I use the Internet.
I use it a lot.
In fact, I don't think my current job would actually exist without it.
So this post is about a trend I see happening on the Information Superhighway, specifically the street that makes up social media. (I'd like to explore which part of the Internet is not on Social Media Street these days, but that's a blog for another day.)
The trend has already been the subject of at least one research study, so I'm not alone in seeing this pattern of behavior.
Everyone out there is so damned happy, it makes me want to open an artery...several arteries, in fact. (I promise that's hyperbole.)
On a daily basis friends and strangers alike (it depends on the particular social medium) post articles, memes, motivational "posters," suggesting that the key to happiness is being in the present, being mindful, slowing down. They brag about their five-hour meditation sessions or the retreat they took in the Rockies.
I don't mean any disrespect. I know it's well intentioned.
I also know that much of this is the curation of life that social media inspires ("Look, World, here are pictures of me with all my skinny, smart, beautiful friends!"). I started curating my own when we (and, by "we," I mean people few of us actually know) called it the ARPANET (yes, in all caps). That is, back in the 70s when I moved from my tiny girl bedroom into my much larger teenager bedroom and made all my own choices in furniture and decor straight out of the pages of Vogue, which was an excellent source of photos I could cut out and tape to my closet wall, photos of couture Lady Gaga wishes she could wear and major works of art I could only dream of one day seeing in person.
Yes, I am the original Pinterest (as were most of us...I won't tell who fell asleep at night gazing at Twisted Sister...I was totally into the Pet Shop Boys...so we're even).
But all this damned, curated happiness, this museum of bliss, is depressing me.
Okay, that's not what's depressing me.
My thyroid is out of whack. That's what's depressing me.
The doctor who originally diagnosed me (and for that I am thankful...the major symptom...the absolute lack of saliva production...isn't the one used as the "go-to" for suspecting hypothyroidism) stopped practicing medicine and sent me a polite letter two months after refusing to refill my prescription for the drug that treats it, levothyroxine. The pharmacist's guess was that the doctor felt I needed to be tested again, but I knew better: the final letter was the sixth time I had received communication about a reduction in the care being offered, and I had been tested the previous year with no changes to my TSH levels. (Yeah, I should have been more proactive.) I went on a search for a new doctor, and six months later, I now have an appointment. And I'm being treated in the meantime by my university's health service.
Unfortunately, it's still too little and too late, and I'm smack-dab in the middle of a thyroid-induced depression. The other symptoms (lack of saliva, weight gain for no reason, and complete exhaustion) just exacerbate the irrational sadness, the hollowness of everything, the "certain slant of light" that doesn't go away after winter solstice.
I've been through this once before. Two months before my diagnosis, the Hubs and I moved our bed into the living room so I could be close to the furnace (intolerance to cold is another symptom) and so the sounds of his getting ready for work could gently wake me up. Be still he had to bring me tea and pull me by the arms up away from the pillow. I didn't have the energy to do it myself. After treatment, I realized just how sick I had been to have made those kinds of adjustments to my life and routine. So I know this road.
But that knowledge cannot change what I feel. When people say, "Be present in the moment," I want to respond, "You be present in my moment for one minute and get back to me on that." When I hear, "Be mindful," I want to ask, "Of what? I know all about Buddha's 'right mindfulness.' How do I achieve that when my body is doing everything it can to conspire against me?" And when I'm advised to slow down, I want to yell, "That is the most unrealistic thing I have ever fucking heard; you've got to be kidding me right now. What life do you lead that makes slowing down possible?"
My reasons for this line of thinking are numerous.
First, I include myself among a line of thinkers from Nietzsche to Derrida (and probably well before...if one reads Plato ironically) who believe there is no possibility of being completely in the present. They would argue that the developments of language first and writing long after add two filters to our experience. Human thought is shaped by language (for example, many languages have words for phenomena English speakers are unfamiliar with and must, therefore, borrow...,and I'm not talking about the debunked myth regarding Inuit words for "snow," but words like "hominy," which is Powhatan for a particular type of processed corn you love, hate, have never experienced, or have never heard of). For Derrida's money, any thought possesses the potential for being written down and, therefore, must be maintained in the mind (a good reason for memory remaining one of the canons of rhetoric despite Plato's frequent admonitions...hence my ironic reading). In other words, we are in the constant process of interpreting our experiences rather than actually experiencing them. Maybe animals have a being-in-the-presentness, but given my cats' complete nightly freak out at 6:40...exactly 20 minutes before supper time, I suspect they can see into the future and think of it with craving...and without thought about being in the present. I've queried them, they've yet to comment. The Hubs says he has come close: climbing 14ers in Colorado, where every step in high altitude required utmost concentration. But he won't go so far as to say "always present." And before anyone jumps in with an explanation in the comments, I'm very familiar with Thich Nhat Hanh's "telephone meditation," an exercise in acknowledging the thought but letting it go as a state of being in the present. Still, I wonder, what's the difference between my not thinking about it and answering the phone immediately and my trying not to think about it and delaying answering the phone? Which action is more "present"? Honestly, if you know me, you're in my contacts list: I know who you are and, most likely, what you're calling about when you ring me. So again, which is more present? The ring tone? Or the actual conversation?
Second, why are unhappiness, sadness, anger, frustration...all the "negative" emotions...why are they now wrong? And understand I'm just interpreting what I get from media headlines and the posts I see on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram...all the social media I visit frequently. I'm not saying this seems to be the new wave of psychological understanding. In fact, some of my friends over in the psychology department at my university (as well as our friends in biology) are dumbfounded by the pseudoscience people are betting their health and well being on. Emotions serve a purpose. Case in point: I am working really hard to fund a project that will tell the story of an important moment in the Civil Rights Movement. Without anger, conscientiously directed anger, that event would never have occurred. In fact, the whole movement would not exist. And, hey, sometimes sadness leads us to do things to forget our sadness...like writing blog posts. I think happiness as some sort of desired constant is a bit overrated...and unrealistic.
Third, if you're feeling blue because someone close to you died or you didn't get a job you really wanted or someone took you to task over something that seemed unimportant to you, meditation may very well help you feel better. But if you have thyroid disease, insomnia, are taking certain types of medications, or are truly suffering from "clinical" depression, it probably isn't going to help you...it might, but "might" is the key word. Yet I get the feeling, especially after a day-long drive down the Superhighway yesterday, that if it doesn't work, it's because I'm not doing it right...because, if I do it right, it will ALWAYS work. Y'all, if you're doing something to improve yourself in some way, and it doesn't seem to help, please try something else. And I'm not saying this because I hate yoga pants (only when they're worn as outerwear and not actually for yoga). I'm saying this because I often feel pressured by well-meaning people to participate in activities that work for them: "Jazzercize saved my life!" That is so awesome, but I'm still imagining Olivia Newton-John's video "Let's Get Physical," and I'm actually just creeped out right now. It may work for you, and I don't mind the suggestion, but when you extol its benefits with hyperbole (the usefulness of which is limited to extraordinary circumstances, like my own) and ad nauseam in that sing-songy way people do, my mind (which suddenly becomes very much oriented to the present) is taking inventory of my arsenal for getting away from people. It's the reason I paid for the premium version of the Fake Call Me app I installed on my phone.
So this is my manifesto: I do not owe it to anyone to be happy.