Depression and Happiness

Happiness has about as much to do with depression as hygiene has to do with being healthy.

Happiness definitely influences depression, and it is an important thing to learn in overcoming and living with depression, but there is so much more to treating depression than learning to be happy.

Depression is like a blanket that covers you from everything around you. It makes it hard to see the light. It makes you feel like there is nothing else in the world but how you feel right now. But as bad as it is, it makes you feel safe somehow. It makes you feel like if you stay in that state, if you isolate, if you don’t do anything but stay in bed and cry, you won’t have to deal with all the worse things in the world. Because while others around you see a world filled with light and hope, and they wonder why you are staying under a blanket when you “don’t have to,” you see the dark shadows of the world. 

You see the demons that hide inside of you and everyone else. You have nightmares that wake you up or make it hard to sleep. You feel the pain of the world- the hurt and neglect, the children that are abused or starving, the wars and violence and men and women that show no respect for others, that take advantage of people and tear people down and take away another person’s ability to feel human. You hear the screams that no one else seems to notice. You see the pain in the eyes of someone that has been hurt. 

In the depths of depression, depression can feel like a safe place because depression shows you everything wrong with the world and tells you that it is hopeless to fight against the dark and the only way to find peace is to get out. Depression tells you that getting out of depression will only make you have to face a broken world with no filter, with nothing between you and the hurt. Depression is your shield in an uncertain world because depression is very dependable.

Depression is there at the end of the day when the world is quiet and there is nothing left in you. Depression is there when you wake up in the morning. It is there when you eat your cereal and get ready for your day. And it is there anytime you need it. If something hurts you during the day, depression is there to surround you with grief and tell you it’s okay to cry. Depression is there because sometimes people are not.

People can tell you to stop crying, to suck it up, to get over it, that things aren’t that bad, that you’re exaggerating, that you have no reason to be sad or upset, that you just need to try harder or think happy thoughts or pull yourself out of it. When people are not understanding, depression is there to turn to. When you feel isolated and alone, depression is there to stay with you. 

Depression is comforting. It doesn’t expect you to fix yourself or make yourself happy or get better. In fact, depression is perfectly content if you never improve. And that in itself is comforting. It is comforting to not have any expectation of change or progress because those things are hard, and depression doesn’t expect you to ever improve.

Depression has little to do with happiness because depression is everything. It is an entire world, an entire being, and an entire state of mind. Depression is not about being happy. It is about learning to cope in a world with unhappiness. Depression is about living in a world that is broken, that is imperfect, that is difficult and sometimes impossible.

The most surprising fact about depression, for people who don’t understand it, is that you can be happy and still be depressed. You can be amazingly happy, incredibly happy, ridiculously happy. You can be laugh out loud and dancing in the rain kind of happy, but just outside of that happiness or underneath that happiness or coexisting with that happiness is a depth of discouragement and hopelessness. Depression does not steal your happiness. Depression masks your happiness. And sometimes happiness masks your depression.

I see depression as the absolute acknowledgement that something is wrong with the world. It is a whole body, whole mind, whole heart perception that nothing is okay. Can you still be happy in a broken world? Yes, but that doesn’t make the world stop being broken. That is the key to depression. 

The difference between someone who is depressed and someone who is not is that freedom. Not having depression gives you the freedom to believe that things will change. It gives you the freedom to believe that what you do makes a difference. It allows you to go into the world with purpose because the world is there for you to put light into. For someone without depression, the world is changeable, able to become better or different or whatever you make of it. The world is yours.

Depression is hardly ever a one lane road. You have glimpses of the other side. You have moments when you feel like you’re making a difference and that you have purpose. The trick is getting those moments to stick. That is what I try to do when I am depressed. I try to give myself reminders that there is purpose, there is change, there is reason to believe that things can get better. This world isn’t that bad, but you have to see the good. You have to expose yourself to the good. And when you are depressed, you have to remind yourself of that good. Because otherwise, you will stay under that safety blanket of depression until you pass away or the world passes away because without the good, there is no real reason to come out.

