I’ve always been really uncomfortable with my own happiness. Call it cynicism, cowardice – maybe call it self defense. When things are good my comfort zone is miles behind me.

I’ve always felt most in my element when in some sort of crisis. When I’ve had to get people to the hospital, or find a few hundred bucks for a broken down car, or just been formulating a plan for how to get out of bed once a day I’ve at least felt safe. When things are broken then at least I’m not waiting for them to break.

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As someone who dealt with depression and sickness for the majority of my life, contentment always seemed out of reach. And the idea of trying to be happy and failing just seemed like it would hurt too much. But after I got married, I realized that my sadness wasn’t a solo adventure anymore. I wanted to give my husband a life of happiness, and he stubbornly refused to disclude me from that promise for him. So over the past couple of years I’ve been cutting out all the people and things that blatantly brought me pain – turns out getting a little taste of the light made the dark less appealing.

In that search for light I began to assess my discomfort, and I realized it wasn’t within myself I found the trouble. When I was smiling or laughing or just truly at peace, my suspicious gaze went over my shoulder. I could imagine people asking how a fuck up like me living a completely unorthodox life could have the audacity to be happy when so many other people just aren’t. I’d been told by the church my whole life that there was approximately one way to be happy, and if I was getting there any other way then it would all come crashing down. I’d been made to believe that I could only earn my happiness with polite words, small ambitions and blind loyalty to the people who worked their way in.

A couple of months ago a friend was going through a hard time and I asked her, If you could do anything for yourself what would it be? When she asked me the same I realized I knew the answer but had convinced myself I hadn’t earned it yet. But when I asked myself what I was waiting for, what sign would say: Hey you, be happy now! I realized I didn’t have an answer. I was waiting for someone to give me permission to feel comfortable in my own skin.

And in that moment I decided to give myself permission. I decided that I didn’t have one person in my life to whom I owed my unhappiness. Nobody had asked me for my misery, but I had given it as pennance for some imagined sin of stepping off the path I thought I belonged on.

But if the lightness in my chest and the sense of rightness in my footing is any indication, I think I’ve found the path that I’ve really belonged on all along. That other road was one I could have made myself drive down for the rest of my life, but I would always have known it was one paved by left over expectations placed on an insecure girl growing up too pretty and opinionated to fit in a sea of people who strive for imagined perfection.

So if you’re looking for someone to give you permission to be happy with yourself and where you’re headed, I’ll give it to you. Hell, I’ll give it to you in writing if that’s what you need. But you don’t owe me your misery, and you owe yourself so much more.

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