The strange thing is, I am happy.
Three weeks ago, I married the love of my life. We just got back from our honeymoon. I have an adorable puppy who brings me joy. I love my family and friends. Yet, as I am writing this, I am in a low. I haven’t been sleeping well for weeks, I feel drained, I feel lonely, I feel hopeless, I feel like curling up in a ball in a dark room and waiting for this unwarranted feeling of dread to pass.
If you take mental illness out of the picture, things are going exceedingly well for me. That’s the thing that people so often don’t understand, it is possible to be happy with the things going on in your life and to still be suffering. I think that more often than not in my experience, I’m not able to pinpoint why I am in a depressive period or why my anxiety is through the roof.
Earlier this year I was hospitalized a couple of times when I was feeling particularly hopeless, empty and anxious. During those hospital stays everyone from well-meaning family members to friends and even mental health professionals were drilling me with questions:
“Why are you depressed? You have an amazing fiancé, aren’t you excited to get married?”
“Why are you so anxious? There’s nothing to be scared of!”
“How could you be suicidal when you move in to your new house in a couple of weeks!?”
“What do you mean you feel alone and empty? You have had so many visitors here every day!”
I don’t know. I wish I did. I wish I had an answer to satisfy not only the questions of my family, friends and doctors, but my own questions of the same nature. The best I can say is that my mental illness doesn’t discriminate based on my current life experiences. It doesn’t only rear its ugly head when I am expecting it. It shows up when it wants to, it stays for however long it chooses to.
I often beat myself up over experiencing symptoms of depression, anxiety and panic when things are otherwise going so well in my life. Few things are more demoralizing to me than knowing how fortunate and privileged I am and yet experiencing emotional hell at the same time. I often think to myself, “You have it so good! Stop being such a baby! Grow up and get over this!” I compare myself to people in worse situations, people who are facing so much and stay so strong. It’s a comparison I would be better off ignoring for the shred of sanity I have left.
Don’t get me wrong, I experience bouts of depression and heightened anxiety during the rough times in my life. That’s a given. But those aren’t the only times when I am affected by my depression and anxiety. I don’t get to decide when they pop up. They are unwanted visitors at any time. They are akin to distant family members that you don’t really like who announce that they are coming for a quick visit and show up with giant suitcases and take over your house. I hate them, I resent them, I want them out of here.
When you are happy but depressed or anxious, it doesn’t feel like normal happiness. Depression is literally the opposite of happiness, so it’s very confusing. All I can say is that it is totally possible to be so excited to move in to your new house, so thankful to be marrying your best friend, so giddy to play with your puppy, but have all of those feelings of joy and happiness feel blurry and distant. You experience them, but only through the thick fog of depression. They are blurred, they are abstract. But they are nonetheless there.
This strange co-existence of happiness and depression, joy and anxiety is something I have had to come to terms with. It still nags at me, but accepting it makes it a lot easier to handle. I will never fully comprehend why I have had the worst depressive periods and highest anxiety of my life while I was engaged to my best friend, the love of my life. I will always resent my depression and anxiety for robbing me of the joy and celebration of this time in my life. But I can’t fixate on that, I have to focus on recovery.
To all my fellow sufferers out there. Whether things are going well in your life or not, I feel you. I cannot pretend to own your experience; we are all different. But I am with you. You are not alone.