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Navel-Gazing: Part 468

September 17, 2016

This post is not so much for public consumption, but if it goes viral, I’ll accept it. I’ll be embarrassed, but I’ll accept it.

It’s fascinating how each of us has a universe that exists in our own minds. We all draw our own conclusions, make our own intimate connections of fact, of cause and effect, of punishment, reward, and indifference.

Sometimes, when we feel comfortable with another soul, we will leak our personal universe out, one conclusion at a time, often prefaced with “You’re gonna think I’m crazy, but I’ve always thought…”

When I was a kid, I distinctly recall one night while I was in second grade. My father took me and my mother on a Nashville dining adventure. We went to a sprawling complex called Cajun’s Wharf, an elaborate restaurant-cum-spectacle with multiple nooks, crannies, set pieces, video games, etc. I had a blast and was celebrating life.

That was my last night as a carefree kid.

When reconstructing our autobiographies, I believe most of us are wont to make reductive statements such as the immediate above. It’s all part of our personal universe construct.

But I truly believe there was a sea change in my personality following that night at Cajun’s Wharf. On the hour-plus car ride home from the restaurant, my jubilation was stopped cold by a sudden feeling of illness. We pulled over by the side of the road at least once because of my raging nausea, which didn’t consummate until I got home.

I spent an icky night at home, before backtracking most of the way back to Nashville the next morning to see my pediatrician, who diagnosed me with strep throat. I don’t recall much about my recovery. I only recall the emotional devastation of being so happy and then having it snatched from me arbitrarily.

In the face of such powerlessness, I constructed a large part of my personal universe in response to that night. I needed to at least create the illusion of control, so I made a deal with God: if I promised to not get too happy, I would be spared that sort of experience in the future. I became a stoic child overnight.

Somewhere in my mind, there was something much more rational at play than a deal with God. Practically speaking, if I didn’t get too happy, I wouldn’t have as far to fall if I became ill or otherwise unhappy. I hedged my bets, sacrificing unbridled joy to prevent a breathless fall into misery.

From then to this day, I’ve always expressed my happiness in carefully measured increments. As an adult, I’ve allowed myself to experience happiness without guilt, but I have remained measured about expressing it, and there’s always a voice in my head telling me to beware of the next awful thing lurking behind the joyful moment I’m experiencing.

This sort of brings us to the events of the last month. I was feeling content and in control of a great deal of my life about a month ago. I had instituted a life-priority plan which would allow me to focus on personally important things rather than getting jerked around by deadlines and lack of focus. I executed two weeks on this plan and was getting the hang of it. As a serial self-improvement buff, it would be a meaningful accomplishment for me to launch a plan and stick to it.

Another piece of my personal universe is that I feel like I am a divinely ordained target for petty annoyances and sabotage. The way I put it, nothing truly tragic ever happens to me, but any way the universe can find to annoy the heck out of me on a day-to-day basis, it will find and execute.

As an example, I find that I can visit a shopping mall at 8pm on a Tuesday night when there are only a handful of patrons in the entire place, and somehow, someway, I will find myself maneuvering around three other people who have converged at one bottleneck near a stairway or escalator, making it a challenge to just walk from point A to point B in a deserted public space. Infuriating.

So, in a series of events that feeds this paranoid piece of my universe, after two strong weeks on my new plan and three relaxing vacation days from work, I was struck down with fever and chills, followed shortly by a red, sore spot on my leg. I had a skin infection, and it upended my world for two weeks. The very thought of reading or blogging (two primary components of my plan) made me panicked with stress. I was struggling just to keep current with my work emails and not fall behind paying my bills and other subsistence activities. So I dropped the plan cold. I needed to survive. [Note: the infection was not serious, and I believe I was only suffering mild malaise from the infection and the antibiotics. I’m just not accustomed to feeling unwell and I overreact.]

On another level, I gave up because I felt like I was being punished for being happy again. For daring to think that I could outmaneuver life and prioritize activities that were important to me.

I am well aware of how dysfunctional this sounds. But this is part of the personal universe I have created. In addition, being aware of these thoughts brings up other questions about my illness. Did I create the conditions internally that allowed the infection to take place? Did I sabotage my own well-being because I was scared of succeeding?

On a certain level, I want to believe that I sabotaged myself. First, self-sabotage would indicate that my natural resistance is too high for me to have gotten sick in the absence of said sabotage. Second, albeit in a perverse way, it demonstrates that I do have control over what is happening to me, that it’s not “God” or “the universe” that inflicts these obstacles. I only need to truly believe and be fearless in my pursuit of my happiness and I stand a better chance of getting there.

There’s a lot of labyrinths to all of our personal universes, and I thank you for traveling with me down a few of mine. There are no absolute answers to be had, but the mere awareness of some of the dynamics at play is inherently valuable.

It could be that the biggest takeaway here is that my personal universe (and yours) is the single biggest prism through which I (and you) see our actions and the larger world we share. It stands to reason, then, that “creating your own happiness” is far more than some New Age-y mantra. Instead, it’s a reality-based assessment of how we use our minds to process the world around us.

I’m feeling better now. I didn’t even mention the two wisdom teeth I had extracted a week ago; that was an added physical impediment to my personal focus. All seems to be resolving, and now I have allowed myself the luxury of the reflection you read here.

With any luck this post is one of the final pieces of my recovery and a step toward the rededication to the path I set out on last month.

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