Nice: pleasant, agreeable, satisfactory
Kind: having or showing a friendly, generous, and considerate nature
As a child, I desired nothing short of sainthood and believed I had some divine calling. At seven, I felt convinced I had a vision from my mom’s brother who died in a drunk driving accident long before my conception. He told me to donate the remainder of my first communion money, which was one of my first experiences having my own money, to the visiting priest from Mexico. This priest traveled around asking for donations toward the poor village he lived in. Of course, this “vision” didn’t change me enough to stop me from being a kid. I still picked on others and got picked on myself.
When I got old enough to start applying what I learned in catechism to real life, I misinterpreted sainthood as being nice. By the time high school came around, the saint thing seemed a little extreme, but I still took my relationship with “God” seriously, and I thought that required being nice. It probably only made things more intense that my parents also emphasized being nice. In fact, I might go as far to say I learned that being nice trumped everything else in importance.
I sacrificed a lot of myself to be nice. Not the Biblical idea of sacrificing myself for a good cause either. There are countless times I allowed myself to be walked on and put myself in negative/unhealthy situations trying to be nice and help others who didn’t want help. It seemed to pay off when I won the award for “Nicest” in High School. I felt a sense of relief when anyone told me how nice he or she believed me to be. This is not to boast, because somewhere I internalized the idea that being called nice served as proof of my worthiness to live. Not sure where or when I subconsciously got the idea that I didn’t deserve to live (would’ve never admitted these thoughts to myself). I’m guessing it connects with all that “ I’m not worthy” and guilt-based stuff catechism emphasized. This mindset proved to be fertile soil for depression later on.
I don’t know when my depression officially began. I think certain types of personalities are more prone to it, and I can remember having depressive thoughts as far back as seven. This could be because of all the time spent thinking and reflecting, even at a young age. Although I appreciated having plenty of friends, I still felt isolated because no one wanted to talk about all of the other stuff on my mind.
My youthful sadness is difficult for people to believe, because I smiled more than any of my siblings. People tell me what a happy child they believed me to be. They aren’t remembering incorrectly. Depressive people, when healthy, seem to be able to feel overwhelming amounts of joy. Combine that with a child’s natural ability to feel pure bliss, and I remember moments of euphoria.
Chemical imbalances run rampant in my family. The symptoms or actual chemical imbalance didn’t occur in me until later in high school when the panic attacks began. Due to being unaware of what these sick spells meant, they felt even more terrifying than they already are. I remember telling family and friends about how I’d woke up sweating and feeling like I might vomit and pee my pants at the same time. We all laughed at the absurdity and shrugged it off. They didn’t happen regularly, so I just kept on living my nice life until I physically couldn’t.
I don’t want to reflect too much on my recovery yet, because I’m sure it will come up often. Also, people in recovery are always in recovery. It’s part of my life forever. This frustrates many people–that we can never fully recover, but what does that even mean? Recovery is a journey that overlaps with life perfectly. Both require constant seeking of wisdom and courage.
Mentioning recovery seemed necessary to understand my healthier thoughts about being nice. I’m not impressed by niceness anymore (And why yes, I did allude to a Shania Twain song in the title of this entry). Sociopaths are nice if it helps them get what they want. Society revolves around empty niceness. Because, let’s face it, being nice helps us get further in life. I am beginning to understand that niceness is not the same thing as kindness and integrity. Sometimes, in our language, we use the word nice to describe some sort of kindness or act of integrity. I don’t want people to think I mean the opposite of nice is mean or rude. Being mean and rude is just plain unnecessary. I’ve only just started to uncover that most of the people we hold up as role models weren’t nice. They stirred up ruckus and rebellion and refused to tolerate injustices. I watched a documentary on Thomas Merton and then a separate one on the historical Jesus—both people who are held up very highly by many individuals regardless of religion. Turns out, they were not nice people. They were kind, compassionate, and full of integrity. I’m slowly learning to worry a little less about being nice and seek the courage to be kind, compassionate, and full of integrity. It’s a life long journey with no ending that guarantees “success” or “perfection.” There will always be times I choose the easy path instead of the right one, but it goes back to that Buddhist story. I’m just saving whatever starfish I can along my life path, focusing on the ones I tossed back instead of those I failed to save.