Post Happiness Stress Disorder: When You're Haunted by Memories of Joy

We hear it all the time. A soldier returns home from war and wakes up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat, thinking he's back in the trenches. A veteran hears a car stall out and hits the ground thinking he's back on the front line. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is common among many individuals who have undergone a traumatic event in their life and thankfully, there is now treatment available for them.

But what happens when the memories you so desperately try to avoid, are the best one's you've ever had? What do you do when you're on a train and the smell of a stranger's perfume transports you to a Saturday morning, riding bikes and seeing movie matinees? What happens when you hear the sound of water splashing against the dock and you're momentarily on a beach in California, the sun shining on your skin, the sound of her laugh filling the empty space. What do you do to keep those hauntingly wonderful dreams from flooding your brain as you close your eyes at night? 

There certainly isn't a DSM definition for the feelings of utter dread that creep into your mind when you finally admit to yourself that those times, the times you can't stand to think about anymore, were the happiest of your life. 

I've done several blogs on relationships and the healing that takes place when a heart is broken. But I think through all of it what I have come to realize is that, when we give our hearts to someone, they only give a portion of it back to us when they leave. They keep a small part of it for themselves forever. We in turn are left to mend the portion that has been returned to us and while time, friends, self reflection and tender care can in fact repair those pieces, it will never be as it was before. There will always be a little chunk that is missing. And that's ok. 

The past several months (3 1/2 to be precise) I've spent a lot of time trying to block out the good memories I've had with someone (my ex, duh) and every time they would pop up I would shove them away. Because truthfully the pain was too much to bear. I wanted to just "move on" and forget. But recently avoiding these memories has become increasingly difficult, mostly because I've gotten close to someone who's friends with the source of those memories. 

Being around this "new person" has been a consistent slap in the face with the perpetual existence of my ex. At first it had me almost running in the other direction. I felt like someone who can't swim that had just been tossed into the deep end of a pool. I wanted to get the fuck out of the water at all costs. But the longer I stayed, the longer I realized that there is nothing to be afraid of. I learned that if I just relaxed and breathed, even if I couldn't swim, I'd float. Now, here I am doing a doggy paddle in these realizations that have been thrust upon me recently. Trying to navigate these waters with my newly learned skills and just stay above water. But I know that soon enough with practice and patience, I'll be swimming full butterfly stroke through the past. 

The truth is, confronting our good memories is often just as important as confronting the bad ones. Sometimes it takes facing those feelings head on to come to a hard realization: sometimes we just miss people. Sometimes we miss memories. Sometimes we miss things we had that we no longer do. And that's ok too.

Our lives are presented to us as a constant linear trajectory, passing through other people like stoplights and continuing on our own journey down the road to death. But I think our lives should be more comparable to a tree, experiencing seasons, storms, sunny days and snow falls. Each year we grow more and more. And each new branch and leaf that sprouts makes us taller, and stronger than before. With each new memory and lesson we grow upward, more full, and more capable of giving back something to the world. A mighty sequioa in the redwood forest provides more oxygen than a little sampling in suburbia, after all. Our focus shouldn't be solely on "moving on" so much as it should be on growing upward. 

So, to those lucky souls who've taken little chunks of my heart away with them - thanks for the memories. 

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