Last month, one of my dearest friends offered me a book called “The Happiness Project” by Gretchen Rubin: a book about a woman who apparently had everything (a supportive family, a sympathetic husband, healthy kids, a good job, nice friends) but somehow felt dissatisfied, unhappy. In order to feel better, or simply to try something new, she decided to spend a year reading about what makes human beings happy. The result, a very interesting and funny book about her journey into self-discovery. Every month, she set out 4 or 5 resolutions (like singing in the morning or starting a book club for kid’s books just because she likes to read children’s literature), and she tested them for a month, writing down how it felt to live differently. A lot could be said about this book, but it got me thinking… If I had the time, or rather if I allowed myself to take the time, what would my Happiness Project look like?
After reading only a few pages of the Happiness Project, I started to reflect on my journey and I realized that there had definitely been a turning point in that journey. As a matter of fact, that turning point took place exactly a year ago, to the day. A year ago exactly, I was introduced to a wonderful group of moms (and a dad). This is when everything changed for me and my son.
When I got my son’s diagnosis, I immediately sank into depression. I took time to cry and ask the many questions we, as parents, ask when something so dramatic enters our lives, unexpected, uninvited. I constantly felt out of breath and could barely keep my head above the water. I was alone, in a very dark place with almost no support and no help… Eventually, I managed to stop crying and decided to act and not despair: recovery became my main obsession. Looking back now, I know that unconsciously, I put myself in survival mode because it was the only way I could survive.
My “Survival Project “ as I could call it now was based on a few principles: I tried to rest whenever I could (sleep deprivation, I realized, could quickly take you to dark places) ; I tried to focus on “NOW” instead of tomorrow or next week ; I tried to take every new piece of information one day at a time and the second I was given the opportunity, I reached out for support, realizing that there was a community out there ready to give me advice and support.
When I was introduced to this amazing group of women, I was surprised by the heartfelt welcome I received. I immediately stopped feeling like I was alone in the world. By opening up to my new-found friends and community, I allowed myself to heal (and this is an ongoing process). Looking back, I would say that it was the first time in years that I allowed myself to be happy. I learned so much about therapies that could help my son. I laughed; I cried. I even learned how to “write posts” and learned all the medical abbreviations I needed to know. I cheered at every small victory and slowly gained back the confidence in life I knew was hiding inside of me. Eventually, I switched from survival mode to conquering mode where determination was – and still is – the main ingredient.
New York New York…
During a family trip in Spring Break to NY to see one of my son’s doctors, I started reflecting on the past year. This has been an exceptional year for me and my son even though the winter was extremely difficult for both of us. I must admit that at that point, it was almost impossible to think about a happiness project, or even about my own personal happiness… But to my great surprise, the trip took an unexpected turn. For the first time in years, my son was with us. I mean, really *with us*.
His excitement blew us away: he wanted to go everywhere! The park, the restaurant, the zoo, the ride on the horse carriage, he wanted it all! He even wanted to race with his dad, and, before we knew it, he was walking with us to Central Park. He was holding our hands and kept on looking at us with a huge smile. He was happy and proud and full of energy. For years, we have tried to take him to the zoo, the park, the rides, only to realize that it was too overwhelming for him, leaving us no choice but to go back home. But this time, he wasn’t overwhelmed by the noise, the lights and the constant movement of this exciting city. He was laughing; he was enjoying himself; he was Happy.
And so. was. I!
As this was happening, all I wanted to do was to stop this moment and make it last forever. For once, we seemed like any regular family, taking a stroll in the park, enjoying the beautiful preview of a long awaited spring.
And then it hit me.
My son had become the barometer of my own happiness. As long as he was doing well and progressing, I was feeling good, but if the weeks were rough, I found myself sinking again to those dark familiar places. In fact, to this day, the only aspect of this recovery that surprises me is the feeling I get when my son experiences some difficulty. The months of emotional struggles and painful situations have affected me almost as much as him. It has become difficult to ever relax and let my guard down.
The beginning of me ?
These days, I am slowly allowing myself to take some steps towards my own “happiness project.” I am not sure what that project will entail but I suppose I will build it day by day. Today, I realize more than ever that a shift in my way of thinking is necessary if I want to be a good parent for the “long haul.” Of course, each parent is different and this way of thinking can take time. For me, it can only be done in baby steps. I feel that I am responsible for my son’s recovery, and I will fight the damage that has been done to him as long as I live. I also realize that I have to make peace with my own issues.
My 10 personal commandments
At the end of the Happiness Project, Gretchen Rubin defines her commandments and suggests that we all determine our own. More than resolutions that you keep, they are guidelines that dictate what really matters to you and how you want to live your life.
My commandments would probably be the following (although nothing is ever set in stone):
- Never to lie to yourself and remain true to who you are. (Surely, without the support of my new group of friends, I would have never been able to write these words.)
- Find mentors and a group of support: that changed everything for me. If you are sitting in front of your computer smiling at this, wherever you are (Iceland, Kenya, Italy, Spain, France, Russia), you should know that our movement is global, it transcends frontiers, cultures and languages. You are not alone because Mothers are Warriors and the will to change things is now everywhere.
- Think about the present moment: “You don’t have to see where you’re going, you don’t have to see your destination or everything you will pass along the way. You just have to see two or three feet ahead of you.” Anne Lamott
- Never underestimate your child’s potential.
- Don’t forget your spouse and siblings, they too are hurting.
- Laugh and love : they are the 2 major ingredients for survival and happiness.
- Enjoy the good days; soak up all that positive energy so that when the bad days come, you still have some energy to keep going.
- Make time for YOURSELF. You deserve it. Be kind and generous to yourself.
- Find joy in your everyday life: sing, walk, dance…
- NEVER GIVE UP! I know my son deserves a lifetime of happiness and that gives me the will to persevere and become the parent that I want to be.