Allow Joy

There was a point where I didn’t want to accept moments of happiness because I feared my illness wouldn’t be accepted by others. I feared that if I expressed these moments, my depression would be overlooked and forgotten. That I would be forgotten. I feared that these brief moments would be mistaken for my entire reality. I didn’t understand that I could feel happiness without necessarily being happy.


It wasn’t until someone suggested that I could call it something other than ‘happy.’


This small suggestion shifted my perception. I can be unhappy and experience joy. I can be happy and experience joy. I can be however I am and still experience joy, but only if I allow it.


Currently, I am at a place in my life where I can say that I am happy. Yet, this does not mean I am always happy. This means that I am now able to allow joy in my life without effort.


Happiness is not an end goal, but if often mistaken for one. By acknowledging moments of joy, instead of happiness, this end goal perception is diverted.


So I will leave you with this. Be happy, be unhappy, be angry, excited, and sad, but remember to allow and acknowledge joy. Because without joy, life has no meaning.

You Should Be Happy

I remember going to a psychiatrist appointment, maybe two years ago, when she asked me if a student could sit-in on the session with us. As a student myself, I understood how valuable hands-on learning is, so I agreed. The student, an older woman likely in her 50s, greeted me as I walked in. We exchanged hellos and commented on the weather. I could feel and see her examining me- well dressed, clean, and tense maybe what she saw. I looked put together, I knew that. I hid behind my name brands and job in mental healthcare. I wanted to appear like I had my life together, and I wasn’t crazy.


The student asked me about my education, job, and personal relationships. Then she looked me dead in the eyes and said: “Wow, with your Kate Spade bag and getting accepted into graduate school, you should be so happy.”


I looked at her, stunned by both her ignorance and bluntness, and replied: “Yeah, I should be.”


My psychiatrist quickly tried to descale the tense situation: “Well, that is why she is here today.”


The problem with the student’s comment has to do with one word: should. I believe she meant to say something along the lines of you have wonderful things in your life, and I can see how depression must be impacting your mental health. Instead, the comment sent a different message. By saying I ‘should’ be happy, it implies that the reason I am unhappy has to do with me and not something out of my control. The comment suggested that I am ungrateful for the wonderful things in my life because I ‘should’ be happy, but I wasn’t.


I was not hurt by the comment, but I was surprised. I was surprised because even in the mental healthcare field, there is still a skewed perception of mental disorders. Even someone studying to prescribe medication FOR mental disorders is lacking basic knowledge about mental health. This is a bright red fluorescent sign that mental health education is severely lacking. How we are taught to talk about mental health as a society is flawed, and change needs to occur.


This was a very minor experience for me. I was not hurt or set-off, and I quickly forget about the comment after I left. Yet, I still remember that comment like it was yesterday. it stuck in my mind so clearly that I am able to write about it today.


I want to reflect on this moment not only because it is a sign of how mental healthcare needs to change, but also because I know I will be told something along the lines of this again. Next time, I want to be prepared. If I were in that situation again, this is what I would say: “Just because I am in extreme pain and suffering does not mean that I am simply unhappy with my life. I want to be able to love and appreciate what I have, but I can’t. This does not mean that I am ungrateful or an unhappy person in general. This means that I have a severe mental illness and I am struggling right now. Which is exactly why I am in this office today. So no, I shouldn’t be happy. I SHOULD be exactly as I am right now, regardless of how it makes you feel.”

 


 

 

Setting Boundaries

I just turned down a job. It paid really well, was only for a few hours, and it was doing something I love. I said no without a second thought.


I know my limits, and I understand that my current schedule and mood is enough for me to manage. Could I use the extra money? Absolutely. However, my mental health and personal wellbeing are much more important to me than money.


This is what setting healthy boundaries looks like. I am using self-awareness and reflection to understand where I am and what my limits are. I understood that my plate was full. I didn’t have the energy or mental stability to “just add one more thing.” Although, a year ago that is exactly what I would have done. I was driven by money and success. I believed that doing this gave me worth and purpose. What I didn’t understand was that my life already had purpose and I was already worthy, just by being me.


I am a recovering people pleaser. I believed that I needed to meet other’s requests in order for them to accept and value me. It turns out that the people I want in my life are the ones who can accept ‘no.’ The people I was trying to please, were already pleased. They want what is best for you, so if you have to tell them no, that’s okay. They will recognize your self awareness and healthy boundaries.


I was influenced by social media. I thought I had to be doing something everyday, and if I didn’t document my life, how would people remember my existence? I saw others “living their best lives” and I felt horrible about myself. The problem was with me, not them. I was believing my negative thoughts and what they were telling me about myself. I accepted that I was boring, unwanted, and that everyone else in the world was doing better than me.


It has taken a lot of self reflection and mental work to get to this point. I guess I had to realize both my worth and my limits. I had to recognize and accept – I mean fully and truly accept- my own worth. I now understand that taking on more than I can handle is not a reflection of who I am. My level of importance does not change because my schedule is packed.


Learning how to say no gave me the freedom to heal. I am consciously choosing how I spend my time. I am observing my thoughts without accepting them as truths. I am setting myself up for success by saying ‘no.’

