Those of you who have known me for a while may have heard by now that I struggle a bit with depression. It’s not entirely unlike a perpetual game of Whack-A-Mole: the inner demons rise up, and I beat ’em back down, and they come back in a different spot, over and over. It’s usually pretty manageable; I’ve dug myself out of the pit often enough that I know a few handy shortcuts now. But sometimes a day will rise up out of nowhere and kick me in the teeth, and there’s not much to be done except to hang on and breathe and wait to see if tomorrow is any different.
Yesterday was one of those days. It was Easter, and we didn’t have any plans: we don’t attend a church, so there weren’t any services we were planning to attend; and all of our family lives far enough away to be at least mildly inconvenient, and besides, they all had other plans; and we don’t have kids, so the Easter Bunny skipped our house. And all of that was completely, totally, 100% fine when we went to bed on Saturday night…but somehow that all crashed on Sunday morning. I blame Facebook for this one–everybody else was posting adorable pictures of adorable people doing adorable things with eggs and baskets, and here I was standing in the kitchen in a boring housedress with no plans of any sort for the day. And it started me down the “you have accomplished nothing, you are going to accomplish nothing, there is nothing about you that is at all interesting or useful, and if you want to get very honest about things, all you are doing with your life is passing the time until you die” spiral. And that’s a tricky one to hop out of–once you’ve decided that nothing in your world is right, it’s a very short step until you find yourself hating yourself for the imperfections in your homemade pancakes and secretly resenting the fact that you’re having sausage links instead of patties. You hate the shape of your fingernails. You regret getting the college degree that you got, and for not going to grad school immediately. You hate the fact that the deck is a weird color, but you don’t have the gusto to just go change it. It’s like that.
Fortunately Moon Man swooped in and declared that yesterday was going to be an Adventure Day. We’d talked about going to the new aquarium in town, and he happened to mention that during a Pivotal Moment (you know, that split second when your day is in flux, and can be swayed in either direction: do I spend the entire day lying around and weeping about the fact that the coffee table has wobbly legs, or do I get dressed and stride boldly out the door?), and next thing we knew, we were off to look at the fish.
Now here’s the hitch in this plan: dealing with crowds is challenging for me on a good day. On a day when I’m a little shaky, it can be an absolute deal-breaker. I have self-confidence issues, and they translate (in my life) to a more-or-less perpetual fear that I’m going to break some unwritten social rule, that I’m going to inconvenience someone in some esoteric way by using the wrong door or using the wrong fork or not knowing whether I’m supposed to pay at the table or at the cash register. It can be surprisingly crippling, and by the time we made it to the aquarium, it was starting to set in. I’d never been to an aquarium before, and I had no idea what the rules were. Are you supposed to go through in a certain direction? Is it like a museum, where you just wander? What if I trip and fall into an exhibit and get eaten by a shark, and my skirt gets lodged in his throat and he nearly dies?!?
So the anxiety was starting to build, and I was starting to think that maybe we should reconsider the whole thing…and then we noticed that a friend of ours, who happens to work at the aquarium, was on-duty that day, standing out front with a walkie-talkie and a bright blue shirt and looking Very Important And Official.
And then she spotted us, and smiled. That happy, “Hey! I know you and I like you!” smile.
And that was all it took. In that one act, that one instinctive act, the Universe poked me in the head and said “Y’know, it’s ok. There’s someone who works here who already knows you and likes you, so if you get completely baffled by the whole experience, you can ask her for advice or help. If you fall in the shark tank, she will explain to her coworkers that you’re actually a good person who didn’t mean to try to strangle the shark. You are not, in fact, alone in the universe, and you have a supportive husband and nifty friends and people who smile when they see you. Everything is totally under control”.
And so we went inside, and got a second “Hey! I also know you and like you!” smile from her boyfriend, who also happens to work at the aquarium, and bought our tickets and walked through the place, and we saw fish and stingrays and seahorses and I got to pet an urchin, and exactly zero sharks were suffocated by my skirt. We had an absolute blast, and yesterday ended up being a fantastic date day.
So maybe you think about that as you go through your days, ‘Tracters. They say that it takes 17 muscles to smile (whether that’s accurate or not is someone else’s riddle to solve); I’d submit that it takes 17 muscles to change someone’s world. One smile can be all it takes to help bring someone’s day back into the sunshine, and it doesn’t cost you a thing.
So give it a shot. Smile at someone, whether you know them or not. It’s a totally non-committal gesture, and it can completely revolutionize someone’s day.
And to SB and DT: thank you for helping reset my brain so that Easter 2012 has actually gone on the “Fantastic Days” list, instead of being a total write-off. Love you guys.