I get terrible nightmares. Like, really, really freaky nightmares that are so vivid I almost think they are real, even after I’ve already woken up in cold sweats and shakes.
I was talking about this phenomenon with one of my co-workers, Sheena. She pointed out that it was so weird to her that I, of all people, would have such horrifying thoughts lying somewhere in the depths of my mind.
“But you always seem so happy!” she said.
And, the thing is, she’s right. I am ALWAYS happy. No matter how many tears I shed in my most horrifying nightmares, my waking life is spent in smiles. You know those people who have resting b*tch face? Yeah, I’m not those people. In fact, I am the polar opposite of those people -- I have resting nice face. I am always smiling, I am always agreeable and I’m never, ever sad.
So then, I started thinking. Maybe the reason I get these scary nightmares is because I never really let myself be sad. The minute a sad thought pops into my head, I shove it down so far into my subconscious that it manifests itself into a horrifyingly personal nightmare -- something that can be kept completely separate and distinct from my waking overarching happy life.
The problem is, I don’t let myself be sad. I have a good life, and I was raised to appreciate that. Every time I cried growing up, my mom would film me -- yes, that’s right, FILM ME -- and play the video later to remind me of how stupid and trivial all of those things I shed tears over really were. Annoying in the process, but an important lesson learned in the end.
I live a good life. I have a family who loves me, I’m healthy, I have my dream job and I have the best friends in the world. WHAT COULD I POSSIBLY HAVE TO BE UPSET ABOUT?! I squash anything that even slightly bothers me right away because I have so many things to NOT be upset about. It’s almost like I feel sort of guilty for even daring to be so ungrateful as to be unhappy, even if it was just for a fleeting moment.
The fact of the matter is, whether I like to admit it or not, I’m human. And sometimes, humans get upset. Of course, my family didn’t suffer through genocide, and I am disease-free and generally living a good life, and of COURSE I am aware of those facts. But sometimes I miss my family in California and it’s too cold here in New York and I didn’t feel like I killed it at work that week. And you know what? Yeah, I get a little sad.
When normal people feel that way, they just embrace it. They tell people they’re in a bad mood, and they just let themselves be in this bad mood all day long. I have never been one of those people.
So when I got back to New York from California a few weeks ago after having been home for the holidays and I wasn’t feeling like my usual chatty happy wonderful self, I dealt with it the only way I knew how: Fake it 'til you make it. I pretended to be happy and fine and like I wasn’t so homesick that I thought I could die.
Until finally, one day, I just couldn’t fake it anymore.
If I had just let myself be sad about the homesickness when I first started feeling homesick, it could have been manageable. But I let it sit there in the back of my mind, so every time something new happened, it would be that PLUS being extremely homesick. For example, I had a not-so-great day at work, and suddenly I was homesick AND unhappy at work. Then, I had a disagreement with my roommate, and I was homesick AND unhappy at work AND upset with my friend. And this just kept building and building and building until one night, I exploded.
I was sitting in bed one night trying to watch some funny sitcoms to distract me from how PAINFULLY SAD I WAS FEELING when I got a FaceTime from my mom. I answered, and it wasn’t just my mom -- it was both my parents sitting at my favorite restaurant, having a grand old time.
And, suddenly, I burst into tears. I burst into tears and immediately hung up the phone like the emotionally unavailable maniac I really am at heart and watched "Parks and Rec" until I forgot about the whole snafu.
This was difficult because, unfortunately, the people I had just burst into tears in front of were not random strangers. They were my loving parents who care about me and my mental well-being. So my dad sent me a text: "You know, it’s OK to be sad sometimes. Also, you know I’m always on your team and I always love you." Yes, I shed a tear while I wrote that.
My mom called me a little bit after that and, with my dad’s permission to cry, I just f*cking lost it. I cried like a maniac. I cried like I was seven, and she was filming me. I complained about every little thing, and I cried my heart out so much so that it exhausted me. For the first night in weeks that night, I slept like a baby.
And you know what happened the next morning? I woke up feeling happy. I didn’t have to fake that I was happy. I really was genuinely happy. Sometimes you have to let yourself be sad in order to be happy again.