Since effectively treating my anxiety and depression, I have been obsessed with happiness. My life is no longer at a standstill, and I have a whole new appreciation of Project Semicolon. Project Semicolon is a movement to provide hope to those struggling with mental illness, where the semicolon represents a pause in life, not the end.
I’m not sure how long I’ve been depressed. It was a gradual sort of thing that eventually couldn’t be ignored anymore. I had streaks of bad days punctuated by a few good days or good hours. Outwardly, perhaps no one noticed. I kept chugging along as though nothing were wrong like it was a pro sport.
Inwardly, I was lonelier than lonely, angry, worthless, and desperate for happiness, yet completely helpless in finding it. I could only fake it for so long before it all began to unravel. My family suffered, my friendships suffered, my work suffered.
I had reached the semicolon of my life. The pause. I lied and made excuses to cover up my life on pause. I cried, I yelled, I shut down, I avoided, I blamed, I slept. I started fights I couldn’t finish, I resigned myself when I should have stood up, I took it out on those I love the most. I gave up on everything. Almost nothing has been as frustrating for me as trying to dig myself out of depression.
Knowing I couldn’t go on anymore with my life on pause, I nervously picked up the phone and made an appointment with a Doctor of Family Medicine and then counted the days to my salvation. Salvation came in the form of a tiny white pill that goes by the name of Lexipro. At long last, I was able to hop over the semicolon and move forward!
I believe that happiness is found in life’s simplest things, in personal growth, and in using one’s God-given talents for good. As I reassemble the pieces of former goals and interests, it’s difficult to decide where to start.
For awhile there I was having a simple pleasure free-for-all: I love writing! I love drawing! I love Christmas! I love reading! I love tea! Having too much fun from which to choose isn’t so bad, unless you can’t decide and end up laying in bed watching Dirty Dancing on cable instead.
I am perhaps most pleased in the area of personal growth. Admitting to depression is no easy task; it takes bravery and initiative, two traits not easily mustered in the depths of despair. I am most proud of my bravery and perseverance in facing my depression, which is why I speak so candidly about it. I want to destroy the stigma of depression, anxiety, and mental illness until me and every other person fighting a battle is looked straight in the eye in the wide open sunshine and called brave for their efforts.
It’s the third piece of my happiness trifecta that I’m most excited about, though. It is a well known fact that helping others brings happiness. When my depression was untreated, I was in no position to help others; I couldn’t even help myself. Adding to my frustration was having the desire to help others but not the ability. Since stepping over the semicolon, I now have both the desire and the ability, but philanthropy is not a free-for-all enterprise when time and resources are limited. I need to make a decision on where I want to give my time and talent, but it’s not been easy.
In an unforeseen ironic turn, I came across an article that suggested that pain and struggle is required to achieve happiness. It made total sense, and I immediately began assessing all of my priorities against this pain factor, making a few interesting discoveries along the way. Imagine releasing the pain and struggle of depression only to willingly decide to use other forms of pain and suffering to achieve happiness! I could not have been more surprised with myself if a turkey and his wife arrived for Thanksgiving dinner in a classic car.
A simple example: A clean house brings me happiness, but I don’t always like to clean it. In fact, I can be downright lazy about it when I have something more interesting to do. At the end of the day, the house is still messy and I’m not happy about it. Just recognizing the act of cleaning to be the ‘pain’ I must endure in order to achieve domestic happiness has made it easier to start cleaning.
Lack of money and fear of the unexpected are the two primary struggles I have experienced in wanting to helping others. I’ve let both money and fear paralyze me into doing nothing. Doing nothing certainly does not make me happy, so I must overcome my shortcomings and fear in order to achieve the happiness of helping others. The whole idea is revolutionary for me. Even now, in my near-middle age, there is still room for more self-actualization.
Additionally, the concept of assessing happiness against the pain and struggle required will help me weed out those unnecessary things, too. Is the resultant happiness worth the struggle? From this point forward I will be saying no to houseplants, Chuck E Cheese, and homemade egg rolls.
One last thought on happiness: Writing makes me unconditionally happy. I do not find any struggle or pain in writing, except sometimes finding the time. It fits into all three of my happiness categories: simple pleasure, personal growth, and helping others. Perhaps I should be asking myself what kind of struggle writing should bring me and that will be the key to my success!