I Have a Complicated Relationship With Happiness

leandra medine cohen personal essay man repeller


‘ve been out of the office for three months. I think this has afforded me enough mental space to think new thoughts without working myself up about how I can apply them to a story pitch or business proposal, which almost always stops a new thought before it can articulate a conclusion. It also, counterintuitively, urges me to want not just to write, but share. Or maybe a lot of new stuff really does come up after you give birth, and all of that has reoriented the way I interact with the world. This, too, urges me to want not just to write, but share. So ultimately, no matter how it’s sliced, I face a vague dilemma: What is worth sharing when it comes to my life as I now know it, and what is not?

I don’t know that I would be asking this question (born out of insecurity, to be sure) if it were not for the various comments that have recently been populating my articles and photos. They’ve run a spectrum ranging from the damned if you do (“…forget where you came from,” when I project elation) to the damned if you don’t (“…drop the self-pitying act,” when I acknowledge the period prior to conception).

I’ve been writing for the internet long enough to recognize that I am both capable and willing to take what is constructive and discard what is not when it comes to feedback, but recently, the emotional apparatus that has facilitated my discerning the helpful from the malicious seems to be operating out of whack.

So where do I draw the line on sharing my shit? Do I draw it at all? Am I feeling self-conscious about what I’m putting out because I gave birth so recently? For at least as long as I have come into motherhood, I feel like I’m running around town like an open vessel full of dubious objects that just won’t close. It doesn’t make me feel any better or worse, but it does present a related, internal question: Am I actually feeling all of this because I don’t believe I deserve to be happy? That it’s okay I’m no longer in a constant state of self-inflicted agony?

I know for sure that I don’t feel as “in touch” with myself and therefore my surroundings when I’m happy — like I am liable to hurt someone by simple virtue of existing, but what is the point at which I must make a decision to acknowledge the state of my vessel? To plunge forth unapologetically as I let you know what I had for lunch and why the shoes I wore impacted the experience or simply resolve to stop sharing altogether?

It’s weird because here I’ve been grappling with the pursuit of happiness for as long as I can remember — trying so hard to see it, feel it, do whatever I can to be it — but now that I’ve achieved a version of it, I can’t accept it out of fear of losing touch. Becoming unrelatable. What is that? And why am I synonymizing happiness with unrelatability? Is this a byproduct of growing up and recognizing myself as a speck in the world as opposed to the reason it’s here at all? Or is it innate to who I am: neglectfully self-aware at best, a tortured soul at worst?

I have only ever recognized myself as thoughtful during moments of extreme anxiety or desperation. These moments have forced my head back onto my body and my feet back onto the ground. From a place of pain and fragility, I don’t fear misunderstanding. The language of heartbreak, vulnerable and unrestrained by ego, somehow seems more universal. But when I am happy, I feel like a version of me that is impulsive and fast-moving and accidentally insensitive. Does this then mean that I believe I only have something worthwhile to say when I’m depressed? That my opinions hold less value when I’m not? Or does the very happiness I am describing hold another layer of baggage?

Now that I’ve put pen to paper, it’s occurring to me that this conflict has little to do with happiness or my relationship to internet-sharing — I am, after all, the most extreme version of a desperate open book: unchained and eager for someone to pick me up and engage, so I’m not sure I even have the discipline to censor what I put out and what I don’t. Why even bother asking if I should share? Do I want validation? A parade of echoes begging that I never stop? It is likely, but also unnecessary, so please, don’t appease me.

More feasibly, I’d like to think that evolution is starkly in motion — that perspectives are shifting and thus require a new method of interaction. But I only know what I know, so I can only think and live and express within those boundaries. They are honest and elastic and curious boundaries to be sure, but they’re also quite narrow by simple virtue of belonging to just one person.

Maybe what I’m really grappling with is a new reality that Man Repeller has matured past my vantage point. This is, no question, worth celebrating: this platform aims to highlight and celebrate a range of different purviews distributed by the gift of voice — to call attention to stories that deserve to be heard and ideas that should be expounded upon. But it’s also, interestingly, left me at a new juncture: returning from maternity leave and wondering what my perspective adds. Questioning my worth outside of the newborn nest, trying to figure out why I’m here. The answer is likely not buried within the trenches of a coiled personal essay, but it’s a work in progress.

Photo via @leandramcohen.

Leandra M. Cohen

Leandra M. Cohen is the founder of Man Repeller.

More from Archive