Joy has always seemed to be an elusive concept to me. Like a mystical state of being I’d never be able to reach. Joy wasn’t for me. Happiness wasn’t for me either. Perpetually just being on the precipice of something greater, that next big thing, just the right circumstance which would make me, or life, better or fulfilling has been the existence I lived. And wanting to rise beyond waiting for life to affirm my joy and my happiness was where my desire to be in touch with my joy and joyfulness was borne from.
Two years ago after a whirlwind nine months in Madrid filled with ups and downs, I moved to Maryland. My father had moved to Maryland, right outside of DC, for a new opportunity the year before, and because I knew moving back to Atlanta would be akin to starting over, I figured it made the most sense to start over in a new city versus an old city. I was also taking a huge chance on love and hoping a new relationship would blossom as a result of me relocating.
My relationship with my father at that time was distanced as best. We were complete strangers to one another although I’d lived with him my entire life. My father has always seemed ambivalent about parenting and me specifically, other than when he felt I needed a lecture or any other instance when he could put me in my place. He was a disciplinarian and a rule enforcer. He was not someone I could trust to care about my heart, my feelings, my happiness, my joy. Instead he was a wielder of inadequacy, criticism and shame. And living with him, one-on-one, without my mother, his workaholic tendencies, CNN marathons and my sisters to act as a bridge and distractions between us only magnified who he was and what he thought of me.
And also what I thought of myself.
I didn’t intend to live with my father long. Before I left Madrid, I’d made a semblance of plans to get a job within the media and resume being a journalist once again. I’d even started applying to a few jobs and letting friends and other people know I’d be relocating to the area and to keep their eyes out for opportunities I’d be great for. My first few weeks, I had several interviews and my plan to only temporarily share the same space with my father seemed to be on the up and up.
Until it wasn’t anymore. The job interviews stopped rolling in. And the heaviness of depression took its place. The new relationship had fizzled at this point. The little amount of money I’d saved from my last teaching check from Madrid was dwindling. I had no friends and no new connections nor did I have any interest in meeting new people. I started to spend an inordinate amount of time — from my bed — ruminating over my joblessness, lack of money and lack of friends and discontent over how this new beginning was shifting into a period of bleak hopelessness.
The conversations with my father certainly didn’t help. A year later when my mother moved into the apartment with us, things only worsened. Not only was I steamrolled with constant criticism about the state of my life in terms of career with repetitive lectures from my father, but I was also receiving the criticism about my appearance, my mannerisms and everything in between from my mother. The areas where my father didn’t touch, my mother seamlessly picked up the slack.
I was being triggered on a daily basis at this point, sometimes multiple times a day, by people who claimed, almost ritualistically they loved me, and wanted the best for me yet the vitriol spewed at me proved otherwise. I was a full-fledged adult but it felt like I’d stepped back into the throes of my childhood which had been much the same, navigating emotional grenades lest they blow up and obliterate my emotional reserves. To make matters worse, because I couldn’t find a job, I was stuck with having to accept their financial help, including for my bi-weekly therapy sessions which were the only thing keeping me afloat. I needed their help but resented it at the same time. And there seemed like no way out for me. I was tired and struggling and suffering.
Last fall, I took a job at a coffee shop. It was a dream of mine to be a barista, and I was excited about the chance, but not really. A few weeks before I’d been ceremoniously threatened by my father to be kicked out of the apartment I was living in with them and the financial help they’d been providing me with was revoked. This declaration followed a huge blow-out between the three of us, and honestly now I can’t remember because I blocked it out of my memory.
I had less than $100 dollars to my name.
I was scheduled to see my therapist a few days later but could no longer afford it. I canceled my appointment and cried for hours. My lifeline had been taken from under my feet.
But taking that job — despite how much I hated it and drained me — put me touch with a sensation I hadn’t ever felt before: joy. It was just a little sprinkling of it but it felt good. Money is control and I’d been controlled, my strings pulled like a puppet, so to take the control back and to not feel so powerless as I had felt for years felt like breathing again. I was no longer being held against my will underwater by the heaviness of suffering and lack of joy.
The month of December last year was spent resting from all the drain and chaos I dealt with for two months as a pseudo barista. I spent Christmas alone as I chose no to go home to spend the holiday with my family for the second year in a row. I spent the morning meditating and soaking in a bath by candle light and for dinner, made a pot of spaghetti and drank glass after glass of merlot while watching Christmas movies on the couch. The quiet was overwhelmingly needed and nourishing to my spirit and led me to a greater truth — I had to prioritize my joy. Going back home — to Atlanta — to stay in the family house which would soon be empty was an option.
And the morning after picking up my parents from the airport at the conclusion of a quiet few weeks for Christmas, I booked a one way ticket home leaving in two weeks and told no one.
Once again, I had less than $100 to my name.
The criticism I faced from my parents had relented since I’d started working at the coffeeshop. But it dawned on me, when I announced to my parents I was leaving and going to stay in the house, and they responded with sordid expressions on their face and asking what they would do without me there, it became clear to me.
I’d unknowingly shouldered the suffering and stress and miseries of my parents when I moved back home and started living with them again. I’d made all their suffering, their health issues, their discontent with the state of their lives, facing their mortality, coping with their roles as parents changing as their children grew older, my own. I’d created a space so huge for sorting their own “stuff” and unconsciously enabling them, I’d forgotten that there was a space for my joy, my happiness, my peace, my self-care, my self-preservation.
I forgot about me. I forgot I mattered. And because of this it made damn near hard for me to write, to create, to be the fullest version of myself. To live in my truth. My parents— and being so physically close to them — were a huge creative block for me. They represented everything I negatively thought about myself.
Being back home in the house I grew up in, alone, without my mother and father, without the noise that comes from living with a huge family has been odd but at the same time freeing. I’ve been on a creative high for the past few months I know I wouldn’t have reached without taking a leap for myself, a leap for my joy. Writing feels good again. Writing feels like a high. Writing feels like ease. Writing feels like…joy.
Joy and joyfulness are slowly shifting from being abstract, unfamiliar concepts to me yet the newness and fragility of infusing them into my life are felt. The shakiness of accepting that suffering and struggle don’t have to coexist with joy and happiness is something I toy with almost every day.
I’m acquainting myself with a deep truth which is daily transforming the fabric of my life. I hope if I keep remembering how deeply I matter and how deeply I am needed in this world, creating an altar for joy along with writing, artistry and creation will become a central pillar to my being.