 

 

Stand By Me

 

I have been asking my close friends to be my bridesmaids. It is such a monumental step in your life, planning a wedding. I have been doing a lot of reflecting on the past three years. I’ve been reminiscing on Tyler and I’s relationship, remembering the suffering and struggle we’ve endured, and the support and love of our friends who’ve helped us as a couple.


 

I remember the night Tyler and I met. I was at a Halloween part with my close friends. Honestly, I did not want to go in the first place. I had no costume ready and I was exhausted. Flashforward to learn I actually had mono, no wonder I was exhausted. Anyway, I ended up at the party. It was your typical college house, sticky floors, loud music, and tacky beer signs. The house was packed so we found ourselves in a backroom in the basement. Tyler happened to be in the same room. Conversation flowed effortlessly. I noticed his eyes, kind and curious. He had a smile that made my heart warm.

 

After that night, I brushed him off. I didn’t want to get hurt. I was mentally struggling and knew I couldn’t get attached and lose something special. I believed my mental health was too much for someone to handle. He persisted and I finally caved. I decided to give him a chance. That was the greatest chance I ever took.

 

What made fall in love with Tyler, like really fully fall for him, was how and accepting and supportive he is. My darkest thoughts are never too much for him. I push and pull a lot in relationships. I go through periods where I accept and value his support. I pull him close and get attached. Suddenly, I can be set off. I push him away, reject support, and obsess over stupid mistakes. Things get messy, quickly. This has never sent him running. I push him away and he pulls me closer, knowing that this is the time I need support the most. When the dust clears, Tyler accepts what happened and helps me externalize the symptoms from myself. He helps me cope and thrive.


 

Our relationship is not perfect. Yet, we build up this image of perfection in our minds. We only see aspects of other’s lives and we use their highlights and compare it to our toughest times. I want others to look at my life just as they look at theirs. My life is like yours: messy, difficult, loving, joyful, and full.


 

What gets me through these ups and downs is my support system. My friends have always been there to talk and listen. They support and help when they can, with what they can. We all need this support in our lives, even in our relationships.


As I ask my remaining friends to be a part of our special day, I will continue to reflect. I admire our strength and determination to work on and better our relationship. I know that because of this, and our support system, we will make it.


Authenticity

Aspects of ourselves that we once viewed as weaknesses can become our greatest strengths. For a very long time, I hid my true self. It can be frightening being authentic and vulnerable. By putting ourselves out there, we are showing the world who we really are, but we are also opening ourselves up to criticism. However, there is another side to this. By showing our authentic selves we are allowing the possibility for deeper and more authentic relationships. Others will love these aspects of ourselves because they are what sets us apart and makes us unique.


I am extremely emotional and these emotions are intense. I am also very sensitive and reactive to my environment and personal interactions. I once believed this made me lesser than others. I felt like a child because everything upset me and I couldn’t control my emotions like those around me. now, I recognize what strengths I have because of these strong emotions.


I am empathic. It comes naturally and s always present. I care deeply about others and their emotions. I can empathize with others because I have felt these strong emotions, every day.  I can feel the room and pick up on these emotions as well. I feel with people, and their emotions become my emotions.


I thought these were flaws, but now I view them as strengths.


I want the same for you. Embrace what you once viewed as a flaw. Be unapologetically authentic. This self is exactly who you’re supposed to be. Others want to get to know that person, so be that person. Be you.

As a Child

I needed help when I was in 3rd grade, so my parents found me a therapist. Her job was to help me control my intense fear of well, everything. First, it was going to school. I only remember a little bit of my childhood, to be honest, I think I blocked a lot of it out when my thoughts grew dark.


Going to school is something many children hate, myself included, but I think most children handled better than I did. I remember waking up every Sunday, full of worry. Sunday was the weekend to everyone, but for me, it was just a whole day full of worrying about school tomorrow. I’d wake up bright and early Monday morning feeling slightly ill and a little on edge, I was worried about something relating to school, but I had no idea why. I always said I couldn’t go to school, not because I was sick, but because I just couldn’t go.


To others, this made no sense, but my mom understood me well. She knew I was an anxious child from the beginning, and this was a common occurrence. I would still have to go to school; my mom was a teacher of all things, so she would drive me when this happened.


Panic is all I remember feeling. I recall my mom having to drag me into school and meet with someone from the ‘stop and think’ area would pull me from her. I was transferred from my mother to a staff member. Often, she would ask me questions such as: why are you so scared, is someone in school being mean to you, is everything okay at home, etc. Everything was okay, so I would just nod and say I didn’t know why I was so upset.


Adults around me didn’t understand how I felt or why I was so scared, but neither did I. It was like being terrified of green and having no logical explanation for why you’re afraid of green. The anxiety of being afraid, but not knowing why. I always just told everyone who asked that I didn’t know what was wrong or why I was scared. They would just stop asking, and when I would eventually calm down, I would be lead into my classroom to begin my day.


