Thursday, March 17, 2011

Where it shall be okay to not be okay

Salutations, New Mad Nation!


Now, this may seem like a strange thing to say, and I admit it may be a bit over-dramatic, but only maybe - happiness can be a real problem when applied incorrectly.

You see, all emotions have their inherent truth and value. When they are twisted away from those truths, are forced to exist in conflict with them, then real suffering can begin. To whit, even the feeling of happiness can be a terrible burden if it is somehow instilled in you despite wanting to be upset about something; ever had someone try to make you laugh when you're furious at them? Sometimes it works, and you actually feel a bit of happiness coming on because of the funny joke, and it is painful to be happy in that moment because you do not want to be happy.

And sometimes that's okay! If we were happy all the time, there would be no discontent, no dissatisfaction, and thus no progress whatsoever. Now, proponents of Eudemonia may tell you that when everyone is happy all the time, no more progress needs to be made, for perfection has been attained; they may even be right, but that's not the reality we live in. We live in a reality where things happen that we should be upset about, indeed be Mad about, and when people try to make us feel happy when we should be upset, it is MADDENING.

People do this all the time, however. As in the above example, a person may try to make you happy when you are mad at them in order to resolve the situation; but people go a step further than this and will try to make you happy when you are angry at someone or something else, just because they don't like dealing with anger. This is doubly true when you are hurt by someone else, because people don't like dealing with pain.

One of the questions that people ask most often of someone hurting is, "Are you (going to be) okay?" They ask this question with a very strong implication that the answer should either be "yes" or at best "no, unless you do something that would be very convenient for you to do." Now, having been around lots of pain myself, I understand the desire to make it go away; pain is scary whether it is in you or not. But trying to replace it with an emotion that is inappropriate to the situation is only going to bury that pain more deeply and make it fester, ultimately deepening the suffering. Furthermore, should the person afraid of pain in question succeed in replacing the pain with happiness, there may be added injury from the shock of being forced into an emotional state incongruent with the experience.

I think that on a basic level, most people understand this. What they refuse to understand is how many situations merit being upset. They don't understand that being upset is a natural state of being and that it is okay to live with it for as long as one needs to; at most they pretend to understand this, while asserting that they know how long the person needs to be upset better than the person. Any time someone says "aren't you over this yet?" they are doing this. Now I'm not saying you can never ask someone about their progress in dealing with an issue, but to assume that they have been upset "long enough" is to assume you know the situation in their emotional world better than they do, and that is simply wrong.

People do this because they find our discontent upsetting somehow. Well, I can't criticize a person for wanting to change something that upsets them; that is the principle behind this blog, indeed, this movement I call the New Mad Nation (current citizenship somewhere around 5, but it'll grow). But I can criticize them for being upset with us just for being upset. In my opinion it is selfish and shallow. As human beings, we owe it to one another to bear a portion of each others pain, instead of forcing each other to just "get over it."
I think people are upset by us being upset because of the aforementioned "Rule of Happiness." They believe that happy is the only good way to be, and anything else is pitiable. They believe that happiness is such a good thing that people should always be moving towards it and that if they aren't getting there, then something is wrong with them (or they may even be Bad people themselves). You can see it all over the media; Heroes always either start and/or end very happy, and villains always end sad. Not a terrible message as coincidence, but it seems like the happiness/good heart of the hero is what makes them strong, and that the sadness and bitterness of the villain is what makes them weak. Actually, this is a great topic and I will probably dedicate another blog to discussing things like "strength of friends" and "bitter loner" tropes and how they relate to mental health, but for now, suffice to say that "goodness" and "happiness" are very often linked to the point of synonymity.

This leaves the legitimately depressed person in a bit of a bind. After some things happen to you, happiness does not make sense. A great theoretician, Theodor Adorno I believe, once famously quoth, "There can be no poetry after Auschwitz." His point was that certain horrible events can so strongly alter the soul that former modes of expression are no longer viable. So, for many, it does not make sense to try to express yourself through happiness.

Yet this is expected of us from nearly every corner. Jobs don't want to hire you if you aren't happy all the time. (I just applied to a job that demanded a positive and upbeat attitude ALL THE TIME, which to me seems fucking ridiculous - the job in question was a concierge, but what if the customer doesn't like happy people? Being upbeat and happy all of the time will make such a customer feel alienated and upset, or maybe even scare them away from being able to ask for anything. Stupid.) Many people don't want to be around you if you have a gloomy outlook on anything. Optimism and cheery attitudes are considered the hallmarks of good, successful people, and anything else is looked on as misfit and appalling; a sometimes-acceptable quirk, at best. I maintain that these qualities are not necessary for being good people, or even good workers. It has been scientifically demonstrated that depressed people have a more accurate view of reality, on average, than do people who are not depressed, yet this behavior pattern is considered unacceptable and in desperate need of eradication.

Now, to clarify again, I am not saying that people should all just go and be depressed. What I am saying is we shouldn't clamor for happiness to the exclusion of those who still need to be depressed. Yes, need to be. If the situation is depressing, then we need to be depressed about it, or else we suffer cognitive dissonance and extreme psychic pain.

To the people who believe happiness is the utmost perfection and something to be sought at all costs, all I can see is that you should actually be willing to fight for it then. Instead of bullying your upset friends into "perking up," go out and change the things making them upset. If no such change is possible, accept that happiness may have to wait and be upset along with them. That's what being an advocate is all about.

I believe in a world where it shall be okay to not be okay. Where one's worth is not dependent on one's ability to be happy. Where "health" is measured not by the width of your smile, but the depth of your feelings. After all, the bitterest medicine is often the best thing for your health, while the sugar-sweet candy is what rots your blood to begin with. Too much happiness can be a dangerous thing when society is still capable of producing every human evil imaginable, and much closer to your home than happiness will let you believe.

The truth is often depressing; if you can't be depressed, you can't see the truth.


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