Happiness, Obliquely


So we have more than established my angst-ridden past... Let's talk about the present. Am I recovered?

I would answer as if I were in Alcoholics Anonymous: "I am not 'recovered.' Rather, I am in recovery."



Every day brings with it new challenges, new obstacles to surmount. The difference is that now I have a working medication regimen that I am following. That has led to stability, to a quieting of the swings of emotion characteristic of bipolar. I have been able to relinquish self-harm as a coping mechanism. I distract from my self-destructive impulses and quiet overwhelming emotions by taking a bath, going for a walk, calling a friend.

More than that, the medication has restored me to myself. A close relative once said to me, "When you are on your medication, you are able to make your way in the world."

I still have symptoms, mostly seasonal affective disorder. I become tired in the fall and winter. I also deal with anxiety, and I have to struggle to push myself to do things even though they make me anxious.

But I count these symptoms as minor. Overall, I am in remission. Not "recovered." Rather, "in remission from symptoms."

I have a difficult past. But the present is unfolding differently. In the present, I am happy. This is not something I knew how to seek.

For a while, even on the medications, I was flailing, deeply unhappy and not at all sure of what to do about it. I was lonely and my life seemed empty. I was profoundly envious of acquaintances who were getting married, having children. What does life hold for me? I demanded of God.

But in the end, I took action: Over the past year, I joined a church, started volunteering for the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), and began piano lessons again. I also joined a writer's group, started exercising three days a week, transitioned from freelancing to a stable job, and began socializing with a singles group. I took steps to deepen my spiritual life, reading the Bible and praying every morning. This, most of all, I found sustaining: "Wait on the LORD, and renew your strength," the Bible says.

All of this has been built on the foundation of medication compliance. With the right medication, I am capable of so much, I have learned. I am capable of a healthy life.

In November, I will give a talk on a NAMI educational panel, to represent the consumer perspective and to share my story. I want to talk about finding happiness.

Because I feel as if I am blossoming, starting to come into my own. My past is dark, but in the present, my life is rich. I am happy. It feels miraculous.

"Happiness depends upon ourselves" is the quote I have chosen from Aristotle. And this is true to an extent. But my mother said something wise to me recently. She said happiness comes to us obliquely. We can't aim for it. We can't take our own temperature every day. We find it doing other things: raising children, working, volunteering. After a time, we wake up one day and discover that we are happy.

We choose happiness by aiming at worthwhile things and pursuing them wholeheartedly. I have been aiming at work, volunteering, growing spiritually, building relationships. Happiness has simply happened. And it will continue to happen, to deepen and to grow. "Further up and further in," as I quoted C.S. Lewis in a past blog past.

These days, I don't spend my time regretting the past. The riches of the present have wiped away my bitterness. My gratitude overflows.         

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