Putting Holes In Happiness
One morning a few weeks ago, I woke up feeling down. Well, maybe "down" isn't the right word. I'd say I woke up feeling kind of blah. You know that feeling where you're not deeply depressed, but not your head's not in the clouds either. As I dropped my boyfriend off at work, just the thought of going through my daily routine—working, working out, blogging, etc.—made me want to pull the covers over my head and take a 12-hour nap.
When I pulled away from his workplace and started driving, I actually started to feel bad about feeling blah. Then something hit me: Why should I be expected to feel like kissing the sky every second of every minute of every hour of every day? Why should any of us? Of course, if someone is feeling deeply depressed for days and weeks at a time, then they should seek help, as there are probably underlying issues that need to be dealt with. But what I'm talking about is this compulsive need to act as if there's not a cloud in sight when we're simply in a funk, or even when it's raining cats and dogs in our lives.
Like anything else, this put-on-a-happy-face mentality is ingrained in us because of the culture we grew up in. In America, we are raised to believe the picture of happiness is someone practically skipping down the street, grinning from ear to ear and greeting everyone they meet with a bear hug, and that walking into a room with a wave and solemn nod indicates that something is wrong. There is little or no middle ground.
In my view, religion, particularly the message of mega-church leaders like Joel Osteen, exacerbates this way of thinking. Osteen and others of his ilk preach that sadness or any other emotions other than joy or happiness are not only bad, but unholy or even demonic. Think about it. How many of us have sat in church services and heard a minister rail against "spirits" of depression, worry, fear, and so on? Believing that allowing yourself to experience said emotions is sinful adds guilt on top of whatever else you are feeling at the moment, and cannot be good for one's mental health, in either the long term or short term. Those who do suffer from genuine mental disabilities suffer even more from this line of thinking, as they are often encouraged to pray or trust in God rather than get the proper medication or psychological treatment, the latter still carring the stigma of "something white folks do."
For many black gay men, our smiles often become our shields, as we push the feelings that arise with coming to terms with our sexuality, dealing with homophobia from family, friends, churches or the larger community, down deep into our psyches. Our smiles and quick wits become our strong, impenetrable public facades, while in private we numb ourselves with sex, drugs, exercise, or focusing on our careers to keep what's really going within us from floating up to the surface.
No matter how hard we try, though, we shouldn't ignore our feelings. Feeling is what makes us human, and we should allow ourselves to experience all of our feelings, not shut them out, because all emotions are valid. Usually, whenever we experience a "negative" emotion, and give ourselves permission to sit in that emotion, we figure out what the source of it is, and our mood inevitably brightens. Sadness or anger become temporary pit stops, rather than permanent vacations. And if that is true, doesn't it follow that being ridiculously, deliriously happy is a temporary emotional state as well? That we'll slide down, not into abject darkness, but to the relative calm that comes with dealing the ups and downs of everyday life?
The truth of the matter is that most days, many of us are neither down in the dumps nor walking on sunshine. We are somewhere in a comfortable middle. And that's nothing to feel bad about.