Thoughts: A Vocabulary of Joy

I have become that guy.

You know. You have seen him all your life, the guy in the corner, balding, gray haired, a little lean, bopping to the music like a teenager. A bit jarring. A bit comical, like he has no respect for his age.

That’s me in the mornings, when I am at my favorite diner. That’s me in the studio where I work and paint. And it is a relatively new development.

I catch myself sometimes. I show decorum sometimes. But when I am not paying attention to myself, when I am lost in writing or painting, or simply relaxed, I fall into it. Depending on what they are playing at the diner, you might catch me singing as I bop. Catch me in the studio, I am wailing as I paint and dance.

It is a relatively new thing, this dancing. Maybe a couple of years old now. But it has not been my norm for a long time. My daughter has commented on how strange it is to see me dance now – I never did it when she was growing up. Sure, it’s Dad Dancing, but it’s new. It’s joyful.

I have come to understand I have had depression since my forties. It hit its peak (or depth) in my early fifties, and the decade since has been a long slow slog from darkness to, well if I am honest, I still fight it, but mostly I win these days, pushing it back into its box with a collection of tools, tricks, and tips from years of therapy. I am highly skilled in the battle these days.

And I dance a lot. Dad dancing, I am sure my kids would call it. But it is a spontaneous, joyful thing. A lost thing come back to me. Part of a vocabulary of joy that I had lost and slowly, have recovered. Slowly too, it is coming back into my language, my words, my poetry and prose.

“Fake it till you make it.” It’s a mantra for some people, particularly in the self development, success-seeking world. I have never liked that phrase, because it felt like being, well…. fake. But Lord knows, I did a lot of it during my black years. Partially to simply survive my blackness. Partly so I would not subject others to my blackness. I knew how to act happy, or at least not dark.

I have come to understand that in the journey, while I may have succeeded in appearing “not dark”, in not making the people around me share my darkness, I was not really happy and that lack of happiness showed to those who knew me before. Before the depression set in, before I stopped being creative, before things came undone. But there is a difference between being “not miserable” and being happy. There is no dancing in “not miserable”.

And for me at least, it took time. It took work. It took faith.

We are not just talking faith in a God (which I have, but that is not what I am talking about here), but faith that if I did the work, I would get the results. Faith in the patience that it took a long time to slither into the darkness, and it would take a long time to get back. Faith that I was making progress when I wasn’t feeling it or seeing it. (That one was the hardest for me.). Faith in the power of process.

And here I am. Faith rewarded.

I write often of my morning battles to push through the darkness and get going. Those words are true but they have to be put in perspective. These days, most days, it’s a brief battle. I write of them so often because I write in the mornings, when the battle is fresh. I write of them because I want others who fight the same battle to know they are not alone, to know the battle can be won, even when you feel it can’t be.

There is a tipping point, I have learned. My life has gotten progressively better over the last decade and a half. I went from black lostness, to living in fog, to being OK, to having moments of joy and satisfaction. I wasn’t dancing, but life was good. Considering where I had been, if that was all I got, I would have been content. I was, in fact, content. Unknown to me, I was at the tipping point.

Meeting, and then marrying the woman I love was the tipping point. Her presence has moved me from content to (mostly) happy. She sees the humor in almost everything, which tapped into a similar trait in me that had been dormant for many years. Her acceptance of my warts, scars and struggles helped me make the last set of steps towards self acceptance and self love.

I am glad she came to me at the end of my process rather than at the start. I am not sure I could have given back in turn early in my process. I am not sure I would not have clung to her as a lifeline instead of simply rejoicing in her presence as I do now. By the time I met her I was free of enough demons that I could just love her for her.

One thing I have learned over the past few years of this blog is just how many of us are somewhere in our path from dark places to lighter places. Circumstances are different. Details are different. The battles are different, but that journey, from dark to light, from crushing pain to surviving to being OK to, (Dare I say it?) joy is one many, many, many of us are living. You are not alone my friends. We are everywhere, faking it. There is darkness behind many a smile.

But there is also light ahead. Work. Process. Time. It works. Slower than we would like. But it works. (For you it might work faster than me. I was truly in the blackest of lost places.), Keep the faith. Let me say it again – Keep the faith.

And you can become like me, “that guy” dancing in his seat at the diner. Not caring who sees or what they think. Smile or laugh if you like, I am happy and oblivious. It’s a good place to be again, even if I have to learn a new vocabulary.

Be well, Travel wisely,

Tom

PS: Obviously the picture today is not one of mine. I don’t know who to attribute it to. It’s one of a handful of photographs I keep on my phone for my own personal inspiration. It came to mind as I sat at my favorite diner this morning, listening to old time acoustic blues.

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