Redefining Sanity – What’s Your New Happy?

There’s a lot written these days about preparing for the new normal. Some of it reads like dystopian fiction. Too often it seems to be magical thinking with little or no basis in fact.

Even though we’ve been watching the virus for several months, it’s still raging out of control in many places with no signs of slowing. A vaccine that will be delivered and distributed broadly enough to make a difference is still a fuzzy dream.

As I thought about that this morning I realized the only certainty right now is ongoing uncertainty and the people and activities that used to contribute to my sense of well-being are no longer available.

Everything is up for redefinition – including sanity – including happiness.

If I had experienced my current detours into mental strangeness before the pandemic, I’d have been worried. These days, feeling off-kilter, hopeless, adrift, unmotivated, confused (I could go on) is just the way it sometimes is, and I’ve learned a degree of acceptance and coping skills for the mood shifts that come out of nowhere.

But I don’t like coping. I prefer to thrive, mentally, physically, and emotionally and I realized today that to do that, I need to redefine happy. I’ve been struggling to fit the old ways into a new reality. It can’t be done. It’s like trying to keep an exploding rainbow intact. Bits and pieces of colorful joy break apart, fly everywhere, and disappear. I may grab one or two fractured shards as they zoom past, but that’s a starvation diet and it’s not working.

It boils down to expectations and there are two questions to answer:

1) When have I experienced happiness during corona?

  • I’ve been truly happy when engaged in projects that require physical effort.
  • I’ve been truly happy during Zoom calls with family.
  • I’ve been truly happy riding on the back of Ketut’s motorbike.
  • I’ve been truly happy when getting together with a friend – even sitting six feet apart.
  • I’m content when I’m writing, cooking, reading, walking, daydreaming.
  • I’m content when I have a plan for the day.
  • I’m content when I have something on the calendar to look forward to.
  • I’m content when I’m doing my morning routine.

2) How can I revise my expectations so they fall into line with what’s actually possible?

Things I can no longer expect are:

  • Hugs
  • Trips to see family
  • Group get-togethers
  • Spontaneous social interaction
  • Taking vacations
  • Leaving the house mask-less
  • Bustling streets
  • Restaurants and shops open
  • Feeling safe…

Comparing the two lists, I’m surprised how many things still exist that bring me happiness or contentment. I don’t have to be happy all the time. Contentment is an acceptable state. Hugs and a sense of safety are perhaps the most difficult to do without.

It will go a long way toward my new happy if I can incorporate a few items daily from the first list, and plan my days far enough in advance to feel I have an interesting life to look forward to. I’ll need time to mourn the loss of what isn’t possible. Time to honor what once was but is no more in an intentional way. But after that — theoretically —

I can release the old paradigm and embrace sanity and happiness, redefined.

Day 1 of the ‘New Normal’

Around eleven a.m. yesterday I heard the familiar laugh. Ketut came up the path lugging twice his weight in potatoes and squash. I slipped on my flipflops and hurried to help.

I’d photographed the grocery list the day before and WhatsApped it to him.


In five minutes I’d had his response.

“Ok.”

There’s a trait I’ve found that generally holds true. A man of action is a man of few words. Ketut’s no exception.

I knew he was familiar with most everything on the list, but the mei nasi vermicelli (which I spelled wrong) might have been a mystery so I added a photo.

A little later he sent this picture and told me he and his youngest, Komang, were stealing broccoli for me from his in-law’s garden.

As it turned out, it was both broccoli and cauliflower, perfectly formed bouquets.

After several trips back and forth to empty the minivan, I saw what my list looked like in real life. Food overflowed the bags on the table and the floor around it. We took inventory. There was one bunch of mystery leaves mixed in with the spinach.

“What’s this, Ketut? Not bayam.”

“Daun ketela. Like Padang food. Bayam in market finished.”

So the traditional market had sold out of spinach and Ketut had improvised. Good man.

I love Padang food, the cuisine of West Sumatra. I’d never cooked cassava leaves, but if that was the unique flavor in Sumatran veggie dishes, I was excited.

After Ketut demonstrated how to light the water heater and change the gas bottle…

after he asked for the umpteeth time if I was sure I wanted him to stay away for a month…

after he suggested he could come in the back way and work on making a new garden behind the house and I wouldn’t even know he was there…

I assured him again that a) he was due a good long paid vacation for all his years of faithful help, and b) if he even stopped for gas somewhere he might take the virus home to his village.

“Okay. But if any problem, you call me.”

I promised I would.

After separating the bounty with my downstairs neighbor, I Googled cassava leaf recipes. The easiest one had onion, tomato, and peanuts. I had those ingredients. Instructions said to chop everything, brown the onion, stir in tomatoes and leaves and cook for 30 minutes adding water when needed. Peanuts last.

While watching the water level on the simmering pot, I steamed broccoli, boiled eggs, and prepared dragon fruit for the freezer. It was four o’clock when all was completed and I realized I hadn’t had lunch. The experimental dish was tasty but daun ketela will probably never appear on my future grocery lists.

This morning I woke to Day One of the ‘New Normal.’ I’d been anticipating this, longing for the opportunity to fall into a routine, gain some modicum of control over my life. As I stared at the morning face in the mirror, I was transported back to my first full day in Italy. A storm raged, churning the ocean to white froth. Wind battered the shutters and rain pinged against the windows. I remembered thinking…thirty-two more days…

Of course the rain stopped and I had a fabulous time.

I found myself wishing I knew if this would be thirty-two days, or sixty, or a year. I suddenly missed my family, my grandchildren. I let sadness come, sobbing through yoga, tears dampening my meditation pillow. I hadn’t allowed grief. I’d been distracted by doing what needed to be done. And then, when there was nothing more to do, I’d spun out of the present and lost myself in an unknowable future.

Catherynne Valente said, Do not ruin today by mourning tomorrow.”

Like a cloud passing over the sun, sadness dissipated. The cathartic energy of sorrow left me feeling cleansed and strong once more. I moved back into the now with renewed resolve to stay there.

Do you notice when you’re spinning into the future? Perhaps you could tell yourself, “This is my body now. There is nothing to fear in this moment.”

%d bloggers like this: