All Articles Tagged "depression"
If you don’t have a history of depression, it can be very shocking and confusing to experience depression in your adult years. By the time you’re “grown up” you’ve usually learned the tools to remain happy and hopeful, like keeping healthy and close friendships, finding a supportive relationship, getting regular exercise, getting plenty of sleep, taking your vitamins and having goals. If you’re doing all of these things, waking up every day and finding that your usual tools are not working and you can’t chase depression away it can be confusing. The very idea of going to therapy can scare some people because they think, “If I see a therapist, that means something is very wrong with me.” But plenty of functional, stable people see therapists every day, just to stay in check with their own thoughts and emotions, plus depression is more common than you’d think. Here are 15 signs it’s time to go to seek therapy for your depression.
I barely watch the news. Sometimes it makes me feel guilty, like I’m an uninformed rube or something, but I don’t avoid the news because I don’t like to keep up with current events. I do it because news stories, like those about the Orlando mass shooting, make me very anxious and very depressed.
The Orlando shooting happened overnight, so I had a brief respite from the breaking story while watching “CBS Sunday Morning,” the kind of news program that fills my need for information. That was until the “Breaking News” graphic covered the screen and I was filled with dread; no TV station ever breaks into programming for a positive story. That’s when I learned what had happened and I was sad, for the families of the victims, for my gay and lesbian friends who lost a sense of security, for the country.
My sadness isn’t clinical, like my depression. You can’t treat it with medication. But it activates the constant thrum of melancholy that I feel every day, even under the best circumstances. It triggers a litany of negative thoughts about when the violence will be turned against a group of Black women like me, and how much worse it has to get before our laws are changed. The thinking and the over-thinking — plus the positive affirmations I need to help move my mind in a good direction — are exhausting. Actually, it’s exhausting to go through the process on a regular day. Add in a national tragedy and the chatter in my brain becomes unbearable.
Added to the story about the Orlando shooting — as happens with all public violence — is the topic of mental illness. The shooter always has a mental illness, or has seen a therapist, or maybe had a behavioral problem as a child. This layer of the story is something that I always ignore. There are millions of people with mental illnesses who aren’t violent. Who don’t buy guns or knives or weapons of any kind. Who are more of a danger to ourselves than we could ever be to others. But the general public will learn, again, that people with mental illness are dangerous killers to be feared and possibly locked up. This makes me just as angry as anything else, ready to don a t-shirt saying “I Have Bipolar and I’m Not Violent.” Not that the rabid news media would pay attention to a bit of truth.
So what do I do to maintain my sanity? Mostly, I ignore the daily drips of information. I never watch TV news, shielding myself from stories that aren’t intended to be useful but are meant to boost ratings. I don’t click on Facebook or Twitter posts about the Orlando shooting; I read the headlines and move along. I refuse to engage in conversations about the violence. Anger isn’t my best emotion, and I choose to avoid i, lest it turn into anxiety and depression, which it usually does. I look at pictures of puppies and kittens and babies as a palate cleanser and a therapeutic tool to reset my mind.
You might think I’m a baby who can’t handle the real world, but I disagree. Mass killings aren’t normal, and I refuse to treat them as such. And I’m adult enough to know what I need to do in order to keep myself happy and healthy. So bring on the kitties and just let me watch.
By now, we’ve all read about Nayla Kidd, the Columbia University sophomore who ran away from her life and was thought missing for several weeks. Since the true story of Kidd’s disappearance broke, I’ve seen the scuttle on Facebook and Twitter hypothesizing that she was suffering from depression. Based on her own words, I’m going to refute that notion. I know what it’s like to be a depressed Black woman at an Ivy League institution and it looks nothing like Kidd’s behavior.
First, let me get this out of the way: yes it’s hard to be a Black woman at a large university and in the sciences. There aren’t many people who look like you and there aren’t many people who understand you. But when your mother is an academic and you went to prep school in Ojai, California – one of the whitest, most exclusive enclaves in the United States – I’m going to go with the fact that you’re used to a low-minority environment and that you have support available in your family. The fact that Kidd seemingly didn’t talk to her mother points to some family issue rather than a mental health issue. But I digress.
