My parents almost named me Sunshine.
Hippies the way only East Coasters who moved to San Francisco in the early ’70s could be, my parents meditated on roofs, toured the country in a renovated bread truck, ate tofu pudding, grew a lot of hair, did things with crystals that I still don’t understand, adopted a stray mutt and named it Freedom, and eventually pondered naming their first child after the stuff that comes off the star around which our entire solar system revolves.
Which, come to think of it, might have worked for me. HI, I AM THE CENTER OF THE UNIVERSE. THANKS FOR NOTICING.
As you may have cleverly surmised from my header, they didn’t. Because what if I…wasn’t? As cheerful as the name implies, that is. I know they worried about this. Few other names come with such specific expectations of good nature. What if I was ornery? Angry? Tinged with ennui? Draped in a blanket of deep melancholy? What if I asked for smelling salts and a fainting couch for my fourteenth birthday? There’s a lot of misfire potential in christening a child Sunshine.
As it happens, calling me Sunshine wouldn’t have been as much of a lie as, say, Grace or Chastity. But this is not something a parent can know until long after the birth certificate needs signing.
I consider myself a happy person. Except when I’m not. Because I’ve been all those things: angry, ornery, marinated in ennui and melancholy. It wouldn’t be a huge exaggeration to say that I’ve lost years of my life to depression. To save my mother the worried phone call, it may or may not have been true depression, but I certainly didn’t do what I was capable of for years, simply because I was trying to get through them. To untangle myself from that blanket of melancholy. (They sell them at Ikea. Don’t buy one.) But I decided I wanted to get through those years in my own way and so I did. And that was exactly what I needed to get where I am – a place that, on most days, I’m pretty darn happy with.
You get to choose who you are. Your parents name you something, your family develops a certain expectation of you, your friends know you as one thing or another – but none of that matters. You get to choose. You choose who you are and who you become. By choosing what you pay attention to and where you put your focus. By focusing on your life and no one else’s. Focusing on what you want that life to be. On what makes you happy.
I have a lot of joy in me. In large part because that’s what I’ve chosen to cultivate. I was born with a lot of potential for happiness, but I was also born with a lot of potential for the other thing. I choose what I want to lean into. I have to keep choosing it every day. We all do.