I love being happy.
I fully believe that God intends us to be happy in this life.
But there have been periods in my life where happiness has not come easily.
For the last decade, I have struggled with depression. Some years have been harder than others, some days darker, but my mental health is still a weight on my shoulders, hanging over me constantly, not unlike the sword of Damocles, threatening imminent disaster.
More recently, I have experienced postpartum depression. Following my first child’s birth, a combination of raging hormones and a life-altering baby caused me to settle into an overwhelming depression for over a year. I assumed that I’d made a terrible mistake, that I just wasn’t cut out for motherhood, and that I was destined for a miserable existence. For 13 months, depression robbed me of my joy.
Then, not long after my daughter turned 1, and just 1 month before my second (accidental) baby was due, something fell back into place. I quite suddenly “snapped out of it”. It wasn’t until I found myself feeling better, feeling more myself than I had in the last year, that I realized just how awful I had been feeling and for how long.
It seemed like a night and day difference to go from simply getting through each day – often resenting my role of mother, questioning my choices, and desperately searching for purpose – to loving life! All of a sudden I was hopelessly in love with my little girl; I had energy and motivation to make her a meaningful part of all my daily tasks; and I was finally beyond excited to welcome a new little boy into our family in a short time.
Having experienced this profound happiness and despair in such dramatic contrast, I became determined that I would not revert back to my former self unnecessarily. There is too much good in my life and in the world to risk missing out on all of it. I’m far from perfect at embracing and capturing every happy moment, and depression is still a real factor in how I experience each day. Still, I have found ways to work and fight so that I don’t needlessly relinquish my joy.
This is what my fight looks like:
Asking for and accepting help
One morning that I was having a particularly difficult time and felt myself approaching a breakdown, a friend, knowing my situation, asked if she could watch my kids for a while. I struggled for several minutes deciding how to politely decline before finally replying, “Yes, that would actually be great”. At other times, I’ve asked my husband to let me nap or take a shower while he does dinner with the kids on his own. Sometimes I give my toddler an extra 30 extra minutes of screen because, dang-nab-it, I’m going to shower and put on make-up today. (I consider the tv an extra friend and helpmeet when needed.) I’ve also knelt in prayer begging my Father in Heaven for a miracle because I can’t go on without His help.
For a long time, I believed that needing help meant I was weak. To accept charity seemed to be giving up, to be giving in to the burden of depression. More recently, though, I’ve realized that saying yes to an offer of service just means that I’m gearing up. Each time that I allow myself to ask for help or take time to myself, it means that I am planning on facing the world head-on today and I’m drawing on all of my reserves to do it.
For various reasons, I grew up with the mindset that depression wasn’t an issue that should ever really be addressed – either you get over it or you suppress it. As I grew older, I became aware of people in my own life who suffered from depression and even had more and more of my church leaders address the issue of mental health. I was grateful to feel like I no longer had to hide the way I felt, but in my mind, medication still seemed out of the question. It wasn’t until shortly before the birth of my second child, when I saw the joy I had been missing, that I had my doctor prescribe me anti-depressants in the hopes of preventing further falling into a postpartum abyss. All, I can say is that I thank God for modern medicine. Medication doesn’t completely take away my depression, but it certainly makes it more manageable.
Reminding myself of good.
There are some days that are so dark that I honestly can’t remember what happiness feels like. I can know that I experienced it only the day before, but the emotion has fled so far from my reach that I question if it was even real in the first place. For this reason, I have to actively recall memories of happiness. At one point, this meant that at the end of each good day, I would record on a sticky note a moment of real happiness from that day and place it on my bedroom wall. Then, at times that I could scarce believe happiness existed in this life, I would read and recall the moments of joy that literally surrounded me, and I could fight another day.
Thinking of others.
When I’m depressed, I ruminate on my sorrows and become fixated on my inabilities and helplessness. Unfortunately, as a stay-at-home-mom, a lot of my daily tasks are fairly mundane and monotonous, so I’m left with a lot of extra brain power that defaults to mulling over in my mind how miserable I am. I become trapped inside of my own thoughts. Often, it seems, the only way to break this cycle is to serve someone else. When I go out and act on even a small thought to help another, it’s so much easier to forget myself for a time and become consumed with thoughts for neighbors and loved ones. Better still is finding a way to serve that requires some creativity or special planning so that I can really get out of my own head and focus outward. This time allows me to reset and even come back to my own problems with a refreshed outlook.
Along with these, there are many other things I try to do – regular date nights, exercise, keeping a schedule – in order to keep myself sane. So while the burden of depression still weighs me down, I am fighting for my joy. Happiness exists and is attainable even when I cannot find it close at hand; I will not let it slip from me without a fight.