Placebo Effect

by: Heather Fawn

The craving for that elusive, and novel, feeling called happiness….

For the past 28 years of my life, I’ve had a constant companion. Its gloom has laid a gentle haze over everything I touch. Call it the legacy of living with abuse, the days and nights of feeling disconnected from my family while I grew up under less-than-ideal conditions. Or maybe you could blame my near-obsession with the internet since the age of 14, or the fact that I am partially reclusive and avoid people when it’s convenient to do so. Whatever it is, it’s been a toxic influence on my life. I remember the days when going to a job I hated felt like the end, the psychic pain of dragging my body around in places it didn’t want to go felt like it was going to kill me.

I don’t know why or how I’ve been able to make it this far without being medicated. I’ve also, miraculously, never had a substance abuse problem. In fact, I avoid even alcohol if I’m not being social. I just don’t have it in me, I suppose. Or perhaps it’s because I simply refuse to take the risk. In addition to this strange aversion to self-medicating, I have never been a big fan of pharmaceuticals. This is not to shame or otherwise criticize anyone who gets by with a little chemical lift. I have, at times, considered fondly what it might be like to swallow something to take me to Pleasure Town, or, perhaps, one of the neighborhoods next to it: Sanity, Tranquility, Contentment. For whatever reason, all the creepy crawlies that have plagued me have been kept at bay by a near-maniacal reliance on happy thoughts (against all odds), obsessive-compulsive music, movie, and TV show phases, and other creative outlets. I also, until recently, was exceptionally good at reaching goals. I cleared the college-to-foreign-grad-school goal in 6 weeks, I’ve gotten visas under conditions that are frowned-upon, and, despite my mammalian brain’s protests I’ve survived every journey on an airplane.

I have had countless bad days. More self-pity than should ever be necessary, as well. And I have been, in the past, notorious for sticking around in bad relationships. Since I’m the star of my own show, I try to be the heroine who comes out strong in the end, but like the Japanese proverb, I simply have fallen down seven times and gotten up eight.

I get up because I have to. Staying down is not an option. I’ve had some nasty falls. People have said and done things to me that have left me wondering whether or not I could ever recover from the damage. But the peculiar thing about refusing to give up is that it really does do the trick. Slowly, I have convalesced from every painful experience to date. I expect to make full recoveries in the future as well. The thing about dealing with pain is that you get pretty good at it. I’ve become a fighter. Professional, albeit not always completely sure-footed. I have invested an enormous amount of blood, sweat, and tears into myself. Built from the ground up, like a phoenix, each attempt to destroy me has been the prelude to my rising from the ashes.

Sometimes, friends have intervened with a shoulder, or kind words, or $200, or a plane ticket. This has also been enormously necessary for my well being. It’s always that moment of desperation where you find friends you didn’t even known you had.

My first Across the Margin piece talked about my struggle to find a place back here on American soil. The irony that I could afford to pay the debt from my six years of higher education with the work I did abroad is something that still occasionally irks me. But there is a great anecdote about my hysterical pursuit of meaning in this strange, unhealthy, mysterious land—I am now a community college instructor. Not only that, I teach English and Japanese classes at a private language institute. When I finally cracked, when distraught plans to move had me selling my car to the first bidder, quitting my low-paying jobs, and ambling recklessly onto the next premature question mark of my life, that was the month I got the call for an interview. That was the month I was hired on the spot to teach privately. That was the month I got a big shove from the universe for making a passionate, blind dash for a cause that truly felt right for me.

Can destiny manifest itself? How the hell should I know? I just know that any time I have become truly rabid for something, it has poured itself into my life like a cosmic ray of you-get-what-you-wish-for. I’ve eaten, slept, and thought about nothing but whatever my next big move was, any time I was trying to make something a reality. I was willing to do anything for it.

Another thing I can tell you –it doesn’t hurt. Getting what you want is not something that is painful. You don’t have to kill yourself for it. Yes, you have to want it, you have to work for it, you have to be clear in your intent, but it doesn’t make you sick or miserable. You just know that not having it will make you sick or miserable. The end-goal feels just right. Different from “fake it ‘til you make it”, to be sure. Mostly because there is nothing fake about one’s desire to make their existence more hospitable.1

My next big endeavors are continuing to work in higher ed, going to grad school for another degree, finally procuring that resounding consensual “yes” I’ve been longing for, and eventually traipsing around the globe again, doing good and making memories.

I’m sincerely done with being sad all the time. It’s tedious and boring and limiting. I’ve got lots of reasons to be sad, but so the fuck what? No one does anything good with their lives counting all their battle wounds. You can look in the mirror at your scars all day long and all you do is relive the time you got slashed in the face. Scars are cool, and they are important reminders of the past, but that’s about it. Time to slap some anti-bac on, suture up, and get a running start on this jump into whatever not being sad all the time feels like. It’s an excellent time for the novelty of feeling good2

  1. Obviously, this doesn’t work for relationships. This is, unfortunately, the one area in which I have yet to really shine. But I seem to have an endless, euphoric supply of try in me, so I’ll keep using it. []
  2. This impeccably detailed ceramic sculpture pictured atop this piece is called Cycles of Decay, and was created by ceramicist Christopher David White. []
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