When I was a freshman at Yale, I suffered a little from Little Fish/Big Pond syndrome. For the first few months, I was sure that the admissions office had made a mistake, that I didn’t belong in school with the brilliant people around me. Soon I figured out that everyone else felt that way too, which made things a little better.
Then, I started not being able to pay attention in class. I was sleepy all the time. I couldn’t focus on my reading. I stopped going to classes because I just couldn’t get out of bed. I worried again that I wasn’t smart enough and got an F in some science class, not because I couldn’t do the work, but because I didn’t show up for the exams.
I tried to hide my grades from my parents, and I was worried about what they’d say, but they handled the failing grade better than I did. We chalked it up to me being away from home for the first time and the stress of an only child managing shared living spaces.
The next semester, I returned to school and felt the same way I had initially. I couldn’t concentrate, I couldn’t find anything to hold my interest. I started drinking with my friends every weekend. I withdrew from other social activities. Again, my grades suffered because I didn’t have the focus or energy to go to class or study. I spent most of my time in my tiny bedroom, kicking out my roommate and her boyfriend when I wanted to be alone, which was most of the time.
My behavior during that time looks nothing like that of Nayla Kidd, who actually had the energy and the wherewithal to create a new life for herself. Had she been depressed — or even suffering from anxiety — her symptoms would have paralyzed her into inactivity. Yes, she was sick of her life and didn’t know how to manage it, but by her own words, Kidd just wanted to get away. Depression doesn’t look like leaving your life for a new one. It looks like withdrawing from the life you have and not wanting to live period. I’m not saying that Nayla Kidd doesn’t have issues, but according to her self-described behavior, mental illness probably isn’t one of them.
Depression is a serious disease. It’s not the catch-all description for people when they’re sad or stressed or fed up, even though all of those emotional states can trigger a depressive episode. We need to be careful to understand what mental illness really looks like so that we can help the people who really need serious help and not put labels on those who might have other problems to solve.
Nira Hyman is a vibrant, funny, smart publishing professional living in New York City. She has plenty of friends. She pledged a sorority in college. And she’s planning a trip to Cuba. From the outside, you would never know that she has battled depression since high school, throughout her time at an Ivy League university, and for all of her adult life. Though she has seen numerous doctors and tried various medications while coping with her mental illness, she has maintained a proactive and engaged stance in her treatment that has made surviving the dark depths of depression easier over time.
When Hyman first felt the symptoms of depression, she just thought she was experiencing adolescent mood swings. What she soon found were distinct differences between her moods and those of her friends, so she probed for reasons.
“I remember asking people repeatedly, like, ‘Well, when you feel down, how long does it last?’ And I would poll people constantly to find out, ‘Well, if you’re only down for two days, why am I feeling down for four weeks?'” Hyman’s questions continued without much external input, even though her own her mother had always suffered from depression. This is something a young Hyman didn’t realize at the time.
“Even though I grew up around [depression] throughout my entire family, we didn’t discuss how it might impact me personally. Although I visited my mother — she was hospitalized several times — we never discussed what she was suffering from. It was kind of understood that she ‘wasn’t quite right’ or she was sort of ‘under the weather’ with her moods.” In spite of a lack of clarity surrounding depression, Hyman continued to ask questions.
Once she got to college, Hyman again felt strong symptoms of depression, including trouble eating, sleep disruption, and a plummeting mood.
“I was crying for no reason. I was unable to complete my classes in a timely manner,” she said. These symptoms led Hyman to her university’s health services. Based on her symptoms and family history, they were able to prescribe therapy and Prozac, a drug that she accepted because medications had helped her mother.
Her family’s silence about depression didn’t end with Hyman’s diagnosis. Though her mother was upset and shocked, Hyman believes that her mom’s mixed feelings about her diagnosis came from the fact that she wanted to protect her.
“I think she may have thought that by not talking about it that she could somehow shield me from it. She was surprised,” Hyman said. Hyman now knows and acknowledges the history of depression on both sides of her family and how that past impacts her daily life. She said that dealing with depression is easier now than when she was first diagnosed. She shared the details of her health with friends and loved ones, and she has developed a way to keep track of aspects of her life that can affect her mood or signal a depressive episode. She said that she asks herself questions like, “‘Am I getting enough sleep? Am I eating right? Am I doing positive things? Am I dwelling on negative things that happen to me?’ I sort of have a mental checklist that’s now more automatic.”
Though she still falls into patterns of not speaking to people or isolating herself for long periods of time, Hyman can eventually pull herself out of a downward spiral by focusing on her treatment, and being a mental illness advocate and volunteer with the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI).
But one of the most difficult things Hyman encounters in surviving depression is navigating the healthcare system. Due to changes in the publishing industry, and some factors of her illness, Hyman finds it hard to secure a full-time job with benefits. With those constraints, it is difficult to find highly-qualified doctors who will see her for more than 10 or 15 minutes. Hyman said that treating mental illness takes more time and focus. Still, she has managed to navigate the mental health system to get the care she needs.
“I’ve always tried to put myself out there, just make the call. I’ve seen dozens of doctors, I’ve seen social workers, I’ve seen psychotherapists, I’ve sort of run the gamut. I’ve been in support groups as well.”
To people who might have recently been diagnosed with depression, Hyman stresses the importance of doing the kind of Internet research she couldn’t do for herself more than 20 years ago. According to her, “When I was diagnosed the Internet did not even exist, so there’s so much for people to look up that’s really good. There are so many things that weren’t offered to me when I was younger.” She also stresses the need for those diagnosed to be proactive and not to believe that their life has to come to a complete halt. Hyman says “people can really get a handle on this, and quickly, but they have to sort of come to terms with the diagnosis and know that it won’t stop them.”
Everyone says they’re stressed. But how many of us are really, really stressed to the point that it’s affecting our health, physically and mentally? Unfortunately, it’s actually more people than you would think. According to the American Institute of Stress and MastersDegreeOnline.org, 44 percent of Americans say they feel more stressed than they did five years ago, and one in five say they deal with “extreme stress.” So outside of the uncomfortable tension, they’re also battling with heart palpitations, shaking fits, and, of course, depression. And stress raises the risk of heart disease to 40 percent. The risk of stroke? Fifty percent.
What is going on?
Well, we’re doing too much for one.
“In a society that glorifies hard work and multitasking, we all are susceptible to being overworked and burned out,” said Kathleen Isaac, MPhil, a doctoral candidate in clinical psychology. “The danger of pushing ourselves too much is that we put ourselves at risk for adverse health conditions related to stress. In addition, we also put ourselves at risk for other mental health conditions related to stress such as depression and anxiety. We may also see a decrease in our ability to function at our best ability at work, school, etc., and this may take a toll on our work as well as our personal life.”
When we take more on our plate than we can actually handle, we are setting ourselves up to be overwhelmed to the point that it’s harmful to our well-being. And while we all often feel weary about our wealth of responsibilities, Isaac said that you know things are going too far when it starts to impact your body. A headache is one thing, but stress can manifest itself in even more debilitating ways.
“While most people are aware of increased worrying and tension headaches as indicators of stress, there are a number of physical symptoms that one can experience when stressed,” Isaac said. She cited “muscle aches or tension, stomach pain, low energy, chest pain, insomnia, frequent colds or infections and loss of sexual desire or ability” as physical effects caused by our daily anxieties. “Stress can also lead to weight gain because of increased cortisol levels, and certain behaviors associated with stress such as overeating, drinking, and poor sleep may put you at risk for conditions like hypertension and diabetes. It is, therefore, important to pay attention to your body. If you notice that you aren’t functioning as well as you used to, check in with yourself and with your doctor and seek counseling if needed.”
However, some levels of stress we can’t really control in the ways people think. Like the distress we might have to deal with at our place of work or our neighborhoods, specifically for women of color operating in places and spaces where there aren’t many who look and think like us. Different forms of discrimination pop up in minute and major ways, and they can drive people both ill and over the edge.
Isaac expounded upon this reality by confirming that racism and bigotry have long been associated with stressors faced by minority populations, as well as other physical and mental issues, both in the workplace and in everyday life.
