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Learning to feel happy

Hi, all, 

Thinking about all sorts of things today. What I want to do here, what it should be about. Like I said yesterday, I do want to talk more about some of my experiences with depression and anxiety, and how I’ve come through past depression. (I think anxiety’s on the ropes now. Gonna fall at any moment.)

But I don’t want to limit myself to just talking about depression, because if there’s one thing I’ve learned in this whole process, it’s that those of us who suffer with anxiety and depression often seem to have a general issue experiencing all kinds of emotions, simply because we squash some and overproduce others. Happiness becomes hard to feel because it actually can be rather vulnerable to feel, and anxiety won’t allow for it. We’re socialized to not get too comfortable with any good situation in our lives, always looking out for the next bad thing to come our way, and to intensely fear the possibility of premature celebration, less we end up looking stupid. It was a bit shocking to me when I realized how much I tend to sit on my full expressions of happiness, precisely because of how vulnerable I felt when I did. Hell, there are times when I’m even scared to think happy thoughts around other people, in case it leaks onto my face and I get yelled at for it. The real thing I’m scared of are the tummy tickles. I’ve never told anyone about that feeling, but when I’m around others and I feel that way, it drives me nuts because I’m afraid I’ll start laughing at any moment, just because I’m happy to be alive. Nothing’s happened, I didn’t just escape death or anything. I’m just here, right now, breathing, blinking, hearing, and feeling, and I love it. It creeps into every pore until it gathers in my heart, tickles my tummy, and makes me laugh. And makes me feel like everyone around me knows exactly what’s up, and that I need to cut it out. That’s why so often it’s just easier to be alone. Where I can feel as happy about life as I want, and no one will try to take it away. But lately I’ve been trying to let that laugh color me in public more, even if I do feel a bit embarrassed by it. Because ultimately, I want those things to reach me. To see a butterfly, or my favorite shade of blue-green, or hear beautiful music, and let it touch me. Touch me to where all I can say is “Thank you. Thank you because I’m here to experience this”. To say thank you, and not have it be a lie, or something I feel forced to say.

 It took a while, wading through my depressed feelings, to realize exactly how afraid I was of being happy, especially to that extent, because I’d been horribly disappointed by life before. But even smaller expressions were hard, not only because of that weight of sorrow I was carrying, but just because I kept happiness pinned under my foot. As far as I was concerned, it was really just a trouble maker. If I hadn’t dared to hope and dream and get happy off of those dreams, then maybe it wouldn’t have hurt so badly when things went exactly the opposite way. Yet, I wanted to be free from depression, which meant…being happy. That risk, again. Of course, most non-depressed people aren’t happy all the time either. There’s something in the middle- contentment. But I knew that I couldn’t reach contentment so long as I was keeping all traces of happy expression underfoot like that. It was surprising to realize exactly how hard letting happiness go could be. I was afraid of what it would do to me. How it would change me, expose me. Would it deny what I’d been through, the process I was undergoing? That “put on a happy face” bullshit that pretends that life is easy as long as you smile? Would I become addicted, suddenly unwilling to experience anything but joy? Perhaps. Letting it free was the only way through to contentment. Emotions, I realized, are not an on-off switch, or piano keys- now you’re happy, now you’re sad, now you’re angry, etc. They’re a spectrum. They all bleed into each other, fade into each other, play a role with each other. At the time I had way too much blue in my life, and wanted green. The only way to do it was to let go of that blue, and let in some yellow. 

At first it was a bit of a terror. I’m the type to usually live quite a bit of my life in my head, and often when I feel intense emotions, I retreat to whatever extent I can. I had gotten to the point where I retreated at the first sign of positive emotions. It sounds odd, but I felt like I was being disrespectful to my depression and anxiety, like they needed to have everything. Like feeling anything else was just denial, and we know how much that doesn’t help. Like feeling anything positive was just proof of what a big liar and fraud I was. When I realized that I had put happiness in a chokehold, well, it made me feel a lot worse about myself. But I thought about it. “What does it matter that I did? Happiness is a trick anyway. And my happiness has never counted for anything. That has been made abundantly clear to me.” Yet all the other efforts I was making to fight this…if I really wanted to be free from anxiety and depression, free from the raging thoughts, the endless tears, the horrible pain of it all, I had to learn to experience more than sorrow and fear, because we are more than sorrow and fear. There was no other way. And I hated that. What a wimpy thing to do. To let this stupid emotion called joy free. Why? So it can ruin my life some more? So that I can run around in denial, grinning like some freaking idiot? No. I knew. Past the anger, I knew. So that I could be all of me, not consumed by depression or anxiety. It started with small things. Being grateful. Saying thank you and meaning it. Letting experiences capture my senses, and sitting with that, even for just a moment. I guilted myself a lot in this process, telling myself I had no right to this, and that positive emotions were just a waste of time. But I had promised that I would stick around. This was what I needed to keep living. Letting myself love things. Letting myself be loved (something I still struggle with). And feeling every bit of it, not retreating, transforming it, or running away. As my therapist taught me to do with the emotions of my negative experiences, I learned to do the same with positive emotions. Happiness isn’t about deservedness, or worth, or appropriateness. Happiness is just a part of us.

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