Thursday, April 22, 2010

It's all in your head. Only it's not.

Over the years as I have struggled with varying degrees of depression and anxiety, I have encountered many people who have become exasperated with me for not being able to simply choose happiness. Their exasperation exasperates me, to tell you the truth. Luckily, I have a husband and some close friends who really (I mean really) understand that it is not that simple.

Yes, negative thoughts, when continuous, can cause you to become anxious or depressed. Unfortunately for the clinically depressed/generalized anxiety disordered person, it is not snap-your-fingers easy to turn these thoughts around. They swirl around, and around in our heads on a never-ending loop of what ifs, darkness, gloom and lethargy. For some of us, there just isn't enough serotonin, norepinephren and/or dopamine created in the brain. Couple this with a surge of adrenaline that we get when we are anxious and you have a very bad combination. You have a person who just wants to flee or fight and doesn't have the energy to do either one. It can be paralyzing.

There are medications that help to stabilize and regulate chemicals in the brain, but these are not little, magic happy pills. We don't take them and then suddenly all of our problems are solved and we become blissfully happy. What they do is bring about a balance that allows us to have the ability to think in a different way, where we are not always at the mercy of whatever chemical is firing or misfiring inside us. Then, we have a choice.

Over the years that I have been on medication, I have done a lot of self-examination and have made great strides towards a life unencumbered by the baggage of the past. There are times of unusual stress that will cause me to have a set-back, however, and I will have to begin again to sort things out, perhaps change medication and get back on track. This is the place I found myself at this winter. There were several factors that contributed to my set-back. Looked at in isolation, they may not seem too overwhelming, but with everything hitting at once, it just took me over. Not in a sense that I was out of control, but it just became to tiring to pretend to be okay any more. Once the medical side was taken care of, it was time for me to start doing the healing work, making a concentrated effort to look on the bright side and freeing myself from the darkness.

I can choose happiness. I thought maybe just acting as if I were happy would bring about an attitude change. It doesn't. Not in a lasting way, at least. I don't want fake happiness or forced smiles. I despise fakery (yes fakery is a word. I deem it so) and people who put on a show for the world. I certainly don't want that for myself. I want genuine joy and abundant delight in my life. This can't be achieved by the fake it 'til you make it attitude that was popular a decade or two ago. At least for me it can't. For me, there are no shortcuts to happiness. I already have all of the outward trappings of happiness - a great family, enough to eat, clothes to wear, a home, money to pay bills, a 'job' that I love, no major catastrophes are going on in my life - it's all there. It's not that I take it for granted; I appreciate it all. It is just that I have to switch my focus at times and not force myself to be happy, but allow myself to be happy.

I came across this video of a song called As If by Sara Evans. The song is about love and finding the right person, but I think it applies to life in general, as well. The girl in the video is very fixated on finding just the right man. She goes through a series of 'perfect' men, only to ditch them when they didn't meet her expectations. In the end she realizes that the right man was there in front of her the whole time, she just couldn't see it because she had a vision of what was 'right' and 'perfect'. I think we do this in our lives more than we realize. We go searching for perfection, may even at times fool ourselves into believing that another person or a thing can provide happiness for us. In the end, though, we come to the conclusion that what we need for happiness, joy, bliss, delight, is right in front of us the whole time. We just need to look in the mirror to find it. We, ourselves, are the only person who can make us happy. We have to find contentment within ourselves, be satisfied and comfortable with who we are, and accept our own worth before we can truly be happy in this life.

Here's to self-love and lasting happiness.