“African Americans who experience both overt and covert discrimination (i.e. microaggressions) in their daily lives may be susceptible to higher levels of stress. The actual levels of stress will vary, however, depending on individual factors such as sensitivity to racism (how aware one is of being discriminated against) and coping style. Recently there has been some consideration of the impact that the growing visibility of racist acts in the media may have on stress levels.”
So what can we actually do about our levels of stress, aside from cranking A Tribe Called Quest’s “Stressed Out” and wearing our anguish and exhaustion as a badge of “I work hard and I’m a strong Black woman” honor? According to the CDC, it’s important that we channel our stress into healthy activities and habits, and also, be open about our feelings and issues with people who can hear us out, support us, and help us put things into perspective. That includes exercising regularly and eating better, getting as much sleep as we can, talking to loved ones, as well as a counselor, doctor or even a pastor when it all becomes too much, and most importantly, knowing when it’s time to take a break. We all need timeouts here and there from the things and people who messing with our psyche and sense of inner peace.
Granted, these things won’t end stress in your life for all time, but rather, alleviate it. Still, listening to your body and knowing when you’re bearing burdens alone that are starting to wear on you is important. The sooner we pay attention and do something about it, the better we can be to the people who rely on us, and most importantly, to ourselves.
The topic of drugs for mental illness is quite controversial. Some people think that drugs aren’t needed, and that mental illness can be cured through therapy alone, or prayer, or just trying hard to make it go away. I used to be one of those people. But after beginning a drug regimen for my depression, I became a complete convert.
Imagine being in graduate school with new people, new places and new types of work. I was there in 2001 when I began business school. As someone with a degree in English literature, I entered my MBA program with no small amount of fear. I worried that the quantitative coursework in finance, accounting and statistics would be too hard for me. I wondered if I belonged at the top 5 school where I’d matriculated. My fears were realized when I struggled through my first term with lackluster grades. The overachiever in me was devastated.
I knew the cause of my mediocre GPA: I didn’t have a full grasp of the material I was learning. I could barely comprehend the information in my textbooks. The more I tried to read, the less I could focus. And my attention flagged during class time, where I felt groggy and out of sorts. I tried to cover my confusion with my classmates, showing false understanding and sarcasm. Inside, however, I was crying. To be honest, I did a fair amount of actual crying in my apartment at night. I slept a lot, when I thought I should have been studying, to escape what I thought was sadness.
After weeks of suffering, I told my therapist about how I felt and what I thought were the causes. He asked me if I’d had similar feelings at other times. I confessed that yes, there were times in which I was tearful and prone to sleeping. He suggested that I might be clinically depressed and referred me to a psychiatrist for evaluation and drug therapy. I bristled at first, believing that I didn’t need drugs. But once I thought about how miserable I’d been, I realized that I needed some solution beyond what I’d had at the time.
My first visit to a psychiatrist was full of questions and answers. At that first meeting, I was diagnosed with depression and prescribed Zoloft. On my way to fill the prescription, my feelings about drugs for mental illness resurfaced. I thought they were a crutch that people used when they couldn’t do the hard work of getting better. I believed that I was strong enough to overcome my malady on my own, even though when I was honest with myself I could admit I had been struggling with the same symptoms for years — lethargy, lack of concentration, crying spells, general disinterest in my activities. Against my beliefs, I got the Zoloft and began taking it.
Within a few weeks something wonderful happened. I started feeling better. In truth, I felt more like myself than I had in a long time. It was as though a switch in my brain had been flipped and I’d been restored to my previous level of intelligence and good humor. My grades improved, as did my social life. I became the person I’d always been before depression had taken hold. Suddenly, I became a convert in favor of drugs for mental illness.
Here’s what I want people to understand: mental illness is actually a physiological disorder and as such requires a physiological change in your brain — that means medication of some sort. And when medication is something that can set you to rights and remove your suffering, there’s no good reason not to take it if necessary. Choosing to do so doesn’t make you weak, it makes you smart.
Tracey Lloyd lives in Harlem, where she fights her cat for access to the keyboard. You can find more of her experiences living with bipolar disorder on her personal blog, My Polar Opposite.
