I'm finally willing to admit, only to myself, that I think it's so hard for me to set goals or value delayed gratification these days because I just can't picture myself alive in 10 years. I hate myself too much and feel like almost everyone in my life has failed me. It makes it really hard to dream or focus or feel drive toward self development. Might as well enjoy more visceral or carnal pleasures now. In a sense I've always been this way, but in another sense it's the opposite of who I actually am. Anyone else feel this contradiction?
My guess is most people have a complicated relationship with the concept of “happiness,” but I’ll speak for myself in saying that as someone living with mental health challenges, the way our society talks about happiness can be particularly difficult. Happiness is so often pitched, through news stories, cliche quotes, movie plots and more, as someting one “chooses,” almost as if through moral superiority or enlightenment.
When I’m feeling depressed, when self-loathing overcomes me, it feels impossible to “choose” happiness, and knowing that I “should” just makes me feel guilty for not being able to do so.
The quote below about happiness did really resonate with me though. Yes, I found it while Googling the very cliche quotes I dismissed above. While I think the societal/widespread idea of “overcoming challenges” and “choosing happiness” hurts our understanding of mental health and those living with mental health challenges, as a person I do enjoy seeking new perspectives and hanging on to a mantra or two. Disclaimer: I’m not familar Stephanie Dowrick or her work.
“Happiness can come in a single moment. And in a single moment it can go again. But a single moment does not create it. Happiness is created through countless choices made and then made again throughout a lifetime. You are its host as well as its guest. You give it form, shape, individuality, texture, tone. And what it allows you to give can change your world. Happiness can be stillness. But it isn’t still. It wraps, enchants, heals, consoles, soothes, delights, calms, inspires and connects. It is on your face and in your body. It is in your life and being.”
STEPHANIE DOWRICK, Choosing Happiness
Written March 28, 2014
Yesterday, I was really happy. I wanted to write about. I thought specifically, “I should write about this.” I thought specifically “right now I cannot relate even one small bit to being sad, to the other side of me. I acknowledge that it exists, but right now I can’t force myself to feel it even if I tried.” I didn’t write about it yesterday, though. I was too busy walking with pep, learning Spanish, and eating cookies with no regret. I was too busy looking forward to things, feeling things, smiling without tears.
Today, I think about yesterday and I smile, but with the tears. This morning, no. This morning was great. I was at work and I didn’t mind, and it was fun and it was good. I felt okay. Then came Friday afternoon and the world was mine—mine to do as I pleased, living in a country far from home, in a bustling city, on the first day that actually feels like fall. But I didn’t take Friday afternoon, it took me. It swallowed me whole, but slowly, digesting me bit by bit until the sadness engulfed my whole brain in its slimy monster throat.
At first it’s scary, the feeling of being swallowed, then familiar. Then I want to resist, then I try to breathe into it. I know that it won’t last forever—there will be breaths without it, if brief. I try to think about yesterday, but again I can’t relate. Even trying, I cannot make my soul feel as light as it did yesterday, as naturally happy, as comfortable. I cannot make myself feel like I did yesterday, with no self-pity, no confusion, no desperation and fear that I might really be this unpredictably up-and-down forever.
Tonight I’m wondering if “the one” is out there. The one who can cure me, the one I will finally let cure me. I’m not thinking about a romantic relationship, a passionate love. I’m just thinking about a therapist. A professional. Surely there has got to be someone. I hope they’re in New York City. Then I had a brief moment of fantasy—what do people who aren’t like this think about with all that extra brain space? All that extra emotional capacity? All those extra pillowcases they haven’t ruined from runny mascara? How do people feel, with maybe 85% happiness and 10% self-conciousness and anxiety mixed with sadness and 5% just pure, raw, illogical sadness, instead of my special recipe of maybe 55%, 25%, 20%? At the same time, the real fantasy is like- who would I be without this? What would I think about? Who would I be? I’m partly convinced that you/I can’t have great highs without great lows. I’m partly convinced this is part of what makes me, me. But I’m also convinced it’s scary and makes my chest tight, my actual heart ache, my actual brain feel netted in with a giant finger trap.
Writing helps though. It does help. Like I’m squigeeing all the badness down, down, letting the black water drip into text and off of me. Like I’m wringing the dishtowel, squeeeezing it out.
Right now, after writing, my head feels happier—there’s a lightness that wasn’t there before. But behind my eyes still hurt, they still sting from it. My nose too. I have another cry in me perhaps, a few more silent sobs, or maybe just tears.
Before it took me completely, I was having a nice thought conversation with myself, reflections on what I’ve learned this year. It mostly focused on my new deep, deep, appreciation for the kindness of others, the welcoming of others. How important it is in life to make the extra step to welcome someone new, and then I thought, maybe it’s just as important to just welcome everyone, be sincerely kind and welcoming to everyone. Just because we’re not new, doesn’t mean we’re not lost.
That was corny.
Written February 25, 2014
It’s back. It’s burrowing deep within me, winding its way through tunnels filled with love and contentment, leaving tarlike anxiety in its wake. Every little thing, every little thing I know doesn’t matter, isn’t a big deal, has joined hands, banded together to come knock on my door and say “and you thought you could get away.” The knee, the missing photo, the bad haircut, the late class, the Brazil photos, impending school, Jessie’s flu, the misbehaving pill, the horrible music playing in this café, my dwindling bank account… it’s all swirled together now, they’ve all built a cheerleading pyramid on my shoulders, trying to push me down. And it’s working.
After writing that, I feel close to shaking it. Suddenly I do, it’s true. I feel optimistic, like I want to smile. I want to leave this café and go to a museum, wander around and draw my attention outside myself. Then I remember my knee, my late class, the photos. I have things to do.