People often remark at how positive and joyful I always seem. Always full of energy. “Why are you always so happy?” they ask me. Is it possible that certain people are just born that way? I think a more likely answer is that they choose to be that way. Truth be told, I am an optimist, and I am happy. Most of the time. The alternative is a place that I don’t wish to go. I’ve been there. When I start sensing that my optimism and energy is fading, I know that I need to a) be honest about what is sucking the life out of me, b) remove/avoid those elements of my life as far as is humanly possible (and without hurting anybody in the process), and c) pull myself together. I take responsibility for my emotions because I know that I’m no good to anybody if I am not at my best.
Depression, melancholy, sadness are very real emotions which can set in and make themselves a permanent resident in your life. It is described as a weight that is being carried around. Logically all is right in the world, yet you feel so low. You have plenty to be grateful for, yet you cannot lift the ‘dark veil’. There can be an accompanying sense of guilt for feeling this way. Guilt for treating loved one’s poorly. Guilt for not living up to your own expectations. All of this only makes the weight even heavier.
My first deep, lingering sadness came when I went to boarding school and I was terribly homesick. I wanted to go to boarding school. I was proud of my school. I had good friends who supported me, caring teachers, a loving family who worked hard and sacrificed a lot so that I could go to a great school. And I was miserable. Deeply, deeply sad. For 2 years this continued. And then, I learnt how to deal with the feelings. I decided to ‘be there’ and to make the most of this opportunity that I’d been given. And I never looked back. School became a joy – most of the time, anyway. I’ve had seasons of melancholy again as a young adult, struggling to find my way.
Having children changed me. I have not been deeply sad or depressed for 19 years. Annoyed, irritated, stressed, sad momentarily; but I have not been deeply saddened. And I am grateful. It is a choice though, and I choose to impact my children’s lives positively every day. It’s not gone though. I can feel it creeping up on me all the time, and I’m constantly working to keep the ‘dark veil’ at bay. So far, I’m winning.
When I was miserable, there was nothing that anybody could do to make me happy. The misery came from deep inside of me. And so did the joy, the peace, the fun and the grit. The risk of not dealing honestly with how you are feeling, is that you lose yourself to the sadness, or to the fake optimism. Either way, you are lost. You cannot develop grit, persistence and resilience by denying your feelings. You must work through them, in order to come out the other side. You must develop tactics that protect your mindset, your happiness, your energy.
Who are you spending your time with? What are you spending your time doing? What thoughts are you allowing to occupy your mind? What food are you eating and how is that making you feel? Are you sleeping well and enough? What are you looking forward to?
If you have a recipe for happiness that works for you, then you must protect it and you must stick to the formula. And keep sticking to it. There is always a light in the darkness. Always.
Drakensburg, South Africa. Photo taken by Alison