I consider myself a Christian. I believe in God, I read the Bible, I go to church. My faith plays a role in certain aspects of my disease, but this wasn’t always the case. Earlier in my Christian journey, and before I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, I had experiences that would lead me to believe that Christianity and mental illness could not be reconciled. That information came not from the Bible, but from how some Christians exhibit their faith.
Some years ago, I was in the midst of a depressive episode but I didn’t understand what was happening to me. I knew that I was tired and teary and my brain was foggy. I’d thought about getting into therapy to talk about my feelings about a recent breakup and accompanying weight gain. Instead, my father convinced me to become more active in our church. This was supposed to deepen my relationship with God and make me feel better.
I took my dad’s advice and took a more active role in the church. When my favorite minister invited me to attend a women’s spiritual retreat one weekend, I agreed because I liked her and believed that it would help my mood. Expecting fellowship and sisterhood, what I experienced instead made me feel even worse.
Most of the women at the retreat were what I call “I’m blessed” Christians. You know, the kind of people who say “I’m blessed” whenever you ask how they are. They might as well answer “I’m Black.” These “I’m blessed” women that I met didn’t leave room for the emotional vagaries of the human condition, and certainly didn’t leave any room for me to talk about what I thought of as my emotional issues. “I’m blessed” is pretty much a non-starter, at least for me, because I never know how to respond. “Good for you” seems dismissive, and the only appropriate response is another declaration of faith. If all I was supposed to do was talk about God and religion whenever anyone spoke to me, I was sure that Christianity and mental illness — or at least emotional issues — had no place being together in this environment.
The women that I met at the retreat were also the kind of people who say, “I’m too blessed to be stressed.” I know they meant that their stress is mollified by their faith, or that God’s blessings are with them even in times of emotional tension. But did they feel stress? My whole reason for getting more involved in the church was because I was stressed. But being around a group of women who seemed to agree that anxiety wasn’t possible for them made me feel alone and so wrong. So when my minster packed her Bible into a case — one that everyone else in the room seemed to have but me — and asked me how my day was, all I could muster was a wan “It was a blessing.” What I really wanted to say was, is there any room for my feelings in this religious expression?
Fortunately, I eventually found professional help for my mental illness and a spiritual home in which I feel comfortable talking to my pastor about my condition. Instead of claiming my unlilateral blessings under all situations, I acknowledge the role that God has played in getting me to seek help and in making me smart enough to get the help I need when I need it. Unlike the Christians I met early in my struggle, I connect with God for strength that’s particular to my situation rather than repeating the platitudes that mark some religious experiences. Of course Christianity and mental illness can coexist in the same person, but Christians need to be more mindful of how their expression of faith affects us.
Forget what you’ve heard about the winter blues. The dark, cold and gloomy winter months are not the time of year where people feel most depressed and even suicidal. In fact, studies have shown that it’s during spring that suicide rates increase rapidly. Specifically, in the United States, they start high in January, decrease in February, and then reach a peak in April–the month we’re currently in.
There have been many attempts to try and explain why this is. Increased suicide attempts are blamed on many things. From inflammation due to an uptick in pollen in the air, which releases anxiety-producing chemicals (this finding still isn’t necessarily proven, but cited as a “provocative” finding), to researchers suggesting that the sunshine triggers suicidal thoughts, and a possible prominent reason cited is the increase in social interactions come spring. With better weather means more opportunities to be out, and more opportunities to be stressed out by the folks you come in contact with.
Or, as Slate put it in 2012, “During the winter, many people go into semihibernation: They work less, see fewer people, and are exposed to less frustration and conflict. That all changes in the spring, when increased interaction with others and the stress of work may trigger suicidal thoughts.”
And while those in winter may not feel the same drive to actually fully go through with taking their life, those dealing with heightened depression in the spring have more energy and may feel a higher level of desperation to follow through with such an act.
During a time where everyone would assume that one would be feeling happier thanks to the sunshine and warmer weather (like the “Brand New Day” scene from The Wiz happier), many people actually find themselves going through an emotional, and sometimes, a physical rollercoaster. And some of us may not even realize that we’re at risk.
