When you wake up, what's your first thought about the day? Some people wake up happy always. I don't understand them, but they do exist. After I get past it can't possibly be time to get out of bed, is there a way I can exercise later in the day so I can skip the gym and go back to sleep and is it raining, (which may be yet another excuse to skip the gym) what pops into my head is the most important thing I have to do that day. Which can inspire nervousness, excitement, happy anticipation or, on occasion, dread.
The latter is an unpleasant emotion. At certain points in my life--following a huge move, in the aftermath of a miscarriage, during the process of a divorce--it dominated my first moments of consciousness for what seemed like a long time. Getting out of bed and putting one foot in front of the other took all I had, and yet through those times I gained a brief understanding of the strength of those who engage in a daily struggle against long-term depression. It felt like dragging around a wet, heavy coat on a March day by the lake, and I am grateful that darkness eventually passed for me.
But dread is also useful, if we listen to it. If it persists over a long time and you know in your gut you aren't in the grips of clinical depression, then something in you is telling you it's time to go. Time to leave a job that is soul-deadening because of what it entails or because of a boss who is mean, crazy or both. Out of a relationship that is dead or abusive, a living space that is too expensive or too big or too cramped, a city that lacks opportunity or the weather you want.
Life has taught me to listen to that nagging feeling. Once I recognize it, I am almost subconsciously propelled towards change. It doesn't mean quitting my job that very day. It does, however, recalibrate my thinking, almost subconsciously, into resourcefulness. What job do I want next? How do can learn some of the skills I need for it in my current spot? Where might I find such a job? Once I start formulating a plan, the dread becomes bearable, because I know it's transient.
But some changes are much easier than others. Breaking up with someone you've dated for a few months is different than upending a marriage of a few decades; leaving a dead-end job when you're in your twenties is easier than jettisoning a career in which you've invested a lifetime; moving out of an apartment you've outgrown after a couple of years doesn't compare with leaving a house that once held cherished hopes for a family history. Dread is the canary in the mine, warning us of the inevitable. Contentment can often show up after we've come out the other side and haven't yet looked up.
About two years after my husband of sixteen years moved out, I had an odd moment, just about mid-way on my hour commute to work. It was early spring and the sun was out, which it usually is in North Texas. I was listening to music and motoring along in my 2001 Honda Civic, dents and all. An unfamiliar feeling came over me, and I wondered, what is that? I think I feel...happy? Happy!
Now, not every day. But once I manage to get up and put on my running shoes (or my work clothes, if resolve has lost out to a warm bed) it's usually not bad at all.