Choosing Happiness When Living with a Mental Illness

I spent a great deal of my life believing that happiness was a facade because of my depression. I truly believed joy was something that I could never really experience. Many years later, I’m here to say that it’s not elusive but it does take a lot of work. As someone who struggles with mental illness, it just takes more work. I don’t let my depression define me and I certainly don’t let it steal my happiness.

I was diagnosed with major reoccurring depression and generalized anxiety disorder in my early twenties.

I had struggled since elementary school undiagnosed. For those of you who haven’t experienced extreme mental illness, just know that it’s a constant struggle with your own mind. For me, it manifests into physical, emotional and mental exhaustion. When I was admitted to the psych ward several years ago, my life finally began to change for the better. I started to learn about Distorted Thinking and how my thoughts were affecting my entire well-being. I still suffer from bouts of depression. Sometimes it comes out of nowhere but most of the time it happens when I haven’t been taking care of myself.

I’ve learned that for me to be centered and healthy, I have to do 3 things diligently: mindfulness, meditation, medication.

I make a choice every single day to choose happiness. If I don’t make a mindful decision then my illness will have a better chance of taking over. Depression is like going on auto-pilot and once you are there it’s almost impossible to get off auto-pilot. Personally, I have come to terms and accepted my mental illness without shame. It’s an illness just like someone having heart disease, diabetes or asthma. I didn’t come to acceptance lightly. I had years of self-loathing and I couldn’t figure out why I was so broken.

Here are some common things that I heard (and please never repeat these to someone with a mental illness):

  • Why don’t you just try to exercise more?
  • Have you tried going to church?
  • I think people who are depressed just want attention.
  • I can’t believe you take that much medication.
  • I think it’s all in your head and you can make it stop anytime you want.

Now that I’m older, I cringe even writing these statements down. Would you say this to someone with diabetes? NO. It’s not okay to say to someone with a mental illness. Struggling with depression is a part of my life and that’s ok. It’s simply a small part of my life as long as I keep in check. I’m here to tell you that you can keep it in check. I’ve been through a whirlwind and I’ve been able to overcome the darkness and I know that you can too. I think it’s so important to be vocal about our mental health journeys. We all have so much in common when we let our guard down and start to understand each other.

Dealing with depression doesn’t make you a bad person. It doesn’t make you less valuable and it absolutely does not mean that you can’t experience happiness.

You just have to fight harder for it than most people. All the beautiful people that I’ve met with depression are the strongest people I know because they’ve had to learn how to fight to survive another day. When we can learn to focus this strength on getting well (and staying well) shifts happen.

If you are having suicidal thoughts, do not hesitate to reach out for help. You are so worth it my dear. You are strong, amazing, courageous and wonderful. Together we are stronger and finding the right balance in your life can help you experience more joy. I’m proof that it can happen, don’t give up.

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