I had an unsettling realization several months ago: I am happy. This turned into a domino effect of wondering why I’ve never felt as though I could say I was happy before now. Why I try to dismiss my happiness when I talk to people. Why I feel embarrassed to admit that I have reached a point in my life where I am no longer surviving, no longer just getting by, but thriving. Even why I could only admit to myself that I was happy after I ran down a list of things in my life that aren’t completely perfect.
As if everyday annoyances matter in a discussion about happiness.
Double Depression Baseline Limbo
Double depression occurs when someone who experiences persistent, chronic low-level depression, has an episode of major depression. In a sense, there is a baseline depression that is always there, mainly lurking in the background. Then a major depression happens and there are essentially two depressions happening at the same time.
For me, this means I have constant low-level depression and then experience bipolar depression on top of it on occasion. It’s about as much fun as it sounds.
I realize part of my problem with contentment is that I have long viewed the world through a veil of mental illness. I don’t know what baseline, just feeling okay, looks like. I also tend to associate feelings of happiness with my other extreme: mania. It’s hard to feel joy when you’re suspicious what you’re feeling is actually a warning sign of a bipolar episode taking hold.
For years, I have been on a roller coaster of medications, treatments, and therapies. Stability was a foreign concept for me and now that I have it, I spend most of my time looking for cracks in the walls that keep intruders at bay. Being happy has been my goal for as long as I can remember, but survival has been my mission for so long it seems like I don’t know anything else.
I Didn’t Earn That… Did I?
I don’t understand quite why this is the case, but I feel I have not earned happiness. I feel embarrassed by it. Like I’m hogging all the prosperity for myself and there are more deserving people out there. I feel ashamed to say I’m happy. Confronting these feelings makes me want to panic.
I keep telling myself over and over again that my privilege has afforded me this happiness. To a certain extent, that is true. However, if no one was allowed to be happy if they held a modicum of privilege almost everyone would have to be miserable.
It doesn’t seem fair to say only someone with absolutely no advantages whatsoever in their entire lives gets to claim happiness. In all the ways an identity can intersect, there are those who end up with more detriments than benefits.
But also when held under a microscope, does my life as a fat, mentally ill, pansexual, atheist woman, really make me so insanely favored that nothing I could do on my own would ever matter? Of course not.
The Problem With “Earning” Happy
Sometimes I talk about bliss as if it is located on a map and I found my way there with my backpack and my hiking boots. But happiness is an emotion. I feel it without really wanting to, and it surprises me how much I don’t want to. My argument devolves into thoughtcrime if I press it hard enough.
And I press it until it swells like a balloon.
It also occurs that I challenge every feeling of happiness that appears inside me, yet the insistence I need to feel shame and stigma, is never questioned. I fight against my own discomfort to insist I am allowed to feel what I feel, no matter what my brain’s fabricated criteria for happiness was supposed to be.
Is Happy My Ending?
I always looked at happiness as the end. I didn’t know what I would do when I got here. When I got to happy, I would simply be and I would be so well, it would never be a problem.
Perhaps that’s why I squirm so much about it now. I never let myself think about what happy would be like if I got to where I am now. All I could focus on was getting there. Which was fine, at least some of the time. But now I find myself in this strange place with no idea what I’m supposed to do while I’m here.
How do you be happy when happy isn’t the summary sentence at the end of the story?
Isn’t This All Just So Silly?
I imagine my husband shouting up to me while I’m writing in my office. He asks me what I’m doing. I shout back, “I’m upset because I’m happy!” He responds, “….. What?”
This might be a silly problem to have. But it’s also a problem that I have. One which doesn’t seem to be fading into backdrops for me to remember years later with a bemused smile.
But dismissing the problem like that also seems to be part of the issue. If I never feel comfortable being happy, what kind of life am I agreeing to lead? The easiest thing to do would be to assure myself I’m just being ridiculous and continue feeling awful.
But if I’m going to be happy, I want to do happy right.
Where Do I Go From Here?
I don’t know.
But I’m going to find out.
To help me along my way, I’m going to be writing some poems, examining long-held beliefs, and making a difference in my own life and hopefully someone else’s, too.