It's late afternoon on a Sunday, and I am sitting at my desk working on a project for my Life Book art class. It's a painting of Frida Kahlo. The front door is open and the weather has been changing in Arkansas, from unbearably hot and uncomfortable to sunny, cool and almost Fall-like. We had just finished sitting beside the fire pit in the backyard where the kids were roasting marshmallows and making s'mores, and then we played a couple games of volleyball.
Suddenly, it hits me.
I feel . . . happy.
You may be thinking, "So what?"
But for me this was a huge deal. I struggle with happiness. My default setting is probably "mildly frustrated and slightly melancholy with a few glimpses of contentment every now and then."
For Me, Medication Wasn't An Option
For anyone who as ever struggled with anxiety/depression and the like, maybe you identify.
I actually saw a therapist for two sessions in Spring of 2017. I had agreed to visit her after a complicated series of events involving my immediate family members. I saw the visits as fulfilling my duty, i.e. "keeping my word" when I agreed to go. I ended up not going past the first two sessions for two reasons:
- In the course of discussing one of the issues that had brought me there, the therapist flat out told me my feelings were wrong about a situation that I had been dealing with. This really threw me for a loop. The therapist actually said, and I quote, "Oh no, I have to disagree with you about this, you're completely wrong." How in the world can a professional who I am seeing to help me with a situation tell me my feelings are wrong?
- She recommended prescribing anti-depressants. Now, please don't misunderstand, I am not against people choosing to take anti-depressant medication. I am just against ME taking anti-depressant medication.
The first point was why I stopped going to the therapist, but the second point is what got me thinking about why I struggle so hard to "be happy."
The therapist explained that I was potentially depressed, and that medication would help to basically block my brain from going down those depressive connections that had been formed. Essentially, as I understood it, my brain had slowly wired itself for depression and medication would short circuit that habitual brain pathway. I flat out turned her down. Nope. No way.
It wasn't that it didn't make sense to me. It really did.
I don't personally want to be medicated. I'm 39 and I've never been on medication for anything. What if I'm not "me" on medication? What if it takes months and a bunch of experimenting to find out what the "right" medicine and dosage is for me? What if there are side effects that are worse than the problems I am already dealing with?
I would rather deal with the bouts of anxiety and the meltdowns I tend to have when life and my feelings about life get overwhelming than be numbed to all of it.
In short, I would rather choose to know I might be mildly depressed and deal with it. Maybe work to slowly change it. But to face a future where I depend on medicine for the rest of my life to have a false sense of happiness? I just don't think that's right for me.
If you do have depression or other conditions, and you have chosen medicine to help you, I have nothing but respect for your choice. It's hell watching the rest of the world function and (at least pretend) to be happy and to wonder day after day why you just mostly live in negativity or at best, neutrality.
It's hell to KNOW how "good you have it" but be unable to muster up more than a brief acknowledgement of this because right on the heels of that thought are the twenty thoughts that have you wondering how it will all fall apart or what will happen to derail the good feeling you are having right now.
Why Standard Advice Might Not Work for Someone Who is Already Depressed
I'm sorry, but it pisses me off to hear so many say, "Just think positive!" or" Just be thankful!" as if I can undo a lifetime of patterns and conditioning and actual brain connections from one moment to the next and "be more positive."
I don't think people who don't struggle with depression realize how unhelpful that advice is. I know they're trying to help and those types of things DO work for them, but I think there's a reason for that.
A depressed person is having to deal with the overwhelming task of going from "Depressed to Happy" or "Negative to Positive," where a person who doesn't already struggle with depression is going from "tiny setback to happiness." They are already starting way ahead of where I am starting . . . it's like trying to beat someone in a footrace when they are allowed to start the race a whole lap ahead of me.
It may not be impossible, but it sure will make it a hell of a lot harder.
That's why it was such a big deal for me to realize and (more importantly) acknowledge that I was sitting at my desk and feeling happy. Because for that moment, it was a feeling of happiness about everything, not just one brief moment or situation. We had a good weekend, the kids were having fun, everyone was doing things they wanted to be doing, nobody was upset or angry, I had time to organize and clean out some overly cluttered areas of the house that had been ignored for FAR too long, while also having time after to paint, which is possibly my favorite thing in the world to do.
And, most important, I was able to stop my usual stream of consciousness to check in for a moment and identify what I was feeling and why. I can pick out and death spiral those negative feelings in seconds!
But this was a good feeling and I knew it, and more importantly, it lasted.
What I'm Working On:
I started a painting for my Life Book class. The subject is Frida Kahlo. (if you're interested in what Life Book is, registration for the 2018 Life Book class starts September 12. It's a year long art class and is pretty awesome. I highly recommend! Life Book 2018 Registration
Here are some progress shots of my drawing and painting.
Plus, I made a cool morph video with an app I downloaded called "Morphy," which was a lot of fun:
Please let me know what you think . . . is the standard "think happy thoughts" advice misguided? Do you think it applies to everyone? Do you have a moment where you realized you were feeling happy? Please leave a comment!