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  • Writer's pictureMary

Choosing Happiness

"What am I so afraid of?" are the words I thought of last night as I lay in my bed, staring up at the ceiling. It was 2 AM. I tossed and I turned, one more in a long string of terrible nights of sleep.

This is a position I've found myself in more and more since I moved to Virginia. I've never had trouble sleeping before this, especially not to this magnitude, but more often than not, I now lay down in bed, usually with wet hair, an air conditioner and two fans running to keep my space cool, and a swirling pit of anxiety rolling around in my stomach.

"I'm fine," I tell myself, a mantra in my life now. I describe myself more and more these days as a person who's go-go-go-go-go-go until I break, and then I break spectacularly. This is eternally backed up by my ability to pretend that everything is fine.

"It's fine," I say on the phone with payroll as they apologize for not having my new bank number set up for direct deposit, even though I don't have enough money to pay my rent next month.

"It's fine," I say when I'm once again forgotten about when it comes to events that my friends are planning, when they honestly believed that I already had plans despite my not saying I did.

"It's fine," I say when my insides are twisting so hard at the thought of admitting defeat, of saying that I have failed, that I'm truly not as capable as I thought, thereby proving myself a failure in the eyes of everyone around me who just assumed that I was better than this.

"I'm fine," I say. And then I break.

I'm never really "fine". I convince myself that I am. For a long time, whenever people would ask me how I was doing, I'd answer "I'm doing well". This was partially because I knew that saying "I'm doing well" was more grammatically correct than saying "I'm good", and partially because when I paused for a moment to reflect on how I was, I couldn't get much past surface level "wellness" and didn't have it in me to look deeper to how I truly was doing. In other words, on the outside, I appeared to be fine. So I told myself that indeed, I was fine.

I've always had a terrible time with self-reflection, which has lead to a lot of guilt since middle school. When I was a 12-maybe-13 year old at camp, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, a "well-meaning adult" (they always really are) explained to my small group that a "Good Christian" prayed for 20 minutes every day. The girls in my group nodded slowly. One girl in particular, who I still look up to this day, already had nearly an hour long prayer time every morning, pulling out a chair to the middle of a field to pray by herself before the sun even rose.

I wonder if these girls were convicted by that woman's words. It certainly felt like it years later, when I read through their Facebook posts with a layer of barely concealed guilt, about how they were praying for people and joining prayer groups in their high schools or college campuses, doing outreach and mission work, seemingly so moved by the Lord that they had to go out and preach the Good Word. But all I can remember from that day was that initial layer of panic and guilt settling over my heart in a way that still, in many ways, is there today.

Between the ages of 11 and 13 was when the ADHD was starting to rear its ugly head with full force in my life, and I had no idea how to handle it. I went from "gifted kid" to "struggles with basic memory retention". I was constantly bored, though I was unsure as to why, seeing as I was doing all of the same things I had always done and still had a million hobbies and fun things to do. I started gaining weight rapidly, a byproduct of turning to food for the endorphins my brain was lacking. I didn't realize that this wasn't something everyone else was going through. I had to work harder to finish homework that used to take me no time at all. I never disliked school, but it became more and more strenuous.

So when a well-meaning adult told me that a "Good Christian" prayed for 20 minutes every day, my heart sunk. I was never going to be a good Christian then. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn't stay focused in prayer for more than five, maybe ten minutes at the most before my brain flitted off to the next thought. If I couldn't even give the Lord twenty minutes of prayer a day, how on earth was I going to ever be a good Christian?

I once heard someone describe having ADHD as being like if an idea in your brain was a Wikipedia page, but every single word on the page was a link to another page, if that's helpful as a description to all of you out there who have never struggled with this particular problem.

I resolved to try and do better. If everyone else could do this simple task, then why not me? I was clearly too lazy. I didn't try hard enough. I would get up early in the morning and pray before high school. I would keep a prayer journal. I would write in my Bible. I would achieve "Good Christian" status, because if I couldn't do that, then what hope was there for me and my soul?

