This isn’t the least controversial thing I’ve ever said. In fact, it might be one of the most controversial things I could say in the current culture of mental health and the culture of medication. But I’m saying it anyway.
Joy is a choice.
At least hear me out. If you’re reading this article, like any of my other posts, I encourage to start with an open mind. If not, click away because having an open mind is a big part of this piece.
Before I start, let me give you background. The reason why I personally believe I have some ground to at least even speak on this topic and present my opinion.
I was depressed. Like, really depressed. And I wasn’t depressed for a year, or two. I was depressed for ten years starting around age 11. What started off as situational depression ended up training my brain to exist a certain way, take certain pathways of thought. I had an existential crisis all throughout high school because I was enduring a lot of trauma.
I did everything you were supposed to. I journaled. I exercised. I had people who cared. I saw a therapist for awhile. I even tried medication. I engaged in hobbies and activities. I got out, I didn’t stay in my room.
But that didn’t matter. Because there was one thing missing. I didn’t want to get better. I didn’t want to be accountable for my joy.
Unfortunately, a lot of people are like this. Myself included. This isn’t a problem that went away or was completely fixed when I stopped being depressed. It still surfaces and I have to tell myself, “Stop it. Get up, go communicate a problem. Vocalize that you are sabotaging yourself and stop. Joy is a choice.”
Then one day, I woke up and decided to go for a run. I wanted to take care of my mental health and that started with doing something I didn’t like at all. At first, I wanted to stop. I was in shape but I wanted to stop. Every step made me want to cry. In fact, the first six months of running there were a lot of times I broke down crying on the trail. Not because it was physically exhausting or boring or even that mentally challenging.
I didn’t want to live and running made me live. I didn’t want to fight obstacles anymore and running put thousands of obstacles (steps) in front of me each time that I had to conquer. And I was doing it. I was choosing to fight. I was choosing to be happy because after each run, I was happy.
And that was just the beginning.
That’s my background on it anyway.
Running, and all the struggle it brought, got me thinking.
What if I can choose to be happy? What if I’m choosing to be miserable?
And I was. I was choosing to stay in my depression for so, so many reasons. One of them being, my brain didn’t know any better. My brain didn’t have the right chemicals in it because I grew up depressed. I knew medication didn’t work for me. I knew it was a quick fix to mask the symptoms, for me. It didn’t solve the underlying problem.
We live in a country that’s very quick to throw pills at people instead of working with them so solve the underlying problems which also make the symptoms go away. It just takes longer. This is why I think in most cases depression medication should be used as a short-term solution in tandem with therapy and lifestyle changes (diet, negative habits, exercise). Short-term also doesn’t mean months. It can mean years.
Back to the point, I was choosing to be miserable. It hurt to realize that. When I realized I could do things to increase my chance at being happy, self care, things changed. I almost think I felt worse because I realized I could have done this a long time ago and I was fighting myself to be miserable. Kinda felt icky.
So I started with that. Self care.
My first baby step was to sleep. I looked at my sleep schedule and decided to get 9 and a half hours every night. No matter what, I would be in bed by midnight and get up at 9:30. Even if I didn’t sleep, I would be in bed those same hours every single night.
Next step, about a year later, was to work on recovering from my eating disorder. I gave it up. I chose to be healthy. I chose to gain weight and I chose to find a way to lose it in a healthy way without excessive restriction.
Somewhere along the road, I realized I could be happy.
It wasn’t until the last year of my life that I realized, I can choose to be happy. I can choose to be miserable, throw myself a pity party, and feel terrible. That’s within my rights as a living creature. But I have an equal opportunity to smile, breathe and be happy.
Even in tough situations, I have the choice to smile and say, “This sucks. This is stressful (sad, angering, upsetting, etc). But I am still happy. I can be happy with this happening. I am okay, this is just one thing.”
For me, that’s what this is all about. It’s not about a chemical imbalance. It’s about rewiring my brain to understand that I’m happy and that’s acceptable. I am allowed to be happy. I am allowed to feel joy. I am allowed to exist in a good place.
And in that good place, trying things can and will happen but that does not negate the happiness I feel or the goodness of the place I choose to be. I can choose joy as easily as I can choose socks. The choice is always there, with everything. I might start feeling miserable maybe for no reason at all and a quick check of my thoughts tells me that I’m letting myself be negative instead of positive.
This is mindfulness at its best.
Be mindful of your thought process. Teach yourself to be happy, to think happy, to appreciate your life. It’s okay to be happy. It really is.