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This is My Life

I was officially diagnosed earlier this year with chronic depression- early onset, which basically means I have had depression for as long as I can remember and it will likely keep coming back for the rest of my life. I hadn’t really pursued a diagnosis before this year because it seemed pretty obvious that I had depression and I didn’t need someone to tell me. But even with a diagnosis, it is sometimes hard to believe that this may never go away.

There are times when I am just so happy and at peace with the world that depression seems like a distant memory, hardly relevant to the joy I am experiencing. But the truth is, those exquisite moments of joy are possible because of the deep craters of despair that have come before them. This is my life. This is my reality. I am going to have moments of despair so strong that I forget anything good ever came before them. But I am also going to have moments of joy that are so incredible that I forget what pain feels like.

I feel like I am a pretty happy person. I love life. I see the good in it. I see the good in everything and everyone. I love people more than anything else in the world. But I wrote a post a couple years ago where I talked about drinking up happiness as much as I could when it came so that I could get through the next period of depression.

The last few months have been really amazing for me. I progressed so much mentally and emotionally that I felt like maybe depression was finally gone. All the self doubt and self hate and hurt from past experiences had all disappeared. I felt completely and totally whole for the first time in my life. But… I have chronic depression. So, it came back.

The point I am trying to make though is that sometimes having depression feels like trying to drink happiness through a cup with a hole in it. You do what you can to fill your cup and to keep it full, but it doesn’t always work. The thing is though, I have come to the point where I realize that it is okay. It is okay that I have chronic depression. It is okay that I have nothing to be sad about, and yet feel such deep despair that I cannot begin to describe the pain I am enduring. It is okay because I am alive. After everything, all the brokenness and lonely nights and heartbreaking thoughts, I am still here. I am still here to enjoy the sun on my face and the wind in my hair. I am still here to listen to the sound of rain outside my window and drink hot chocolate and watch fun movies. I am still here to experience all that life has and all that life is.

So, maybe in an hour, I won’t be able to get out of bed because depression grips me so tightly that I can hardly breathe. But in the moments that I am well, during the times when I can see the beauty around me, I plan to love it all as much as I can. I plan to find joy in the difficult situations and enjoy the good times. I plan to live because I am here for a reason. And whatever that reason is, I’m going to make it a good life. This is my life, and I’m going to love every minute of it.

 

Making Progress

Most people feel good when they do something for someone else.

I have thought about that a lot over the last few weeks. I used to hate myself when I did something for someone else. I would get home and just cry for hours after I dropped off an anonymous gift at someone’s house or gave someone a letter or took food to someone.

People always say that when you’re depressed or having a bad day, you should serve and help someone else because it makes you feel better. It didn’t make me feel better. In fact, I had to stop doing things for people for about a year because I was so depressed that doing something like that would have pushed me over the edge.

Yesterday I did something good for someone. I didn’t even do it anonymously, which is usually the only way I can handle things like this. I did something kind for another person, and I didn’t hate myself afterwards. I didn’t want to die. I didn’t curl up on the floor and cry for hours. I just felt good. It was such an amazing experience.

I want to feel like this every day. I want to feel like I can be myself and see the needs of someone else and not be terrified to do something about it. I want to love myself. I hope this feeling lasts because I so desperately want to love myself. I don’t want to have to forgive myself for acting on my generous thoughts. I just want to do things without even thinking about it, without wanting to punish myself for it. I want to be okay with who I am. I want to feel good when I do something. I want this feeling of peace to last forever.

Chocolate

They say that people who eat chocolate every day are happier. I am starting to believe it. I have never been a chocoholic. In fact, I have never really liked eating a ton of junk food or sugary food. I splurge every once in a while, but then I get sick of it and just want to eat fruits and vegetables for a few weeks. But I have discovered that a little bit of chocolate can really help offset a depressed mood.

