Moments of joy, or what depression taught me about happiness

Happiness, to me, is a series of moments.

Recently I was walking our dog, Vegas, before work. It wasn’t particularly sunny or warm, and I wasn’t particularly happy to be up that early in the morning, but Vegas does this thing. He runs ahead, leaps about in the grass and then looks back at you as if to go ‘Look! We’re on a walk! Isn’t this great?’. It’s one of my favourite things ever. It occurred to me then that I was very, very happy. I try not to take happiness for granted, it has been an uphill fight to get to a stage in life where I can casually note my own joy and not be paralysed by the fear that it won’t last. I often wish I could show my eighteen-year-old self how happy she would be in just a few years time. It is strange to think, as I sit planning my own wedding or play fetch with Vegas, or just watch a movie with people I love, that I once sat crying in the corner of an unfamiliar university accommodation room, feeling overwhelmed and alone and deeply unhappy.

Happiness and depression do not exist in separate worlds, and frequently they can overlap. I was happy many times while I was depressed. I laughed with friends, I enjoyed a book, I celebrated academic achievements with pizza and Skyrim. I also cried a lot, frequently spent an hour convincing myself to get out of bed and was constantly under the weather with a mysterious illness that never seemed to leave but always left me exhausted. Nowadays I cry when we watch Inside Out, or that one episode of Dynasties where the baby penguin wanders off in a snowstorm, getting out of bed sucks at 6am especially when it’s freezing outside but hey, Vegas needs a walk and I need my job so out of bed I get.

Am I tired a lot?

Yes.

Is it depression?

No, it’s adulthood. Tiredness and caffeine addiction are frequent traits in pretty much everyone I know.

Learning to separate ‘oh god am I depressed again’ from ‘oh I see this is something everyone feels’ has been hard, but I’m getting there. I’ve accepted that I will probably never like mornings, but they are better when I get woken up by a dog who is so excited to see me he just couldn’t wait any longer for me to wake up, and I get a Lauren hug before I go to work.

I am more consistently happy now than I have ever been, even with ‘bad’ days. A bad day now is the equivalent of quite a good day when I was very depressed, and it’s noticing that difference that keeps me grounded. What is a bad day now? Something upsets me at work, I’m busy, I’m tired, the usual. That thing will probably be temporary, it’ll pass, if I work hard the busy period will seem shorter, it too will pass, and when I get home I can rest. A bad day now, while not necessarily avoidable, is something I can tackle. A bad day when I wasn’t well would barely begin. I’d be sluggish, snappy, unproductive and I’d probably feel ill. Either I’d go to bed horrifically early, or I’d sit up all night incapable of rest thinking about how miserable I was.  None of these things felt like things I could deal with, and even if they were I just didn’t have the energy. I’d exist in a cycle of inescapable exhaustion and work. Nowadays I get home, go ‘Well that was shit’ and probably take a bubble bath, and the next day will probably be better. If it isn’t I repeat the bubble bath routine and add a face mask for good measure.

Balance.

Never underestimate the value of a moment of happiness. I had those moments even when I was very, very sad and it was fighting for those moments that got me where I am. It won’t be the same for everyone, I had support – both professionally in the form of University counsellors and Doctors, and personally in the form of friends and family – I was physically and financially stable (most of the time, unemployment is a bitch) and I had a roof over my head and food to eat. I’m not saying toss away the meds, skip therapy and hunt for a moment of joy – please don’t do either of the first two things. Medication can be amazingly helpful, I owe a lot to it, and therapists are literal angels whose entire career is helping people feel less shit. I am not the world’s leading expert on anyone’s depression but my own and for the love of all that is good do not take this post as any form of instruction on how to get better. Leave that to the professionals, not a twenty-something dog mum with a coffee dependence issue. Unless the professionals are also all of those things, just with therapy qualifications.

Ever watched Tidying Up? You know, the Netflix show with the delightfully happy lady who teaches you to fold socks and shirts in a space-effective and visibly pleasing way? (Which totally works by the way). Well there’s a lot of discussion about joy on that show. Does an item inspire joy? If not, bin it. There has been mixed responses to this rule, but the inspiration of joy thing has value. Sometimes you surround yourself with things that inspire a moment of happiness and then you realise you don’t need them any more. I hoarded tea. I had so much tea it had its own cupboard, because it was warm and tasty and made me feel some measure of comfort and happiness when I was sad. One day I was packing and unpacking and moving in with Lauren and I realised I didn’t need it. Tea was a comfort blanket, a conversation starter. I could never possibly drink all that tea and what’s more if I didn’t want to, I didn’t like some of it, some of it was out of date, some of it was mysteriously unlabeled. So I threw it away (or gave it away if it was safe to consume and I knew someone would like it). I threw away my tea and created room in my life for things that didn’t just temporarily comfort me, they genuinely inspire JOY.

Things like:

When Vegas does a big stretch and it looks like he’s doing yoga.

That feeling when you’re super duper cosy in bed and you don’t have to go anywhere so you can just be cosy.

The laugh my fiancée does when she’s so genuinely delighted by something that the noise of joy just escapes. I think that’s my favourite sound in the whole world.

Would I ever throw these things away? Never. I fought for years to be able to feel this joy. No bad day, no early wake up or rain storm or workplace annoyance, can ever diminish the way I feel when these moments happen. And isn’t that just great?

So find things that make you happy and appreciate them, those little shining moments. You don’t have to be deliriously joyful at all times of the day, if you can hold onto it for a moment, and then another, and then another…well life is made up of moments, and I hope yours are happy ones.

(I still drink tea, by the way, I just don’t have enough to build a fort. It’s better this way.)

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