The inspiration for today’s post comes from my blogging friend Mio who runs Mentally Ill in America, a space where he shares his lived experiences in a clear and present way that I love. I enjoyed one of his latest posts, “Why I Keep Getting Back in the Ring,” which was about what makes you get back in the ‘ring’ of living with mental illness (I hope I got that right, Mio!). I left a comment saying that one of the things that gets me out of the ring is that there’s a possibility of happiness and joy every morning, and it’s one of my main motivations every day. After further reflection, I’d like to expand a little more on the important role that joy plays in my life – even though I rarely experience it.
An early challenge in my mental health journey was managing my expectations on what it meant to be happy. I wasn’t sure what it meant to be happy, and the logistics to being happy seemed exhausting to me. Was I supposed to feel warm all the time? Should I be smiling more? Should I look more happy in public, and then feel different when I’m alone? It felt strange asking people how to be happy, but I was truly curious. I read books about self-love and training yourself into happiness, I tried gratitude journals, but nothing ever stuck.
After years of living with anxiety and depression, I’ve developed a much better (and far healthier) set of goals when it comes to finding joy and happiness in my daily life. It took time, but I changed my expectations about what happiness means to me.
I didn’t lower my expectations; instead, I realized that those expectations had always been unrealistic. They were unrealistic for anyone to be honest, but more importantly they were unrealistic for me. I don’t have the temperament, personality or energy to be happy-go-lucky all the time, so why would I have expected that from myself? I needed to shift my goals, which is exactly what I did.
Instead of looking for happiness or trying to capture joy, I tried to be as healthy as I possibly could be – mentally, physically, spiritually, emotionally, etc. I prioritized my healthiness over my happiness, and the goal was to get through the day in as healthy of a way as possible. There were many times I failed (and I’m sure there will be more), but it led to having good moments every so often. Moments where I smiled, moments where I laughed, moments where I found joy. They didn’t stay, but they’ve sustained me. They’ve reminded me that life can be good, pleasant and kind every so often.
Getting out of bed in the morning is one of the biggest challenges for folks living with mental health disorders. You have to overcome your brain telling you that you’re worthless – that getting out of bed is pointless because the world doesn’t need you. But that tiny sliver of hope that the day might bring a moment of joy is why I fight to get out of bed every day. Those moments can energize you, they can sustain you. They can remind you that for a moment, you’re human. And they can keep us going as we continue along in our mental health journeys.