I’ve been talking a lot with friends and family about my mental health recovery. And in doing so I’ve had more time to think about what I did to get to where I am now. I’m not going to regale you with the whole story of my mental health journey because there are an infinite number of stories outlining bits and pieces of my journey.
All this to say, I know what it feels like to be unhappy.
Currently, that is not the case; but it’s not an overwhelming, jump for joy kind of happiness. It just exists. It’s the kind of happiness that means I only cry sometimes, have a decent handle on my mental health. It’s growth. It’s progress.
And before we go any further, I feel the need to disclaim something: I am not your therapist. What worked for me may not work for you. You have your own complex thoughts and feelings, and I am not trying to present a fix-all for depression. Let’s continue.
The pursuit of happiness is kind of a lie.
Not entirely. I’m not going as far as “Everything I’m Telling You is a Lie”
But something stinks a little like bullshit, and it’s the pursuit of happiness. People have created an industry around marketing happiness; books and TikTok accounts and – yes, I’ll say it – blogs, filled to the brim with how to “find happiness”. And some of it is beneficial and helps you reframe your ideas in a productive way. A personal favourite is from “The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck” in which the author says: all good things take hard work, if they were easy everyone would have them.
Which might be the perfect place to start. Happiness – like a nice ass or good teeth – is a constant work in progress. If you brush your teeth once, that does nothing; it is the cumulative act of flossing and brushing over time that allow you to maintain good teeth. Additionally, if you did 1,000 squats and deadlifts and glute bridges tomorrow (and lived to tell the tale) you may have a nice butt. However, if you stop working out, eventually you will regain your pancake-ass. Happiness is the same – you don’t wake up happy and stay there. You constantly have to engage and change and learn and adapt.
Happiness is elusive. There are days where it shows up to work and days where it decides to be a degenerate and leave you high and dry. And you don’t always get to pick which days are which. You can’t force happiness to show up to the round-table-meeting in your brain when it has other plans. More importantly, you can’t fight the days that suck. Sometimes you just need to let them pass and accept that bad days are part of the package.
But I think despite it being hard work and elusive there is one thing that I learned throughout becoming “happy” that I wish I could get written in the sky.
Happiness is a process.
You don’t wake up one day and flip a switch. You don’t roll over in bed and realise you’re finally on the right side. It is not sudden, and it is not immediate.
I’m going to tell you the story of my 19th birthday. I barely celebrated it, instead I had a panic attack and sat with my sister on my couch We ate poutine while I cried. And at the end she made a joke and I laughed. And in that laugh, there was levity, a moment where things were okay. A few weeks from then I played my first show in a bar, and again levity. And levity showed up in bursts and flashes. It appeared at study dates with my friends and watching The Avengers. However, the levity in contrast to the depression was exhausting. Every moment of happiness dropped me so hard back to rock bottom that it hurt.
I was chasing these moments. These breaks in the clouds, and I was so fixated on them. On finding more, collecting more, saving more moments like a chipmunk getting ready for winter. And I would cry to my sisters on the phone because I got so anxious that I couldn’t finish an exam, or I couldn’t attend a party, or I had to leave an event early because I was anxious. And my sisters would tell me:
“You used to hand in blank exams, but you finished most of this one”
“You used to decline party invitations, but you accepted this one”
“You used to not make it out the door of your apartment, but you made it to the bar”
Because that’s the final lesson I have about happiness: you don’t see it until you do. I said earlier you don’t wake up one day and a switch has flipped, which is partially true. You don’t flip a switch from unhappy to happy. But you do wake up one day and realise you're happy. It’s just when you least expect it.
There just comes a point where you realise you're happy
There just comes a point where you realise you're happy. A moment where you’re so caught up in life, where you haven’t thought about chasing down those elusive moments of levity. Where you realise that you’re no longer drowning in fear, panic, anxiety, and sadness.
I cannot tell you when I realised I was happy. When I realised that those “elusive moments” turned into common occurrence, but I at one point I realised that I was happy. I just was. At some point, between then and now I re-learned to be happy and I don’t entirely know how it happened.
This does not mean I’m happy all the time. This does not mean I know what I’m doing. This does not mean that I don’t work constantly and tirelessly on managing my mental health. I don’t get to stop working at it. I have a forever-illness and I know that, but I am happy.
I don’t want to give you advice on how to be happy, that would be hypocritical, and I am many things but (hopefully) not a hypocrite. But for me it has been such a long trek to happiness, I thought maybe sharing this might make sense to someone. It might bring you some peace of mind. It might bring you a second to breath. It might even bring you a moment of levity.
From me, with love, to you,