I shouldn’t be writing this entry. I should be working. I have work to do – loads. But I have to write, because this morning I was struck by how different everything suddenly is.
Six weeks ago, I was so miserable. Starting each morning with a handful of ReliCalm™ and counting the days between therapy sessions so that I could just sit in front of someone and have a licence to cry for two hours (okay, three – sorry, Gary!). For the record, historically, I’ve never been that person. I’ve never been particularly afflicted by depression or anxiety. Mild PMS was generally as bad as things got, and I’ve always been grateful for my generally upbeat mindset. I know people who suffer from various mental illnesses and I know how crippling they can be. It worried me so much that downloading an anxiety-lessening app for my phone (MindEase, if anyone needs it – quite good, and available from the PlayStore) didn’t seem out of the ordinary at all anymore. It certainly should have been out of the ordinary for me, but it wasn’t anymore. I started to wonder if this was my new normal – that my forties were to be heralded by periods of crippling fear and mental disquiet, and that I’d just have to find a way to Deal With It, just like everyone else in suburbia, until the kids were off on their own and I could legitimately run away and join Sea Shepherd, or something. I found myself calculating exactly how long that would be, based on the ages of the various children and how long they were likely to still need me.
The worst was that I knew Dean felt the same. That he was feeling as trapped by our life as I was, and that there was nothing I could do to make it easier for him. He’s my Person, and I couldn’t make him happier. Our mutual unhappiness became a source of mild conflict between us: if we loved each other as much as we said we did, and we wanted to be together, then why were we both so down all the time? We went through a long process of trying to figure that out, each secretly wondering if the other was fibbing a bit about the love and staying out of a warped sense of duty instead. We’re a blended family, and there’s nothing keeping us together except a desire to be together. No financial need for the other on either side, and no shared biological children. We could each walk away, if we wanted to, relatively easily.
We didn’t want to. We don’t want to. We’re very happy together. But we were also SO MISERABLE.
The shift in us since we decided to sell the house, escape the suburbs and build something of our own has been nothing short of astonishing. EVERYTHING is different. It isn’t, but it is. Work hasn’t changed, but I find I enjoy it again. It doesn’t stress me out as much. The family hasn’t changed, but we’re all so much more relaxed. We spend time together again, and nothing feels tense or forced or a burden. The kids are the same, but they’re happy and excited. The change in us has been so dramatic and so sudden that I feel the need to examine it a little more deeply, just in case we’re caught up in the kind of rose-tinted thinking that can lead to a horrible crash later, when the reality of what we’ve done kicks in.
A long time ago, a friend and I had a conversation about something she called the Triangle of Happiness. I can’t remember the phrasing, but essentially it was about aligning one’s thoughts, feelings and environment in order to dictate one’s actions. In other words, getting your environment and circumstances to match your inner life, and acting in a way that serves both. When your inner life (thoughts, beliefs, values, ideas, emotions etc) is misaligned with your environment (your job, your home, your relationships, your lifestyle), nothing ever feels quite right and you can’t make decisions that serve both. This leads to tension and anxiety and depression. When they are in synch, then every decision you make and every action you take will be in perfect harmony with who you are and how you live. That leads to feelings of wholeness and a serenity of self. Rania, if you’re reading this, I owe you one. That conversation informs a lot of what we’re doing now.
Our values, as a family and as individuals, have not been reflected in our environment. The people we are (thoughts, ideas, beliefs etc) isn’t echoed in how we’ve been living. We’ve tried, but the mismatch is too great. In order for us to have a home and a lifestyle that reflects who we really are, we have to start again. Brand new. From scratch.
I think, on one level or another, we all feel this. Even the kids. Ethan, in particular, has a lot of bad memories of this house as he stayed here for a year with his mother while the (very bitter) divorce was being finalised. He’s more excited than any of us to be leaving and, although he hasn’t said anything, I suspect that he needs a blank slate very much. Uchenna is simply thrilled at the prospect at having everyone she loves as close by as possible. The isolation of empty rooms has never appealed to her.
For the rest of us, our values are at the forefront of what we hope to build. We recycle. We upcycle. We grow things. We fix things. We abhor clutter and waste. We love light and air and trees and being together. We travel. We explore. We’re mobile. From now onwards, every decision we make is in service to those values and those ideals. The Triangle begins to take shape.
That’s why we’re happier. That’s the new normal.