Growth, and with It, Happiness

In an ideal world, right now I would be out day-drinking with my friends. I would have had a lovely breakfast of French toast, good coffee, sausages and a fruit salad. I would have received so many Mpesa messages that I would be unable to receive any more money. I would be wearing a new dress and new shoes and a shade of lipstick that looks like it was made for me and me alone. I would have had my hair cut by Jose (my barber, whom I trust so much that I can doze off while he cuts my hair; a feat that’s quite incredible considering this experience around my birthday two or three years ago) yesterday and the skin on my face would have given me a break from the battle I have been fighting with it since I was 17. I would have had chicken wings with a side of something (because for me the chicken wings are the main meal) and a vanilla milkshake for lunch. Later tonight I would allow the little ratchetness that exists somewhere within me to unleash itself, probably in a club of my friend Leila’s choosing, until the sun comes up on the second day of my being 25 years old. Or, more realistically, until 1:00 am, at which point sleep would take over and my legs would give way and Leila would have no choice but to let me go home because I imagine it is quite a task to take care of a drunk lightweight who has decided to fall asleep in a club.

Instead, I am at a home, with my family, not day-drinking because though my mother has finally accepted that her children know what alcohol tastes like, I doubt she is prepared to see one of them drinking at 2:00 pm, only one hour after they woke up. I imagine it would be too much. My Mpesa looks rather pitiful, I am not wearing anything new, Jose has not seen my hair in three months, the break out on my face is giving no indication of showing mercy any time soon, I have not known the taste of chicken wings since Valentine’s Day and the little ratchetness inside me is going to throw a fit when it finds out that it will not be unleashed even on my birthday, which is the one day a year when I allow it to do as it pleases.

It is not an ideal world.

I realised, a couple of days ago when I was journaling, that it has been ten years since I was a 15-year-old in Form One. I would say a ‘bright-eyed 15-year-old’ but we practise honesty in this house – I don’t think I have ever been ‘bright-eyed’. Being irritable, pessimistic and fed up of how the world works and humans in general has been part of my brand basically my whole life. But it’s been ten years. So much has changed. So much has stayed the same.

For example, ten years ago, I was full of teen angst and anxiety. Now I’m just full of anxiety. See? Growth.

I like to think of my personality as fairly stable. Though my beliefs and values have changed over the last 10 years, my interests have remained largely unchanged. I liked books then, I like books now. I loved my friends then, I love my friends now – most of them are even the exact same friends. (The fact that I have barely made new friends since high school says a lot about me but we will delve into that another day). I loved shows like Friends then, I love shows like Friends now, even though my politics have changed and a lot of what is portrayed in those shows is now hard to watch. I still listen to the same kind of music I loved then (except there is now a lot less gospel music because the devil took a foothold and everything) and I still cry like a big baby at literally everything. I still enjoy writing and singing, though I do those two things far less frequently than I did ten years ago. I blame Twitter. And adult life in general.

So in some ways, 15-year-old Michelle and 25-year-old Michelle are the same person. Apart from the attachment (or lack thereof, in the case of Present Michelle) to church, the biggest change is that Present Michelle is…happy.

Maybe it was the teen angst and the perpetual despondency and the sense that I was always standing right next to a big, black hole that I could fall into at any time and would never be able to climb out of…but 15-year-old Michelle was not familiar with happiness. She was afraid. Of failure, of rejection, of not being good or beautiful or smart or likeable enough, of risks, of becoming happy and then immediately losing that happiness forever, of change, of the unknown future, of losing everything she had. She was afraid of everything and that fear drove her. Happiness could not settle in a body like that. Even when happiness came, the experience was fleeting, over before she could begin to enjoy it. It was quickly replaced with guilt about not being happy despite her many privileges (‘What right do I have to be this way when so many people in the world have so much less than I do?’), and even more fear.

I wish I could say that one day I stopped being afraid and I am now an incredible human being because of it, going after my dreams swift as a coursing river, with all the force of a great typhoon and all the strength of a raging fire. But again, we practise honesty here. I am still afraid and my dreams are still fast enough that it is a struggle to chase them, especially because I hate running. But my fear has grown a little smaller every year since then, with every brave decision I have made. And this year, I resolved to be less afraid, to take more risks, to take more chances on myself. Of course the universe clearly had other ideas, seeing as a pandemic and the collective selfishness and stupidity of humans are currently threatening our entire existence. Obviously I will not be displaying my newfound bravery by going ziplining or getting a nose piercing any time soon because you know, social distancing and all, but 25-year-old Michelle is still the bravest of all the versions of me there have ever been (also the most optimistic) and it is one of the biggest achievements of my life.

Twenty-five-year-old Michelle knows what peace and contentment feel like. She enjoys the little things. She can slow down and take everything in. She can listen to herself and know what she needs. She can say no. She can listen to someone criticise her and not fall apart. She can make mistakes and not spend the next six months consumed by that mistake. She can be gentle with herself. She can handle change.

Twenty-five-year-old Michelle is happy.

The result of which is that the boulders that 2020 has thrown at her so far – like a pandemic, post-breakup hurt and losing her job – have not broken her. She is taking it in stride and she is taking care of herself. That’s always an impressive feat, no?

So today, despite everything that has not turned out like I had intended, in this unideal world, I am happy.

I did have a lovely breakfast of French toast, sausages, fruit and not-that-great coffee. I put on a dress I already had, shoes I already had and lip gloss that may have been made for me as well as a bunch of other people. I combed my not-cut-for-three-months hair, did my skincare routine and showed my body gentleness. I dragged my sister outside to capture my birthday radiance in the abroad sun using her iPhone because though I am not invested in the Android vs iPhone debate, I must admit the photos in my phone do not compare with the ones in hers. I did not have lunch because the aforementioned breakfast was had at 1:00 pm but I will have chicken stew for supper and vanilla ice cream for dessert – a worthy substitute for chicken wings and a vanilla milkshake. I will sit with my family and laugh and read birthday messages from my friends and think about how much I have changed in 25 years and how much I will change in the next 25. I will avoid thinking about my pitiful Mpesa balance because I truly do not need that kind of negative energy today. I will have a glass of alcohol and feel a nice buzz and maybe dance to Beyoncé and Bruno Mars with my sister in our shared bedroom. I will feel love and gratitude and joy and calm.

Fifteen-year-old Michelle would be proud.

Still, when the outside opens, I am 100% day-drinking with my friends and unleashing the little ratchetness that exists within me in a club of Leila’s choosing until the reasonable hour of 1:00 am. That still counts as ‘mpaka che’, guys.

Fifteen-year-old Michelle would not be proud.

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