Joy is so unfamiliar

A couple of years ago, I branched out of my small, depressed world to volunteer with the Red Cross.  I’d always been interested in their work, and wanted to learn more about non-profits, so volunteering there seemed like a good fit.  It was quite a stretch for me at the time, since I was still very much in the throes of undiagnosed depression.  I also had a great deal of anxiety about new situations outside of my small comfort zone.

But, I took the leap in spite of myself.  I signed up, went to the training, and started volunteering a few hours each week.  I did whatever kind of work the staff needed me to do, and most of my tasks ended up being administrative in nature.  That was perfectly fine with me.  It wasn’t an intellectual challenge, but I was helping out the staff and they seemed happy to have me.

For me it was a refreshing change to be out in the “real” world, wearing “real” clothes, and having “real” conversations with adults.  Not that staying home with three kids isn’t “real”, but… that’s part of a larger discussion surrounding how I feel about the fact that I’m a stay at home mom.  Too much to tackle at the moment.

Anyway, my time at the Red Cross was oddly fulfilling.   After a week or two of volunteering, I realized that the staff was tripping over themselves because I took notes (!!) and followed directions (!!) and went above and beyond to make sure I had done things correctly.  These were things I did just as a matter of course, but to them these qualities were apparently unique in a volunteer.  I told my husband that I thought the whole thing was hilarious – that when I left the building, I was smiling and laughing to myself.  His reply?

I think that’s what other people call Joy.

There was something about how he said it, and the exact words he used, that made me freeze.  It was a profound statement.

Joy is such a foreign concept for me.  At the time that my husband said this, I certainly couldn’t have described what joy looked like, or felt like, or when I had ever felt it.  Since then, I’ve had some glimmers of understanding and perhaps small moments that I could recognize as joy.  But it still feels alien – and uncomfortable.

When I was growing up, my parents had no tolerance for the “ugly” feelings –  pain, jealousy, sadness, anger.  We were given no outlets for those feelings – just told things like “There’s no need to cry”.  Unfortunately for me I turned those feelings on myself – with rather predictable results (low self-esteem, depression, self-criticism, etc.).

But the point I’m trying to make is that you can’t selectively squash feelings.  You can’t decide that you’re simply not going to acknowledge feeling anger, and yet keep feeling everything else.   I don’t think it works that way.  When my parents taught me to squash the ugly feelings and lock them away in a box, I think they taught me to lock everything away.  All feelings, whether good or bad.  So… joy?  That got locked away too.

Which is how I could find myself at 40 years old, not knowing what joy is or being able to recognize even a smidgeon of it in myself.

I think that’s what other people call Joy.

Really?

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9 thoughts on “Joy is so unfamiliar

  1. Wonderful. I too was taught to suppress feelings, and shut down as a result, experiencing two breakdowns after my kids were born (something about the whole becoming a parent thing unlocked my tightly sealed Pandora’s box of emotions.) Until recently, I didn’t understand joy either, but, I find myself gradually feeling it again, and, best of all, recognizing and enjoying the feeling as it is happening. Just wonderful. I wish you the same awakening and immersion into joyfulness.

    Fondly,
    Elizabeth

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    • Your words are so encouraging. I love that you say you can feel joy again – genuine joy. I hope that I can get there too.

      I also had a very difficult time after my kids were born. In fact, three of my worst “episodes” were several months after each of their births. I think it’s what you said – that something about having a child unlocked all the feelings that had been so carefully hidden away.

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  2. Such wonderful thoughts here. I wouldn’t say my parents were exactly like what you have described your parents as being but there are certainly some similarities. Deciding to just feel whatever emotion it is can be so difficult. Glad to hear you are learning how to experience joy. Thanks for sharing this. 🙂

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  3. Pingback: Diamonds are a girl’s best friend | One Depressed Mama

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