My anger is the part of me that loves me
It’s been a journey to get here, but I can say confidently that I am responsible for my own joy.
When the first pandemic lockdown rolled out in Europe in 2020 and the UK news was reporting a small spattering of Covid-19 cases across the country, I was convinced I was watching the end of the world begin. The two years that followed cost me my happiness, my mental health, a huge number of friendships, and the majority of my income as the arts took the heaviest blow of all.
For the end of the world, it was slower and more boring than I’d imagined it might be, a gentle decline into madness and depression that barely registered at a conscious level and yet permeated every facet of my life and the lives of the people I loved.
Unhappiness was everywhere in 2020. All across the United States, Black Americans raged against a system that continued to commit violence against them. Nearly two million people worldwide died of Covid-19 in those first 12 months. 47 million acres of Australia and millions more acres of US soil burned in one of the worst wildfire seasons on record. I watched live on TV as America voted in a president no one really had faith in just to rid their country of the felon in charge. Everybody was unhappy.
We’re told all the time that our happiness is our responsibility
In hustle culture to find success, in self-care and self-improvement — if we’re unhappy, surely we must be doing something wrong. The truth is, it can be really hard to prioritize yourself when you’re surrounded by so much bleakness. TV news is depressing to watch, and it seems like someone’s spreading hate and overturning important laws everywhere you turn. Roe vs. Wade. Florida’s ‘Don’t Say Gay‘ bill. The literal Human Rights Act. You can tell people they’re in charge of their own happiness all you want, but flowers rarely bloom in the dark.
Pre-pandemic, my biggest worries in life had been growing my social media following and getting old. I celebrated my 21st birthday under the Independence Day fireworks on a steamboat cruise in Manhattan, feeling like the whole universe was made just for my eyes. I turned 30 on the day the first UK lockdown ended and had a sandwich in the outside dining area of a farm shop deli in the rain. It was the anticlimax of all anticlimaxes, and it forced me to accept the sad truth: I was intensely unhappy.
I wasn’t just unhappy, either. I was angry
All this unhappiness was completely out of my control, caused by the world around me, and by other people. How was I supposed to be responsible for my own happiness when the world was getting worse every day?
But then something magical began to happen. Happiness began to rise from the ashes. Not on a global scale, but in tiny, personal ways, like sparks into the embers of a fire. I noticed it in my best friend before I recognised it in myself; as everything else in the world went wrong, she started to fight for her own joy. It doesn’t make itself apparent in any huge, theatrical way, but in the little things: finally decorating her apartment the way she wants and not worrying what the landlord might say, taking herself out on dates and on holidays alone without shame, buying something bolder than she’d dared to wear before. It was small, but it was radical. It was saying, if the world is giving me nothing, I will learn to take instead. As soon as I saw it in her, I started to see it in myself too. All that anger and sadness transmuted before my eyes into an intense, radical desire to find my own joy at any cost. When the world was giving me every possible reason to be unhappy, I finally put my foot down and said no. I wouldn’t accept unhappiness anymore.
It brought some radical changes to my life over the last two years. I rejected everything that was making me unhappy — hobbies that no longer served me, what I was doing for work, even my gender identity. I changed everything I could change on a personal scale and chose honesty and authenticity over conformity and catering to other people’s comfort. And for the things I can’t change so easily, the parts of the wider world that still seem out of my control, I let anger be the fuel I need to make what difference I can. I support causes that matter to me and sign every petition that speaks to my heart. And when it isn’t enough, I take solace in the fact that it isn’t my duty to finish the work, as long as I do my part.
I am responsible for my happiness, and you for yours. It doesn’t mean you’re to blame for being unhappy, but it does mean you need to be proactive in seeking your own joy.
The honest truth is, happiness is a journey, not a destination. There will always be good days and bad ones. There are days when it still feels like the world is ending and the news still often makes me cry with overwhelm. But no longer will I allow myself to be passive in my misery. In the current state of the world, blaming everything but yourself for your unhappiness is actually pretty fair. But don’t get sad, get even — you deserve better. Get angry about it. Get angry that the world hasn’t given you happiness on a platter. Get angry that it takes and takes, and never seems to reward you in return. Your anger is the part of you that loves you, so let it stoke the fire and seek out your radical joy.
Sometimes flowers do bloom in the dark.
Featured image: Inside Out (2015) / Pixar