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Happiness: Fickle, but worth striving for

At the beginning of this year, a wise professor told my class that we need to prioritize physical health and mental wellness above all else, and the best way to achieve that is to subscribe to a systematic planner.

I scoffed.

"Schedule time to eat, sleep and relax. It's really that simple, because you won't be able to accomplish everything you want to do," he said.

I thought I could do it all, despite my 18 credit hours, pre-existing anxiety and self-imposed pressure to take on far too many responsibilities.

At first, I kept the overwhelming monster at bay with unhealthy distractions -- whether it was trying to solve my friends' problems or attempting to find the answers to my own in others and casual relationships.

I became self-destructive as a result.

I absorbed my friends' pain as my own, made a fool of myself in front of my ex-boyfriend and, per usual, drank a little too much when I went out.

I began to feel the overwhelming monster wrap its tentacles around my chest when the fourteenth phone call between myself and my parents in a the span of two weeks ended in tears and clenched fists in late October.

Nevertheless, I pushed it aside, convinced that if I buried my head in my work I could forget about my personal problems.

So, I made empty-handed promises to myself about taking a break from boys, booze and the baggage that came with both.

I threw myself into journalism. I wrote in-depth stories that consumed my life throughout the day, but I found myself struggling to sleep at night.

After each late night, the caffeine I forced myself to ingest in order to stay awake refused to wear off, and the melatonin I took to ease my racing mind forced my subconscious' hand.

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My dreams began to take a turn from producing bizarre anecdotes to generating vivid, anxiety-inducing images. Without proper sleep, nutrition and exercise, my body did what it could to salvage my sanity by processing my stress through every REM cycle it could get its hands on.

By Christmastime, I was exhausted. I went home upset, frustrated and on the defensive -- expecting another fight with my parents about my future, freedom and their expectations for both.

And two weeks before spring break, my parents and I got into the ultimate blowout fight that left me utterly drained. I had no fight left, no more lines to draw in the sand and nothing left to give.

As a result, while fighting the urge to cry and clutching a Miami MAP teddy bear I hadn't even made, in a bed that wasn't even my own (in my friend's house!) I conceded to the overwhelming monster.

I didn't go to class that week until 11:40 a.m. on Wednesday. I got into another fight with my best friend and in less than a week before break, in one fell swoop of self-sabotage, drunkenly kissed one of my close friends and hooked up with my ex.

If nothing else, I certainly know how to make an exit.

About a month ago, in the midst of this mess, I started reading a book of essays by Tim Kreider, "We Learn Nothing."

I knew I was searching for something to guide me. What I didn't understand was that no one was going to tell me what to do or how to move forward but myself.

"A couple of years ago I realized something kind of embarrassing," Kreider writes in the essay "How They Tried to Fuck Me Over (But I Showed Them!)"

"Anger feels good," he continues. "Although we may consciously experience it as upsetting, somatically it's a lot like the initial rush of an opiate, a tingling warmth you feel on the insides of your elbows and wrists, in the back of your knees."

I started to think, What if the reason I'm so upset all of the time is because I'm purposefully choosing not to let go? What if being angrier is just easier?

I came across Kreider's book by chance, listening to NPR one day as he was promoting his second book of essays, "I Wrote This Because I Love You."

I found this interview particularly illuminating, especially the section in which NPR host Scott Simon presses Kreider on a sentence he wrote: "Like a lot of unhappy people, I had formed a half-conscious assumption that unhappiness was a function of intelligence."

"Do you still feel that way?" Simon asks.

"I think that's an adolescent notion," Kreider responds."You know, you tend to believe that whatever is dark or misanthropic or pessimistic is necessarily truer than anything affirmative."

Unhappiness and anger have driven me throughout the majority of my adolescence and into the beginning of my twenties. I've used the great divide between myself and my parents as fodder to stay driven, and as my achievements have grown, so has the work needed to keep up my anger and resentment.

Instead of taking active steps to forgive and move forward, I've often dug deeper into my side of the trenches, only popping out every so often for a Christmas Day ceasefire.

But I am tired of living an unhappy, stressed out, anxious and angry existence. It's exhausting to be that upset all the time, and it's certainly not healthy -- physiologically or mentally.

It's taken me nearly the entirety of spring break at home, a solid six days of eight to 10 hours of sleep, for me to start to feel more like myself again and to begin to realize that, actually, there are things in my control.

I can control how much I sleep, eat (and even exercise) on a regular basis. In fact, not only can I control that, but I need to prioritize it.

And, as far as I'm concerned, no boy is ever going to be able to fix my problems for me.

I'm not going to find a magical, bad-feelings-begone boyfriend, and by seeking out the solution to my problems in other people, I only end up hurting myself.

My life, I imagine, will only continue to get busier and more complicated. My responsibilities will only increase. However, I hope I've learned that kicking the overwhelming monster down the road and allowing him to fester inside me for months at time is no way to feel better.

Happiness is fickle and, as Kreider says, how you feel about it "depends on what day you ask." But learning that you can't do it all makes being content on a consistent basis a much more achievable goal, and it's something worth striving for.

doyleca3@miamioh.edu

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