Friends, I have been unhappy.
That is putting a rather soft-focus filter on it. I have been depressed for six months. Did I choose unhappiness? No.
No, I am going to put my foot down and say that I did not choose to be unhappy. I did not choose to be depressed any more than I chose to be ill.
Happy New Year
At the start of January, my unhappiness sought me out along with my illness, threw me hard on the floor and caused me to have a convulsive fit and lose consciousness in front of a crowd of people, my husband, and (worst of all) my three year old son, before making sure that I could not pick myself back up. As I came to from that episode the first thing I heard anyone (a watching stranger) say was ‘is she dead?’
Reader, I was not dead.
I was, however, very ill, and a trip in an ambulance followed minutes later. And so that day set in motion the most horrible 6+ months of my life. The most horrible, because though I have faced horrid things in the past I have never before faced the possibility of not being around for my family. It is not over now, but it is getting better.
I’m not going to go into too much detail about my illness, as I am sure that many people are already aware, and honestly, it does not make for cheerful reading. Suffice to say that it lead to my mother moving in for over four months to care for me, to help me do things like bathe, look after my child, get to the toilet, and eat. I don’t know how I would have got through it without my Ma, and I am forever grateful. I saw things too close to my own death, and alongside the fear of suddenly not being here any more was the crushing sadness of not seeing my boy grow up, and him forgetting who I was. He is three, and he has such a sense of me now, and many of my traits, but he would not grow to know me.
I tried to do something positive on the back of this fear. I gathered up all of my courage and asked a few friends, if the day came too soon, to put in place a few things to help my husband keep my memory alive with my son. could someone make a teddy bear from my clothes, stitch together a few of my old jumpers for a blanket to wrap him in? I can’t even type these words without crying. When my illness was at its height, when I felt closest to not being here, these thoughts squeezed my chest and left me gasping for air through my fears.
There are many things in life that might make us unhappy. I’ve been through a fair few. Death, illness, pain, abuse, homelessness, poverty. You don’t know what challenges your neighbour faces, nor the reason for their unhappiness.
But is unhappiness justified? Who gets to decide what life events or challenges or situations we should allow to make us unhappy? There are no Unhappiness Police. Except yes, there really are.
The day my grandfather died my world stopped turning for a while. My grandfather was all that made my childhood good. He was the only male figure I had that did not bring misery and pain to my life. I was in the street when I heard the news, and tears sprang to my eyes quickly as the world fell away. But, because of the societal pressure to be happy and not embarrass yourself, I dried my eyes, put my head down and started to walk swiftly home. But even in this personal moment of the initial stab of grief, a complete stranger intruded on my unhappiness. ‘Cheer up Love. It might never happen’.
Has there ever been an instance when this has been an appropriate thing to say? ‘Actually, my grandad has just died‘, is what I did not say. Instead I put on a wan smile and shuffled back home, because your role here is to keep your unhappiness safely away from other people. Put your smile on, because you are ruining their vista.
The pressure to be a 24hr ball of happiness is real. If you don’t have Instagrammable Good Vibes Only what are you even doing showing yourself in the world? Accompanying the pressure to airbrush away our physical flaws is the burden to filter our emotions and feelings so that only happiness shows through.
And we are constantly being bombarded with reminders that we have a duty and responsibility to show we are happy and that it is absolutely our own fault if we are not.
So, if you are unhappy, it is because you have chosen unhappiness over happiness. It is because of your attitude.
Happiness As A Choice
Happiness as a choice sounds like a great way to live, and if you can do that, all power to you. If you can maintain your happiness through your challenges then absolutely nobody wants to take that away from you, because those are your feelings and emotions, and absolutely nobody has the right to dictate the private or public face of those to you. But it works both ways. You do not know what challenges your neighbour faces.
The problem with telling other people to just choose happy, or that the only difference between them having a good day and a bad day is their attitude, is that we do not understand the complex layers that make up their life.
Often it is not just their attitude that makes the difference between a good day and a bad one. Sometimes the difference is not having a roof over your head, not eating for four days, losing a loved one, experiencing your country being torn apart by war, suffering a miscarriage, being raped, suffering domestic abuse, finding out you have a terminal illness, or spending another day in pain.
If those telling others to ‘happy away’ all of their problems are able to do so in their own lives, then all power to them in that aim. But how presumptuous and full of privilege to expect others to do the same. I don’t know of a single woman who has been able to happy away the absolute life-wrenching destruction of a rape. I don’t know a single person who has lost a child where a change of attitude would have made those most awful of days ‘good‘ days. I don’t know one person, who when they have been homeless and haven’t eaten for days had a ‘choice whether they let it affect them or not‘.
Happiness And The Mental Health Stigma
The changing face and destigmatising of depression and other mental health conditions is often given as one of the most positive changes in attitudes of our current time, but I really believe that this is mostly window dressing in the form of the beautification of self-care, and is being used by an ever-growing number of businesses to sell us something.
The real shift is going to have to be down to us. We need to make a safe space everywhere we go to allow people to talk about their mental health, rather than tell them to adjust their attitude to happy. That means at home, at work, with friends and online.
If you are happy, right now, live that happiness. Maintain that light as long as you are able without burning out. Let it touch as many lives as possible. Let it shine, radiate and inspire. But give people the safety and space to live with their own emotions and reality.
Happiness without empathy can be demanding and damaging when you try to force it on others.
My happiness is slowly returning along with some better health. I am not well, but I am better than I was. Things are still a challenge, but I can do more. Like typing! I have also just about got myself together to knit and do a few other things, so I’m firing the site back up and will hopefully have some colourful content coming this way soon. I’ve missed you.