In addition to school anxiety, I hated being away from my family when I was young. The idea of being away from my parents would trigger an anxiety attack. Sleeping at friends’ houses was only an idea for me. I wanted to stay over, and I would even make plans, but when it came bedtime, I would call home and beg my mom to pick me up. I felt a mix of guilt and relief as she drove me back home, but I didn’t have a choice, I truly believed I couldn’t stay over at someone else’s house.


Then there was my moral compass. I lived each day, fearful of doing something wrong because I viewed the world in black and white. Making a mistake was always on my mind, and when I felt that I had made one, I was overcome with an overwhelming sense of guilt. To this day, I can say that I don’t think I will ever feel as guilty about anything than the constant, but unnecessary guilt I felt as a young child.


Power of a Positive Mindset

Having a positive mindset will not cure, fix, or prevent depression. Optimism and positivity may not always help someone who is struggling. However, a positive mindset can enrich the good days and bring hope for the future.


I used to be very pessimistic and I believed that doing so released my stress and frustration. It was not until recently that I discovered the internal and external dialogue, matters.


Assuming and anticipating the worst makes it convenient to both perceive and experience negativity. The reason I was not feeling joy was because I rejected all the happiness around me. I was preventing myself from enjoying and appreciating life.


Now, I begin each day with an open mind. It may be a wonderful day or a difficult one. Regardless, I will accept it. I no longer want to confine myself to solely bad days.


Mindset matters, that is something I understand now. If I tell myself everything will work out, I may not accept it at the moment, but my subconscious hears this. Often I will later reflect and recognize how everything did work out.


On my bad days, I can recognize that there is room for improvement. I also know that tomorrow is a new day, a new opportunity.


A positive mindset will not prevent bad days from occurring or remove one’s pain and suffering. What if will do is enrich your life and improve your overall outlook of life, the world, and happiness.


Take Time to Reflect

I want to remember where I’ve been. I want to reflect on my progress and past. I want to understand and appreciate the lessons I have learned.


Self-reflection is the reason why I journal. Without reflecting, I float through life. I find myself living for what is ahead, forgetting where I have been.


Today I am reflecting on this past year and all the changes it brought. A lot has changed, which would often leave me feeling lost and out of control, yet I feel whole like I am slowly healing.


I had planned on taking the summer off of school, but with the intention of returning this fall. Since deciding not to return to school, my mental health and general outlook of my future have changed. While I still struggle with my mental health, my baseline is in a much better place. I am in control.


I am proud of myself for taking such a huge step, and I haven’t let myself acknowledge that. I could have continued down my career path and become a therapist; I could have been incredibly successful in that line of work and helped many people. However, I would have felt stressed, unhappy, and lost. I would have been sacrificing my health and happiness for a career, one I thought I needed to pursue to be satisfied with myself.


My health and happiness are more important than a valued career. I am happier as a dog sitter and walker than I ever could have been as a therapist. Don’t get me wrong, I loved therapy and excelled in my classes, but the stress and emotional wear it brought me was not worth it.


Reflecting on this past year and the choices I have made have helped me feel proud, something that doesn’t come along often. Take time to reflect today.


Having People That Reach Out

I struggle to reach out to friends. My mind tells me they are too busy and don’t want to hear from me. I fear they will be annoyed and will reject me. I feel needy and unwanted.


When fighting a mental illness, having people that reach out is crucial. Not just when they need something or when it is convenient for them, but when they haven’t heard from you in a while.


I appreciate those who check-in when you’ve been distant. Those who set up a day of the week to do something relaxing. Those who want to talk about their life AND yours. Those are the friends I not only want but require, and I’m grateful to have some wonderful ones in my life.


For a very long time, I was this friend. I always reached out, tried to set up plans, and sorted through my friend’s emotions. Unfortunately, this left me feeling burned. I no longer have the energy to be that friend because I need that friend.


This is not to say I never reach out or support my friends, I do. I am still the therapist in their eyes, always there to listen and help. However, I have begun to put up boundaries.


I am no longer the friend who always reaches out, but I am the friend that is still up to doing something. I may not be the one always making plans, but I follow through with the best I can


I am taking steps, small steps. Pushing past negative thoughts and doing my best to both reach out and put up boundaries. Acknowledging what I need is the first step.


I do what I can, but I need people that reach out.


Emotional Energy

I feel depleted — not from being busy or moving my body, but from strong emotions. This is my emotional energy.


The days I spend at home leave me feeling tired, but whole. I accomplish what I can and cope with the emotions that arise.


The days I spend working leave me drained and exhausted. When I go out with friends or Tyler, I’m left feeling tired. I often make memories and experience powerful emotions.


By the end of those busy days, I have nothing left to give. I am drained of my physical and emotional energy. I become incredibly irritable and often lash out.


There is emotional energy between Tyler and me as well. My strong emotions leave us both feeling raw and empty. We often argue over little things and become distant for a while. We require time to regroup before making up.


Positive emotions increase my emotional energy. There are days where positive emotions outweigh the negative; these are my best days. They remind me of how important it is to utilize and embrace the positive mood.


I am working toward adapting my life to increase my emotional energy. Working from home, clear boundaries, and being open about my emotions and thoughts. The more aware I become, the better I feel.