We often overlook the physical symptoms of depression, which can get so bad that they may turn into suicidal thoughts. According to WebMD, our body can go through some significant negative changes when we’re feeling down, including consistent fatigue, either a lack of sleep or oversleeping, and both a decrease in one’s appetite for food and sex. And one can’t forget an increase in aches and pains. When neurotransmitters in our brain begin to function abnormally because of depression, serotonin levels can be impacted, drastically adjusting our pain threshold and making us more sensitive to and cognitive of it.
And according to FamilyDoctor.org and the Mayo Clinic, suicidal thoughts aren’t always just thinking or talking about a desire to end your life. They can include a morbid view where you’re preoccupied with death. You may go through drastic personality changes. Or maybe you do precarious things and act indifferent to your dangerous choices. You might flip around your routine, find yourself feeling trapped in a certain situation or stage of life that is less than positive, or you might find yourself wanting to spend more and more time alone. We often fail to realize that our mood swings and moves to isolate ourselves are not just an ordinary occurrence, but rather, a sign that we could be at risk of something very serious.
As someone who has dealt with these type of feelings before, I would say that it’s extremely important to acknowledge them and to share them with someone who can help you, rather than holding them in as a secret to avoid shame or embarrassment. People deal with such situations differently (i.e., getting more sleep, avoiding the triggers that can send one into a downward spiral), but seeking therapeutic help is always recommended to help you obtain the support, and sometimes, the medication you need to move forward. Because while we do go through life changes that can throw us for a loop and mess with our emotional state, sometimes our depressive dips can have more to do with biology than we think, and could be adequately handled with the help of treatment.
Whatever the case, don’t go through it alone. Know the symptoms and be in touch with loved ones or hotlines (like the National Suicide Prevention Hotline) that can provide you with the aid and encouragement necessary to keep going.
“I Was Homicidal And Suicidal”: Tina Campbell Contemplated Taking Her Life After Teddy’s Cheating Revelation
Happy birthday to the only man that will ever have my heart. I love you Teddy Campbell with all the love that i have inside of me baby. Im glad God gave you another year cause you just keep getting better and better and better. You’re an amazing man and im blessed to be yours. Your number one fan and chick for life – Wifey
Tina Campbell is an open book these days. And she has decided to be more open about all that she’s gone through in an attempt to help others while also exalting God for what He brought her out of. Recently, she spoke on the deep depression she faced in front of cameras after finding out about Teddy’s cheating. While promoting the new season of Mary Mary, she told TheGrio’s Chris Witherspoon earlier this month, “I was suicidal and homicidal.”
“It wasn’t like, ‘I done lost my man I want to kill myself,'” Campbell said. “I loved my husband, but I was like, ‘I can get another man.’ During that stage I was underconfident, but I was cocky. I was like, ‘Google me, I could have whoever I want!’ But really, ’cause I felt like nothing, that’s where it came from. Total insecurity. It wasn’t about losing my man. I was like, ‘Okay, I’m a family woman, and I don’t even have one.’ My family was just a complete lie, and that’s how I felt.”
She continued, “Now my faith, I can’t do lying. So I’m not going to be a hypocrite and be mad at God and angry and bitter and all this stuff, out there trying to share the Gospel and inspire people. So I didn’t want to do Gospel music anymore. So all I got left is my kids. I’m no good to them because I’m depressed, I’m sad, I’m broken, I’m insecure, I’m overprotecting them. ‘I’m good for nothing. What is the point of me?’ Since I felt like I was pointless, I considered taking my life. I considered taking me, my children. I was just like, ‘I don’t want to leave a legacy of suicide to them, so maybe I should just take all of them.’ Then I was like, ‘Naw, maybe I should take out these people who did me wrong and then take us out, and leave my husband here to figure it out so that he can realize, look what you did.’
I was just at a terrible, terrible place. I was homicidal and suicidal, but I told God, ‘I know I’m crazy and I know I’m all the way thrown off, but I don’t want to be like this. I want to forgive. I want to let this go. I want to know that good people sometimes make bad decisions because they feel like they’re between a rock and a hard place, whatever the case, you want something but you go about it the wrong way.’ I was like, ‘I don’t want to hate the world. I don’t want to be bitter and insecure and angry. If you can help me forgive and help me see people and myself in the way you see them, I promise I’ll tell everybody about it if you get me out of this pit.’ And God really did help me. And I found that help in the Bible. So yes, I was crazy before I was sane. And I did crazy real good. Now I do sane real good.”