There are times when I just feel heavy. Nothing bad happened that day. There are no reasons for me to feel down, but I do. I feel so heavy that I don’t want to go on. I don’t want to do anything or try anything. I don’t want to go outside or go to work or eat food or read a book or draw a picture or anything. I just want to curl up on the floor and forget about everything and pretend like the world doesn’t exist for a while.

Recently when I had an anxiety attack, I ate some chocolate and it seemed to help calm me down a bit. I remembered that today when the heaviness returned and life seemed almost unbearable. So I had a piece of chocolate, and it helped. I mean, I wasn’t jumping up and down or smiling or laughing or anything, but the heaviness eased up. I felt a little lighter, a little more able to bear the weight of life, a little less isolated from the world.

Depression is such a difficult illness. There are things that help, and you get better, and you have hope, but sometimes it just doesn’t go away. I have chronic depression. I don’t ever remember a time when I wasn’t depressed. The longest I went without long periods of depression was one year, and I still had moments of depression within that year. I described depression to a friend once as pain that grips you, and some days it grips you so tightly that you can barely breathe, and you feel so weak and heavy for no describable reason.

So, no, chocolate won’t cure your depression. But maybe it will help. And when every day is a battle for your life and you feel like you don’t want to fight anymore, anything that relieves the burden in the slightest is a blessing. So eat chocolate, eat ice cream, eat pizza, do whatever makes you happy, because life is too short to not feel better.

Depression Doesn’t Mean I’m Not Happy

I want you to know that depression doesn’t keep me from being happy. I know that sounds like a contradiction, but when we remember that depression is simply a mental illness, or in other words, sickness that occurs in the mind, it makes sense.

I have an undiagnosed medical condition that has prevented me from being able to eat normally. Although it can be serious at times and it means my eating habits widely differ from those of most people, I am overall fairly healthy. The same is true with my mental illness. Although I may have long periods of darkness when I see little light or hope in life, I am overall happy.

In fact, I am one of the happiest people I know. Even though I think about suicide sometimes, even though I still struggle with desires for self injury, even though I sometimes cry for hours at a time for no real reason, I am incredibly, undeniably happy.

Here’s the thing, life is incredibly difficult. There are hard things, painful things, things that make you want to cry or scream or even stop living. But there are also beautiful things, amazing things, things that make you want to jump up and down and shout for joy and sing your heart out.

I feel those things, all of those things, the good and the bad. Because I have autism, I feel the world around me more than most. Because of depression, I feel emotions within me more than most. Because of my life experiences, I am more acquainted than most with pain and beauty, suffering and peace, destruction and ugliness.

So I struggle with the noise inside of me. I struggle to reconcile the explosions of joy that I feel with the craters of hopelessness that I experience. I struggle to make sense of this beautiful, crazy, heartbreaking world we live in.

But I want you to know that though the depression returns, though my suicidal thoughts may not disappear, though I wade through depths of darkness and hopelessness, I am happy. My depression does not leave me desolate. I still have joy. I still jump up and down flapping my arms because my body cannot contain the excitement of my happiness.

Yes, I may be depressed, but depression does not always equal sorrow. I am still happy.

Julia’s Rules for a Happy Life:

These rules are individual to me. They have been developed and revised over a lifetime of experiences. Although they can be applied to anyone, I believe that we each discover our own path to happiness. Make your own rules to happiness, but feel free to use my rules as a starting point or to get ideas.

1. Don’t put off a good thought.

This is a combination of a few of my favorite quotes and philosophies. “Never suppress a generous thought.” “Never postpone a prompting.” And “write down the thoughts God gives you right away.”

2. Don’t watch, read, listen to, or do anything that you wouldn’t be comfortable thinking about in the temple.

Sometimes this one can be hard because a lot of good movies, etc have bad parts to them. But I try my best to stick to wholesome recreation.

3. Separate yourself from your anger.

When someone does something that upsets me, I try to stop and think about it before I react. I try to see things from their point of view before  letting my anger out.

