One of the most common questions I’ve been asked since starting the blog, thus making my condition public, is if it’s possible for me to feel real, mad happiness. And the answer is always accompanied with an eye-roll.
Yes. I can.
Think of it this way, my serotonin levels are low, right? Which, yeah, technically impairs my ability to feel like a gleeful little leprechaun. But use that same principle with other hormones.
If a woman has slightly higher testosterone levels, she might show signs through her reproductive health or maybe some physical elements. But she isn’t a man, is she?
What I’m saying is that, just because something is present, it doesn’t always dominate.
I’m fortunate in the sense that things, right now, are going pretty well for me. I just landed my dream job, working with the SSPCA – Scotland’s leading animal rescue charity. The big dogs.
My social life is relatively active, considering I was a hermit about 3 months ago. I go out, make wine-based mistakes like every other 23 year old, and I’m now able to laugh about situations that would’ve literally driven me mad in the past.
But while things are going well, I do still find it hard to keep focused on the good stuff. For me, there is a constant preoccupation with danger and negative situations. I sometimes struggle to acknowledge how genuinely good things are, and instead spend my time worrying over meeting new people, proving myself and doing things completely right. For example, when I accepted the new job this week – I was happy, yes. But almost instantly my mind was filled with doubts – what if I don’t make friends? what if they think I’m incapable? And soon I start thinking that I should decline the job, stay where I am and – ultimately – be miserable. I can somewhat override this now, though. Depression wants you to stay boxed in, by yourself and numb. And you know you’re getting better when you can start to ignore it.
The best way I can describe my current state is that I’m happy, but I constantly feel like I’ve got something in the back of my mind. There’s almost a physical pressure in my head, and I can’t quite shake it some days. It’s extremely important for me to stay busy, but my attention span is pretty poor, and occasionally I’ll go blank because my heads in overdrive. You literally have to force that ‘feeling’ out of your head.
In order for me to get better, I had this mental list of things that I wanted to tackle. Things that would genuinely make me happier. Examples being getting a new job, mending relationships/friendships that I cared about, seeing my friends more, taking better care of my physical state and saying ‘Fuck It’ a lot more. Prior to diagnosis, I had given up on all of these things. I was content to stay in a job that I hated, didn’t really care about people around me and definitely didn’t look after myself. I was also a huge introvert, hence why it’s important for me to be more spontaneous now. I 100% believe that these goals have helped me to get over a large part of the illness, and while there’s still things to tackle, I’m getting there. Definitely.
I think that a large part of my initial understanding of depression was warped. I’ve always tried to be an advocate for ‘it’s not always what it looks like’, because people with this condition – as well as bipolar, schizophrenia and other mental illnesses ARE normal people. I think of the conditions as a little ‘glitch’ in their circuit boards. It’s completely possible to be happy when you have a negatively-wired mind, as weird as that sounds. And for me, it’s important that the stigma is dissolved. I’d like to be able to laugh without someone implying that it’s a rarity or some sort of miracle!
To be fair, it’s actually difficult for me to accept when I’m feeling happy. Not that I don’t want to be, but my mind is so busy processing the anxious thoughts, that when a nice one comes along, it freaks. It’s like walking back into school after the summer holidays. If you imagine my brain as a campus, and about 60% of the other pupils are anxious/blue/paranoid thoughts. A nice little thought comes in, sees everyone looking at them, and has to quickly find the table with it’s other, happy friends. That thought seems odd, out of place and finds it difficult to blend in to the literal madness. But it finds the table, sits, and gets on with it. The more that this happens, the better. The ‘campus’ will eventually be full of good shit, thus, Happy Kathryn!
Holy fucking hell, that was a terrible metaphor.
Anyway, in this ‘pursuit of happiness’, I’ll always be open about the success/failure of my own goals. Before starting this blog, I used to read other peoples’, and I didn’t always feel that they were honest when things went really good, or even really bad. A lot of their posts were just about staying static, to be honest. There was no progress reports. Admitting failure and being proud of your successes are key in truly getting better, I think. So I’ll do just that. Plus, it’ll probably make for a more interesting read.