fear of being happy

Even in my youth, I preferred sad and tragic stories. I thought of it as being different, a little edgy, maybe? Tragic stories were more realistic. Happy endings felt unfinished to me. I knew something bad will happen after. No one will stay happy forever.

Decades later, I still love tragic ends. When lovers part, when someone dies, when a loss is suffered…

As I was talking to one of my friends who finally finished cancer treatment, we started talking about having trouble finding joy in life again.

When living meant focusing on surviving, then you get to the finish line and survive… now what? When you make it past your “expiration date” because of technological advances, what do you do? How do you live again?

It took a long time for me to even tempt myself with joy. I complain about death and dying in movies, and make jokes about how a presumably feel-good story has a death-by-cancer plot point. But I still choose to continue watching these shows and reading these stories. I didn’t turn it off halfway. I sat through it, with a box of Kleenex beside me and tears in my eyes. And I tell others about how it made me sad. But deep inside I enjoyed it.

There could be some stupid masochist thing going on or maybe my therapist will have a comment relating to trauma or abuse.

One thing I know for sure: I liked the sad stories because when people are happy, that’s when I know to expect something bad will happen next.

For months after finishing active treatment, I was afraid of getting used to things being normal again. Like traveling to crowded places that were not the hospital. Like seeing my friends in a context that celebrated life instead of the threat of death. Like walking the same distances I used to without gasping for air. I was afraid that the rug will get pulled from under my feet just when I finally found my footing. Honestly, I still am.

I’m finally enjoying life again, and making choices that aren’t clouded by anxiety over dying. I’m walking 10x more than I used to even before I got sick. I’m going after things that I had been dreaming of. Hell, I’ve started dreaming of a life beyond three months at a time.

Yet I hear the quiet whisper of fear between moments of laughter. The quick thought of “what if suddently you’re not here” in the right moment, where I have to stop myself from tearing up because my family will get confused since they won’t understand the context. The thoughts like to pop in during the highs of life. That’s why I’m scared of being happy. And if I hold back enough, find the right threshold between joy and misery, maybe tragedy won’t bother me againz

But that isn’t really living, isn’t it?

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