“Why are you always smiling?”

I just made the short walk from my front door to the bustling seafront. Welcomed by a bright blue sky and the open expanse of the horizon it was impossible to not take a large inhale of the fresh, clean air. Walking along the raised path next to the beach I could feel the warmth of the winter sun beaming vitamin D into my face. A smile was only natural. 

I had been walking a short while when I saw someone I had seen a couple of times whilst making this now regular journey. I nodded. They nodded and asked “Still smiling then? Why are you always smiling?” I thought for a second. Is it a false front? Is it the only thing I have left? Is it genuine? Finally, I answered. “The sun is out. Things could be a lot worse!” A genuine response. “Plus I am outside.” The man answered, “There are a lot of miserable people here!” I didn’t agree. No matter the weather in this beaten old British seaside town, there are always people walking and many are friendly. “If you want to see misery, catch a morning tube in London!”  

It’s been about six months since I left the city. Since I have stopped all antidepressants. My anxiety is near nil. My depression has lifted but I still have the odd dark thought. The crushing busyness of the city was too much for me. I feel defeatist saying that. I wanted to “succeed”. I wanted to fight against the odds and “win”. I didn’t… by a conventional standard. When I moved there I was a broken alcoholic. Functional, just about. With horrendous health. And worse finances. In the eight years I was there I got sober within a year. Paid off my debt within two. Travelled the world within six years. I could have stayed in the city after losing my job. Just to prove a point. I felt I’d proved enough. I saved and bought a house in a quiet town. Near a quiet beach. The silence is a welcome hug. I have become much more centred and calm. I still have moments of comparison. Moments were I think about the could have been. In each, the situation is ideal. It isn’t a reality. It is a “perfect” partner. In a “perfect” life. There is little joy in comparison. There is even less joy in comparison to the illusion of perfection. It only serves to punish. It is a form of psychological self-harm. 

For the first time in a long time, I have no goal. No great aspiration. It would be easy to get lost in life. To worry about what might or might not happen. But now I feel like a ship anchored in a calm sea. I was once a ship at the mercy of the storm that constantly raged in my chaotic mind. This has taken a long time. It has been a journey that often seemed like a waste of time. A spiritual journey I embarked on purely due to lack of options and desperation. I began meditating to try and get a grip. To get a hold of something solid that would give me hope. It took time. Practising gratitude came from a lack of financial ability to pursue the next fix. Walking came about due to not having the money to join a gym and needing to escape the house. Simple steps that have been found more than pursued. I sought answers everywhere in life. In alcohol mainly. Yet was often left with more questions. It was the simple things that have saved me. Friends I have made along the way. Journeys I have shared. Moments of divine beauty that would have been missed if I was still chattering for the next drink. 

“I shouldn’t really be smiling,” I said as we walked along. “I have lost my job and my Gran died recently. But there will be another job and my gran is no longer fighting for life.” The man told me about his experience when his mother passed. It had been a long and torrid demise under the cruelty of dementia. I was thankful that my nanna was relatively quick. “You gotta be tough to be old,” is what she used to say. I will miss talking to her. She was smart. I am happy she now is at peace.  

The man went one way and I another. A fleeting interaction. A simple gesture. Made possible by the simple steps of recovery. Of being present and in the moment. It may not be every day I feel that peace. As I return to work I am sure they will want a slice of my calm. It always seems to be the way. Whenever I have had moments of peace before, people have tried to destroy it. Envy? I don’t know but it is an unnatural world where somebody smiling is viewed with suspicion. As a culture, if we aren’t collapsing under the weight of an invisible cross we are not doing our bit. Fuck that. Life is too short. I used to think I was a martyr. As a teacher, the stress and anxiety were justifiable because I was doing it for the students. Then I realised if I wasn’t doing it someone else would be. I wasn’t special or different. I just wanted to feel that way and it was killing me. When I return to teaching, it will be on renewed terms. I’m not getting burnt out to hit quotas.  

I’ve made peace with the fact I won’t climb the slippery slope of career success. I’ve made peace with a lot of things. I guess that is “Why I am always smiling”.

Keep smiling, don’t let the bastards drag you down,  

Charlie.  

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