Permission to Feel: JOY
Welcome to the Permission to Feel, a series of blog posts tackling several complicated emotions and discussing why sometimes it's so hard to allow them in our lives. First up is a really important emotion for me - the one that I've struggled with the most. JOY.
As you can read in my bio, I used to not believe in joy. I didn't think it was possible for me. I had felt so much pain and it was all I could see. A light had burned inside of me at some point, when I was a child, but at some point it had been stamped out - by the world, by me, I've never been quite sure.
I keep notebooks of my thoughts - black Moleskines with pages on everything from business strategies to notes on color mixing combinations to questions that come up about why I create. I thumb through them from time to time, revisiting them to check in with myself. I found an entry that I remember vividly. "I don't consider joy to be a deep emotion. That's why I can't take brightly colored art seriously - I mean, congratulations on your very cute screen print of a cat, but it means nothing."
Yeah, keep reading on so you don't find me to be an intolerable person, please?
I wrote this over a year ago, but the memory still feels fresh. I considered joy to be a shallow emotion, one that I had somehow transcended. I believed there was something very trivial about it - like the people who claimed to feel it were simple and easy to please. I was wrestling with something much more intense, and I took my depression a lot more seriously than I took any rumors of joy.
This opinion of mine grew from my own bitterness. As I observed people who felt joy, I wanted to somehow justify to myself why I wasn't a part of this big secret. I felt satisfied in feeling superior to the emotion for NOT feeling such things - for not being blessed with it.
I was afraid of rejection. If I admitted that I wanted to feel joy, and I didn't get it, then I had a reason to be suicidal. I had a reason to feel alone. I had a reason to feel somehow shorted. It was a classic "I broke up with you first" scenario, because having joy walking out on me was simply too unbearable.
Joy came into my life like snowfall in the South - we hear rumors about it but can't believe it exists until we look out at a rain storm and notice that it's moving too slowly, floating through the air, and something isn't right about it. We crowd against windows, concentrating on something dark so that we can see the contrasting white flakes in front of it. But even then, we don't really believe in snow until it starts piling around on the ground in heaps that we can't ignore.
I was painting in August, searching for my identity and searching for purpose. It was the first time I reached out and touched a piece, fingers pushing around the acrylic shades, cool and then warm. And then I couldn't stop. It was like the canvas and I were having a conversation, and I was absorbed for nearly three hours before looking up. That's when I saw Joy sitting there with me, like piles of snow in the South that I could no longer ignore.
Joy is a complicated emotion - in fact, it is one of the most complicated emotions that I am familiar with. It isn't shallow at all, and it is very serious. Unlike depression, joy never ceases to inspire and surprise me.
Today I ask you to give yourself permission to feel joy.
This is basically the bat signal in the sky that joy sees before it swoops down on you. Look for it, like you squint at the first flakes of snow, and you will see it all of the time. Take it from me, a converted, once-non-believer.