I saw this meme format and had to laugh. It works pretty well for what I was thinking all through middle and high school:

And just to be clear, if that's a requirement for being a "Good Christian", then I don't think I'll ever qualify. I'm still learning to overcome that shame I've felt from that conversation so many years ago. Also, guilt, I quickly discovered, is a bad motivator for me. I changed this to giving myself video game time, candy, and Cheez-Its in college to get me through my studies and prayer times. I didn't really learn how to be introspective until I actually had the right mix of chemicals to make my brain slow down.

However, my lacking ability to self-reflect also causes me to forget the times when I really did reflect on myself and make changes in the past. I just need to be reminded of them.

One of my best friends came over to my family's house for my birthday celebration a couple weeks ago, and she honored me for something I had said many years ago in college. We were still acquaintances at that time, but I knew that the Lord wanted me to be closer to her. Through a long series of events that I'll probably write about here at some point, I had met this girl, and I knew that the Lord had put her in my path for a reason.

"You told me that you chose to be happy," she reminded me. "And that really struck me, and I think about that a lot."

It honestly took me a moment to remember that I had told her that.

We were working late night backstage shifts in the theater department at the time, so we had many hours to sit and whisper to each other while the dancers on stage performed modern dance routines that I couldn't interpret beyond "ooooh dancingggggg". The only thing we could do at the time was talk.

She and I were very different at the time. She was dealing with a lot of her own problems, and I was struggling in my own way, but I still maintained a fairly positive attitude despite that. She asked me how I had such a cheerful disposition, even when sometimes everything went horribly wrong.

I remember in that moment whispering a prayer to the Holy Spirit to give me the right words to say. Even when I couldn't pray for more than 5 minutes, I still asked the Holy Spirit for guidance in random moments. Sometimes it was all I could manage.

She was one of the first people I admitted many of my struggles to, including that I hadn't always been happy. In fact, I told her, I remembered being a very angry teenager in certain periods of high school. I was miserable for most of middle school, and angry at myself and at the world and at everything, it seemed. I didn't know how to function. I just knew that I was hurting, and no one, least of all me, knew how to fix it.

I remember being in 8th or 9th grade, and waking up early in the morning, knowing that I was going to be angry that day. There were a lot of factors underneath that, but I knew it was going to be a terrible day. I stared up at my ceiling. I took a very long breath.

I decided I was going to be happy.

Not a shallow-level of happiness. Not a class-clown-level of goofiness to hide the hurt. No. I was going to be happy. I was going to choose to see the good in bad situations. I was going to work hard and struggle my way through school, but I was going to do it with a smile on my face. I wasn't going to let the anger and guilt and fear and loneliness get me down anymore. I was going to be happy.

I think recently, I've just forgotten that I made that decision. My life has become so ruled by fear that I've forgotten that I chose happiness and release, and I've built up the tension until I'm now nothing more than a string waiting to snap.

In a way, that honoring was a blessing more than I expected. My best friend, in the depths of her own despair, heard me say that I had chosen happiness in the pits of my own struggle, and came out on the other side a better person. And she in turn began to choose happiness as well, because of the Holy Spirit moving in that moment. She's a different person now, and one of the closest friends I've ever had.

"You told me that you chose to be happy," she reminded me. "And that really struck me, and I think about that a lot."

There are many things that keep me awake at night now: finances, friendships, loneliness, church life, and my job are some of them. Fear has controlled me for much of this year, in a way that I've never experienced before.

I'm very afraid. I've forgotten that I have a choice in being afraid.

Recently, I think speaking those fears out loud has become a way to keep them at bay, even confront them face to face. I'm going to take this moment to remember that, and for the first time in over ten years, make that decision again.

I will not be afraid. I will not let those fears and anxieties control my life anymore. I will not let the guilt that has haunted me for many years keep me from living my life to its fullest.

I choose to be happy. And I choose to have joy.

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29 Ιουν 2021

Beautiful reflection and conclusion. Thanks for sharing it! May it bless others as well. ❤️

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