“Maybe the life I think I’m living is a paranoid delusion…Sanity is a valuable possession; I hoard it the way people once hoarded money. I save it, so I will have enough, when the time comes.”
― Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale
I first read The Handmaid’s Tale in high school. It was one of the very slew of dystopian near future books I digested, along with 1984, A Clockwork Orange, Brave New World, and Fahrenheit 451. I have only read a few dystopian novels since high school that impacted me that same way these five did. For the record, those books are: Gulliver’s Travels, Children of Men, The Road, and A Scanner Darkly. Every dystopian story gets compared to these giants in my mind.
I read it again recently, because I want to experience it again before I begin watching the HULU series. And upon this second reading, I am finding a lot of quotes that really describe my experiences with mental health rather well. There is a passage about why we say night falls even though if you look east, it clearly rises just like the morning. This is about perspective. If we focus on the sun, we define our days on the sun. If we focus on something else, we see things in a different way. I wrote a blog about this passage as well, but it isn’t nearly as interesting to me as the one that opens this essay, or at least, this one is less expected.
The idea sounds absurd, right? Maybe if you haven’t experienced this first hand, you can’t really wrap your head around it. But here, let me try to help. Does a glass of wine, or a relaxing shower, or sitting on the toilet in peace help you throughout the rest of your day? Of course. This is no different. I have heard it described as a bank account as well. Sometimes you make deposits and sometimes withdrawals. We hope when we need it, there is enough in the account.
I don’t know if this is possible with sanity. I doubt it, actually. But certainly I try this out from time to time. It isn’t like an extra long shower or a cold beer though. It is more abstract than that. It isn’t about relishing the “good times” either, or being mindful and aware. Although, maybe it should be, maybe it could be, if I knew how to do that.
For me, it is more like a hope. I hope that I can build up some momentum and keep it rolling. I hope that I can learn some things and apply them later.
Unfortunately, I think sometimes I put a governor on my happiness. When I know that something should make me really ecstatic, I find myself throttling down, hoping that I can use less of it now and make it last longer. Or better yet, maybe my psychological insulin will come down and convert this into happiness fat that will get stored for later use.
This probably serves two purposes. First, the intended goal stated above. Second, I’m not terribly comfortable being really happy. I feel more normal being a little down. It is like my body adapted to this.
Of course, neither goal is completed. You can’t reduce your happiness now and pull it out later. Your brain doesn’t work this way. And, no matter how much I try, my mood is what it is. I still haven’t figured out how that one works.
So why keep doing it? It probably seems like I’m either a fool or seeking attention. But neither is true. I don’t visibly reduce my mood. You would never know, just like you don’t know when I’m pretending to be happier than I really am.
And, it is a legitimate attempt to correct something.
One of my biggest triggers, an almost guaranteed dip in mood, is the result of a big expenditure of “happiness”. A holiday weekend, a big party or wedding, or just a really amazing fun time (especially if there is any amount of alcohol consumed), this will always crash me. Everytime. Without fail.
When I try to regulate this, be more smoothed out, more level, I’m trying to be mindful of this and guide the plane in for a soft crash.
Of course, this has yet to work. And at the end of the day, all I have really done is scale back my joy based on the false hope that it will be useful to me in the future, “when the time comes”.