The inspiration for today’s post comes from my blogging friend, Mio, who runs Mentally Ill in America, a place where he shares his experiences in clear and contemporary ways that I love. I enjoyed one of his most recent posts, “Why I Keep Getting Back in the Ring”, which was about how to get back into the “ring” of living with mental illness (I hope I got that right, Mio !). I left a comment that said one of the things that gets me out of the ring is that there is the possibility of happiness and joy every morning, and it’s one of my main motivations every day. After further deliberation, I would like to explain the important role that joy plays in my life in a little more detail – even if I rarely experience it.
An early challenge on my mental health journey was managing my expectations of what it means to be happy. I wasn’t sure what it meant to be happy, and the logistics of being happy seemed exhausting to me. Should I feel warm all the time? Should i smile more Should I look happier in public and then feel different when I’m alone? It felt strange asking people how to be happy, but I was really curious. I read books about self-love and trained myself to be happy, I tried gratitude journals, but nothing ever stuck.
After living with anxiety and depression for years, I have developed a much better (and far healthier) set of goals when it comes to finding joy and happiness in my daily life. It took me some time, but I changed my expectations of what happiness means to me.
I haven’t lowered my expectations. Instead, I realized that these expectations were always unrealistic. They were unrealistic to anyone, to be honest, but more importantly, they were unrealistic to me. I don’t have the temperament, personality, or energy to be happy all the time. Why would I have expected this of myself? I had to shift my goals, which is exactly what I did.
Instead of looking for happiness or capturing joy, I tried to be as healthy as possible – mentally, physically, spiritually, emotionally, etc. I prioritized my health over happiness, and the goal was to get through the day as healthy as possible. There have been many times that I’ve failed (and I’m sure there will be more), but it kept leading to good moments. Moments when I smiled, moments when I laughed, moments when I found joy. They didn’t stay, but they supported me. You reminded me that life can be good, pleasant, and kind from time to time.
Getting out of bed in the morning is one of the biggest challenges people with mental disorders face. You have to overcome your brain and tell you that you are worthless – that there is no point getting out of bed because the world doesn’t need you. But that little glimmer of hope that the day could bring a moment of joy is why I struggle every day to get out of bed. These moments can energize you, they can support you. They can remind you that you are human for a moment. And they can keep us going on our mental health journey.