I know I have gone through quite the transformation over the years. But it's weird to think of myself as "joyful". Dude, I was voted "best bag lady" in 9th grade. I wore black Wet 'n' Wild eyeliner that was constantly smudged. Waterproof, my ass. They obviously poked rabbits in the eyes while testing their product, not sensitive sixteen year old girls, because, you know, bunnies are tougher. It's hard for me now, even though I actively feel joy in my life, to think of myself as a "joyful" person.
Why do we have such fixed ideas about our identity?
It's like how while I was growing up I was always one of the tallest kids in the class, by a whole head. I was a giant. Everyone said, oh, that girl's gonna grow up and play basketball. But then I stopped growing in fourth grade. By ninth grade, when most of my peers had begun puberty, they had caught up with me, and in most cases, surpassed me. By a whole head, or more.
And yet, it's hard for me to think of myself as a short person, even though I'm only 5'3". At this exact same height I was called a giant at age ten and shorty at the age of forty-four. It's weird how the connotations of a definition change as we get older.
I lived most of my life with a miserable soundtrack playing in the back of my mind. I didn't start to feel fully functional as an adult, as mentally stable as an adult in our society should be, until these last few years. So even though I evidently exude joy outwardly, that doesn't mean there's a dance party going on inside my head. A person can smile, even make you laugh (see: Robin Williams, et al), and feel shitty on the inside at the same time.
Maybe a visual will help.
If you want insight into what life was like for me as a teenager, watch this video.
Only imagine me, a sixteen year old misfit, recovering anorexic and sexual abuse survivor with PTSD and Major Depressive Disorder, lying on the couch in the afternoon on a school day, faking sick while my parents are both at work. My siblings have all grown up and moved away. The quiet house envelopes me. I lie on the couch and do as little as possible.
I'm wearing the same thing I wore yesterday, a hippie patchwork skirt my mom made me when I refused to wear any of the clothes they sold at the godawful mall near our house in the suburbs. I'm lying under an afghan that's made from the same yarn Mom used to make the poncho I wore in elementary school that I'd long ago outgrown.
Do you see what I'm saying? I'm a yarn-loving girl living in a polyester world. I listen to Creedence Clearwater Revival on 101 The Fox, long before "The Big Lebowski" made CCR a thing again. I like some modern music, but nothing Top-40. Oh dear God, no. At least not from the American market. I like British pop music. Of course. How can one be an angsty adolescent in the 80s and not fall in love with The Smiths?
So I'm lying there on the couch, watching "The Andy Griffith Show" or whathaveyou, and then this exercise program comes on and it's like I'm trapped inside a cocoon of my own making in front of a box full of flashy, hyper humans encouraging me to haul my ass off the couch and join them WITH A BIG FAKE SMILE ON MY FACE.
Oh, dear God, no.
I much prefer to get my exercise by running into my bedroom, jumping into bed, and working my abs as my torso heaves with each sob.
Joyful? Really? You see me now, and you think I look joyful, but I'm actually afraid of that word. When you grow up miserable surrounded by the overly-commercialized forced joy of the 80s, it's difficult to overcome the urge to check behind your back to see if any 80s fitness instructors are bouncing your way whenever you hear that word.