couch I got, and into action I sprang! I could choose to spend my time wallowing in fear or I could DO something, and notice how I felt doing it. I spent my January trying to engage in activities that really reflected where I wanted to be in life. I went to Zumba class twice, even though I had no idea where my arms and legs were going and almost hit several people. I signed up for another writing project via the Sketchbook Project. My roommate and I began to work out to the Bollywood Burn video at home (yes the laughter IS cheesy and oh, how I dreaded it every time she put it on! But I knew that if I just worked through it, it would bring me energy I so craved. And by the end, my body was thanking me, we were laughing at the canned laughter on the video, and I realized I was able to keep up with something that, albeit difficult, was do-able!) I signed up for a Bollywood dance class after work because in my dreams, I’ve always been the next Madhuri Dixit- and exercise classes never fail put me in a good mood.
I also got offered a new job. It was not exactly what I wanted, but it would give me more stability, and I know that lack of stability makes everyone feel a little nutty. I took it… Once I let myself feel like I could get a job if I really wanted one, and was not stuck in a position of helplessness, suddenly more jobs started calling for interviews. I sit here marveling. For three years, I hadn’t let myself really “go” from the position I was in, found all manner of excuses of why I needed to be where I was – some real, some in my head- and no one ever called; I felt stuck. And now, here I was feeling like nothing could hold me back, and more interesting job interviews began to trickle in! The happiness that comes from knowing good things can happen to you even when you’ve been through the pits is such a relief. Maybe there was something to this Happiness Project, after all.
One thing that always causes me anger, dread and guilt is: when friends call me up or IM me with all their personal issues and can’t stop – venting with no cause to think if I can handle it, followed by a half-hearted “oh how are you” at the end of it – and then either wanting to join me in own negativity, or not caring at all. I’ve struggled with this often. I’m a compassionate person by nature, and back in the day, I thought being loved by others meant being their guardian angel, doing that which no other soul would ever do for them. I earned a whole lot of friends this way, but I also earned all their negativity, drama, and neediness, and handed all mine right back. Some of us got stuck together in this pattern. I took everyone’s issue on, with no filter. As a result, I felt stretched thinner than Orbitz gum spread under a desk. I had to figure out how to still be there for people – some of my friends were going through some really rough times – without losing my absolute need for peace and laughter.
As a social worker for foster care youth in Baltimore City, both my commute and my clients bring me more drama than anyone ever needed. I needed to be able to laugh with my friends, to focus on the good in the world, to know that living did not mean only brutality and blah-blah-blah. Everyone needs a good vent now and then, but I just felt tired of constant darkness. I started by letting some of my closer friends know that. I read a bumper sticker and then saw it again on Facebook: “when you say yes to others, make sure you are not saying no to yourself” and tried to adhere to it. Of course, setting new boundaries is difficult. Did I disappoint some people when I said no, I couldn’t come over and be there when no one else was there? No, I could not call back because I could not deal with that issue at this time? No, I would not wallow with people in their stuck patterns, no matter how much I cared for them? Probably I disappointed a lot of people. But I meant well, and my intentions were good, and I did what I could on days when I was able. The guilt of saying no can be powerful, but the ability to say no and mean it is even more powerful – and really makes life so much easier. As Gotye sings, “you can get addicted to a certain kind of sadness.” I’ve been down that road, or rather, that spiral. I wanted to try walking on sunshine, walking on fire, walking on a cloud. I wanted to hope that maybe, just maybe, icy January could actually be about joy.