I’ve lost track of the amount of times someone has said to me, “happiness is a choice”. It’s like they truly believe everyone who is battling depression or anxiety has woken up that morning and thought, “do I want to be happy today? No, I’ll take another day of darkness”. Happiness is sadly not a choice, no matter what the self-help books and their charlatan authors will tell you.
I started my new role completely oblivious to the fact that it was going to change my life. To me, in that moment, it was just another stepping stone, a rung in my career ladder. The team I joined was much smaller than previous ones, but they were a brilliant bunch. Ages varied from 19 to late 50’s, the jokes were flying, and most of us loved to go for a few post work drinks at one of the local watering holes. Had the stars aligned? Was this my holy grail?
I now had a good work and social life, albeit with the same people, but who cares? I had found some relatively like minded, laid back, fun people to share my time with. Perfect! Work was going ok, slightly boring at times, but I didn’t mind. I was starting to feel like I was finding my feet. On one of our post work drink evenings, I had the encounter that would change my life. “Who’s that?!“, I asked my boss. He had been in the organisation for years, he was the guy that knew everyone. If he didn’t know them, they weren’t worth knowing… “watch out mate, don’t get your hopes up“, came the response. I wasn’t one to run away from a challenge. I sparked up conversation, and in that initial moment I knew this wasn’t just another random person, there was something different. Something special.
Over the next couple of weeks we both engineered social meet ups, sometimes only the two of us turned up. But that didn’t matter. In fact, that was what we wanted. Some time to get to know each other. Around three weeks after our initial meeting, it was her birthday party. I was invited, along with a few other work people, however I was one of only two work friends who could make it.
Should I go on my own? To a party with 80 odd people, of whom I will know 2?
It was a Saturday, but not just any Saturday. It was my Grandma’s birthday. Part of me felt I shouldn’t go, it would be a bit awkward. I ended up discussing it with my Grandad. Naturally it was a tough day for us, that day always will be tinged with sadness following my Grandma’s passing, but my Grandad was insistent. “Just bloody GO! Don’t be a wimp, what’s the worst that could happen?“, cue montage of Dr Pepper adverts from years gone by. So there I was, sat in the train station, weighing up my options. My old friends texted me, they wanted a catch up at one of our old haunts. I had the perfect excuse to not go to the birthday party. But then, was it fate? She shares a birthday with my Grandma, exactly 40 years apart. It just feels right.
I boarded the train, unsure if I was making a huge mistake. It didn’t matter, I knew I needed to do this. I arrived at the venue, and I saw her. She came running over, and started to introduce me to her friends, to her best friend she announced, “this is the guy from work that I slept with“. Fantastic. What the hell do I say now?! After the initial awkwardness had died down, I relaxed a little. We spent the majority of the night together. As well as the day after, and the day after that. My life had changed. I had met my soul mate. I knew that night, in that crappy bar, that I had met the person I wanted to share the rest of my life with.
Happiness. I had finally found it. It had been elusive for so many years, that I didn’t really know what to do with it at first. We were going to parties, trying loads of new restaurants, taking day trips and short breaks to the seaside, practically living together. I moved in to the house she was renting shortly afterwards. Things were moving so quickly, but neither of us cared. We were in love. We planned our first holiday together, and then the second. We were working out arrangements for Christmas, birthday parties, spending time with each other’s family. I got another promotion at work, This was it. The stars now certainly had aligned. This was my holy grail.
Life wasn’t all sweetness and light, we all have ups and downs, peaks and troughs, that is to be expected. But the news I was to receive next knocked me for six. I received a phone call from Dad. Once again I was at work. My heart sank when I saw the call on my screen, I knew it wasn’t good news. I answered the call, but it was Mum speaking, not Dad. My eldest brother (half brother – from Dad’s previous marriage) had been in hospital for some tests and routine check ups. They had removed one of his kidneys a few months before due to a cancerous growth, but he had been given the all clear. The results were in, Mum held back her tears and said, “the cancer has spread, there’s not much they can do for him“.
Happiness is not a choice, it is a by-product of your life and your surroundings, and in the blink of an eye, my happiness had been shattered. I felt empty.