I have a vague recollection of descending into crying fits throughout the second grade -- sudden, silent, solemn tears borne from inexplicable emotion. I wasn’t crying to solicit care or attention. I was crying just to cry. My teacher, the kind woman that she was, attempted to locate the source of my despair by asking probing questions about my home life, but there was nothing wrong. I was just sad.
In middle school, I took seriously the teenage responsibility to experience angst. I listened to pop-punk, felt poorly about my body, and carved a circle into my arm using a needle (no real significance to this). Years later, my friend’s mom made a comment about how much weight I had lost since childhood, which made me feel like all my time spent worrying had good reason. She said she thought of me like a cherub, because of my pudgy cheeks.
Later in adolescence, one of my classmates gifted me a shiny purple rock. I didn’t know her very well, so I was surprised by the present. Along with it came a little paper pamphlet explaining that the rock was meant to ward off negative emotions, which I suppose my classmate sensed I needed help with. I was offended, but also touched.
During that year of unexplainable crying, I wrote a poem that my parents laminated for safekeeping. It is entitled, “Life is Horrid,” and proves that I have long been whinging to any audience willing to listen.
I describe my extended stint as a pensive child in part to laugh at my dramatics, but mostly to express thanks for how much distance I have since covered. I would hasten to guess that my current disposition no longer comes across as “kind of gloomy” and “I need to pull her aside after class to ask if everything is okay at home” but rather, something more like “determined” or “hopeful” -- at least on good days.
For pretty much as long as I’ve had conscious thought, my default state of being was something like “low-level turmoil”, where some form of mild dread loomed perpetually around the edges. It was kinda like the Sunday scaries, but every day of the week, always, for an undetermined “scary” I couldn’t prepare for. (This is probably where the whole “life is horrid” sentiment came from.) But nowadays, my baseline mood is more like “pretty dang okay”. It’s not like I feel great 24/7 or never succumb to irrational fits of despair. It’s just that under everything, both the good and bad, there’s a core part of me that recognizes I’m absolutely, perfectly fine. Completely worthy of existing.
To summarize my past year, I could write about “living my best life” in Japan. I’d talk about wresting record-setting giant daikon from the volcanic soil of Sakurajima, dining on freshly-caught omakase sushi in Toyosu Market, and summiting the highest peak in Hokkaido at the turn of autumn, when the mountain face was dotted with patches of crimson. I’d expound on weekend trips that titillated my senses, the 600 miles I found the physical and mental fortitude to run, and the pure glee that flooded my bloodstream every time I saw Miffy-branded packaging, which was often. But I think it would paint a false picture.
My 2022 was startlingly good, but not as a result of the nameable things that filled it. The most special part of my year was not a thing or a place or a person. It was my sense of Deep Okayness throughout.
For a long time, I thought that happiness was a myth -- that the best any of us could achieve were small moments of joy or rapture or belonging, and that the best we could aim for was a minimally harmful life that allowed us to string together as many of those moments as possible. But now I feel that something steadier and deeper is possible. And I think it might be happening to me.
Sometime earlier this year, I was in the midst of catastrophizing when my friend cut me off with four simple words: “Stop that, you’re Britney.” It sobered me instantly.
What my friend meant was, the Britney I know doesn’t need to get upset over something so small. The Britney I know can handle this. The Britney I know can and will bounce back.
My friend’s words reminded me that being “Britney” means something, and it means something good.
When I responded, “Yes, you’re right. I am Britney,” I accepted the goodness.
I accepted Britney.