And not only is she doing sane real good, Campbell said that her relationship is better than its ever been. So her decision to share her pain with so many was worth it, as it brought her, others, and her relationship, healing.
Check out her interview with TheGrio below and feel free to share how you can relate. Have you ever had thoughts of hurting yourself or others during an especially hard time in your life? How did you move forward?
By Kasey Woods
I’m not in control of my happiness. That is the theory that I accepted for a very long time.
It appeared that whenever things were going too well, for too long, some unknown force would ultimately descend upon me and effortlessly snatch away any feelings of well-being I was experiencing. I attributed this abduction of my happiness to the fact that I had merely exceeded my “happiness quota.” Essentially, the universe just wasn’t going to let me get too happy. I deduced that I had a happiness limit and if I came too close to that limit, or God forbid exceeded it, the universe would be forced to cut me down to size, humble me and remind me who was in charge.
Believe me, I had very good reasons to believe this far-fetched theory. One example of an swift and forceful response to an overabundance of happiness happened in March of 2012. During the first few months of 2012, things had been going very well for me: my career was zooming forward at the speed of light, I was six months pregnant and excited to meet my new bundle of joy, and my personal relationships were flourishing. Things were going really well. But as usual, this feeling of “well-being” would prove to be short-lived.
I remember commenting to a friend that I sensed I was getting too close to my “happiness quota.” “You know, things can’t be too good for too long,” I told her. She scoffed at me and replied that I was just being paranoid, (I mean who really believes that their happiness is rationed out by some mythical energy source that rules the universe? … Me, that’s who.)
Within a week of that ominous conversation, the biggest life-changing incident that has ever happened in my life took place. I accidentally ran over my then two-year-old daughter with the family car and was subsequently run over myself after throwing my six month pregnant body under the vehicle in an effort to save her.
This horrific accident not only put me well below my perceived quota, it left a far greater impact on my life. Happiness seemed to eluded me. Though my daughter made a complete recovery (after days in the ICU and numerous fractures and bruises) and my unborn child was born beautiful and healthy as well, that incident implanted doubt and fear as my new constant companions. My daughter’s life was almost lost due to my negligence and my psyche responded with almost OCD like tendencies. I would check, recheck, and check again to make sure that my children were present and accounted for when in the car, even if I understood that I had taken all the appropriate safety precautions a mere seconds earlier. Anytime I was away from them I was preoccupied with wondering if they were OK. I began to have frequent and brutal panic attacks that came and went as they pleased.
Eventually, with therapy and a great life coach, I was able to come out of that space. Through intense counseling I have learned that I was suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, a common reaction to a situation as awful as what I had experienced. That situation also “turned up” my current bipolar disorder symptoms, which at the time were undiagnosed. The effects of trauma on your mental health are well documented and something that today I know a great deal about.
Through it all, the greatest lesson that I learned was that I deserved to be happy; that my happiness doesn’t have a cap. After the hard work and dedication to my mental health that I had to commit to, I finally understood that there’s work necessary sometimes to be happy and content. No, it wasn’t easy pulling myself out of that slump but if I allowed myself to stay in that space I would certainly still be there now. Once I accepted that there was no theoretical force keeping my joy at bay, it was easier to also accept that the only thing keeping me from being happy was me.
Ish Happens!! It’s how you react to these occurrences that makes the difference. I now recognize that the lows that regularly came soon after my highs were in part due to an undiagnosed bipolar disorder, and that the chronic sadness that always triumphed over spurts of happiness was in fact depression.
Sometimes life has a way of making us believe that everything is working against us. We believe that we are not worthy of the good things that life has to offer. For years I truly believed that there was a finite limit to my happiness. Today I live by the motto: no one can want something for you more than you want it for yourself. With this in mind I have thrown away the notion of a happiness quota. I want limitless happiness. I want to end the fear that has historically preempted the happy moments in my life, and I now command my journey to be one of unbounded joy and optimism. I accept my role in achieving such a feat and I revel in the notion of grasping happiness and not letting go. I implore you to do the same.
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