4. Don’t wait until you have the time or energy or peace of mind to help someone.

Be kind when you are broken; be patient when you are in pain; reach out to others when you are lonely; listen to others when you are hopeless. You find yourself by losing yourself. We will never have the perfect circumstances to help everyone. So we must choose to help when it’s not convenient.

5. Always take the time to be grateful.

This one is pretty self-explanatory. I have a lot to be grateful for. I just have to consciously think of those things every day.

6. Surround yourself with positive influences. From music to movies to people, do not allow negativity to occupy your time.

This includes news and current events. While it is important to be informed, I can get dragged into depressing thoughts if I get too many details about negative current events. If I want to stay positive, I have to consciously decide to avoid any unnecessary negativity.

7. Remember you are the same person when you make a mistake as when you do good. You do not lose worth or value when you mess up.

I’m still working on this one. I’m still trying to remember and remind myself of my worth. But as hard as it is, I keep reminding myself. I am that same person. I am not worthless. There are people who love me, which means I am lovable, which means I must have something inside me worth loving, and if they can see it, I can believe it.

8. See the goodness in people. Even when they hurt you, try to see them as God sees them.

We are all looking for the light. Some of us just lose our way before we find it. Try to help them find that light rather than stepping into their darkness.

9. Don’t be afraid to be sad sometimes.

Pain, heartache, fear, sorrow, and disappointment are all part of life. It’s okay to acknowledge them and live in them every once in a while. The sadness will not last forever. It’s just part of the journey.

10. Don’t worry about what everyone else is doing. Worry about what you’re doing.

I especially apply this when I’m driving. It’s easy to see other people passing me or cutting me off, but if I focus on me, I’m less likely to take it personally or get upset by it. Everyone is fighting their own battles. I cannot control their actions, but I can focus on what I am doing and how I am behaving.

Hating Myself

I never really realized or thought about how much I hate myself until this last week. In fact, up until I started this project of changing how I see myself, I thought I loved myself for the most part. I thought it was just depression or bad days that brought thoughts of dislike.

So I asked myself, “why do you hate yourself? What about you is so wrong that you would want to kill yourself to get rid of it?” And I discovered a couple answers.

One, I don’t think about myself as a person. I think about myself in terms of deeds. So, when I look at my deeds overall, I feel like I’m a pretty good person. When I look at my individual deeds though, I can either feel amazing or completely horrible, which explains why I think of suicide so much. You wouldn’t want to kill someone you love, but in those moments where I mess up or I am misunderstood or I am not proud of how I acted, I hate myself.

Two, I feel like I can never give myself what I really want. I will never be enough for me. Because I have autism, I cannot communicate in a way sufficient to adequately express myself. I simply cannot talk to people and make friends in the way I have convinced myself that I should be able to do. I have gotten better, but it is not enough and will never be enough for the ideal I have had in my head of how I should be.

Three, I do not forgive my mistakes. I forget about them sometimes, but I do not forgive them. When I say something that could be taken in the wrong way, I replay in my mind the times when someone misunderstood my innocent communication to mean something that I did not intend. I have convinced myself that these offenses were my fault even though it was a misunderstanding. And when I do something completely normal, like say hello to a friend or send a text asking how someone is doing, I convince myself that it is wrong and that I am wrong and that I should not burden someone with my presence.

That is why it is so hard to believe the good things people say about me. How could they be true with this depth of self hate that I feel? How could anyone think positive thoughts towards me when in the very act of doing something good, I am insulting myself for my incompetence? How could I be thoughtful or kind or considerate when I told myself not to do that act of kindness or service because I was not worthy to perform such a deed?

It is not going to be easy to change this dialogue with myself. It is not going to be easy to convince myself to see past the images of worthlessness that I have established in my mind. It is not going to be easy to allow myself to be human. But… I am going to try.

I am going to try because someone else sees the good in me. I am going to try because people love me and want to see me happy. I am going to try because life is too short to hate yourself. I am going to try for me because it’s about time that I feel loved.