Happiness is Fleeting?

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I think everyone at one time or another has come to a crossroad where they question what they want to do with their life. On the other hand, you might be one of those lucky ones (just in my opinion), that just choose to live their life with pure faith. I am certainly the first type. From when I was a teenager, I remember being addicted to reading self-help books. Today, even though I have sworn them off forever, I am always still searching for the answer to: Why am I here?

I have read Buddhist teachings. Through therapy, I have learned to counteract my negative thinking. I also exercise regularly so I feel happier. Isn’t life about finding happiness or at least seeking a bit of joy? Thats what I thought till I watched Emily Esfahani Smith’s Ted Talk entitled “There’s More to Life Than Being Happy.” I am so sorry, but I cannot recall whose blog I watched this video from. If it was your blog, please get in contact me because I want to give you credit.

In the video, she talks about how chasing happiness might potentially lead to more unhappiness. Happiness comes and goes. Instead, if you seek meaning in your life, you will feel more fulfilled and resilient. She talks about her four pillars of a meaningful life, which include belonging, purpose, transcendence, and storytelling. I’m not exactly sure what I want to talk about in this post, except that after watching it, I had some reflections I wanted to share.

In her talk, Emily shared that before her dad went into surgery, he repeated a mantra of her and her brothers name. For him, it was this purpose of wanting to take care of his kids that gave him strength to make it through surgery. This story made me think about many things. What would I want to live for if I had to face death? What would my purpose be? Where do I find meaning in life?

For me, the idea of belonging was pretty obvious. Of course, I would want to continue living for my family and friends. I would want to continue to nurture and maintain those relationships. The second pillar of purpose required me to reflect a little more. I mean, I find a lot of purpose in my work, which allows me to help others. Along with that, I have found great purpose in writing this blog about mental illness. It has also allowed me to write a new story in my life. Instead of feeling sorry for myself, my mental illness has equipped me with firsthand experiences which I can share with others and hopefully help break down the stigma towards mental illness.

Transcendence though? I can’t think of anything that fits into this category. Emily says transcendence are those “rare moments when you are lifted above the hustle and bustle of everyday life” and you feel connected to a “higher reality.” Supposedly, these moments make you lose sense of time and place. I’ll continue looking.

I also had an opposing thought after watching this TED talk. I mean, I know happiness is fleeting, but gosh, I do love fireworks, rainbows, and eating dessert! What are your thoughts on happiness?

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Build a Ladder

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Dealing with a chronic illness is difficult, but having the courage to show yourself at your worst is truly commendable. Martina, from her Youtube channel Simon and Martina does exactly that, by allowing her husband to film her during an extremely difficult day.  She suffers from Ehlers–Danlos Syndrome, which results in chronic pain in her joints. In the video above, she shows how she “builds a ladder” to push through the pain. She shows how she takes small steps to make the day more manageable.  I must admit this video was hard to watch because I have had similar days where I didn’t know how I could make it through. So I thought I would also share how I build a ladder during these “bad days.”

Basic Hygiene

In the video, Martina shared that the first rung of her ladder was getting up. I actually had the opposite issue, I suffered from insomnia. For me, laying around in bed with my thoughts was a torture, so getting up actually gave me the opportunity to distract myself. It seems really basic, but for someone with mental illness, brushing your teeth and washing your face can become insurmountable tasks. However, they make you feel immediately refreshed and help you start the day, so even if I am crying and my hands are shaking, I always force myself to brush my teeth. Plus, I hate dental work, which probably gave me some incentive too.

Eating Regularly

I was especially fortunate that I lived with my parents when I was really sick. They cooked for me and made sure I ate my meals. I can’t imagine what would have happened if they weren’t there. I lost a lot of weight at the height of my depression. To make sure I didn’t keep on losing weight, I continued to eat even though I might not have wanted to. I was really lucky because my mom bought food that she knew I would enjoy. When I was at the hospital, I also made it a goal to finish my food. Surprisingly, I remember finding some new foods that I really liked, like cream of wheat, which I would have never tried if not for my hospital stay.

Taking a Walk

With mental illness, you often do not want to go out or see anyone. One major rung on the ladder for me everyday was going out to take a walk around my neighbourhood. In the beginning, I would usually take the same route, just to give myself a consistent goal everyday. There were quite a few times I didn’t want to go, but my parents would literally push me out the door. I remember completing an entire walk while crying the whole time. However, I did feel better when I came back. Like Martina talks about in her video, it is nice to slow down and just take a look at all the beautiful things in the neighbourhood. It calmed me down to look at the leaves on the trees, and the gardens my neighbours tended to. Most importantly, it promotes endorphins and usually put me in a better mood.

Arts & Crafts

When I was seeing my doctor regularly, he would always encourage me to pick up a hobby or just do anything to keep myself occupied. At that time, there was only one activity I enjoyed and that was anything that involved steps, like knitting or puzzles. I think I found it comforting and concrete that I could complete these steps and accomplish a task. During my hospital stay, I completed many puzzles. At home, I also knitted many hats and scarfs. Whatever it is, find something that you enjoy and can accomplish readily. Even though it will seem small at the time, each accomplishment will add to your ladder and one day you will reach the top and see the light again.

How do you build a ladder when things get tough?

If It Weren’t For My Mental Illness…

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If it weren’t for my mental illness, I probably wouldn’t be writing this blog right now. I don’t think I can wholeheartedly say that having anxiety is a blessing though. That might be pushing it too far. Plus, I am not really one of those people that think that everything happens for a reason. However, I must say, if it weren’t for my mental illness, I probably wouldn’t be who I am today.

I was watching this video on Youtube about a man who had climbed the tallest mountain in each continent despite being blind. At the end of the video, he said that we have to take adversities, and “use them as a catalyst to push you in new directions.” What he said really resonated with me. In this blogpost, I want to talk about the “new directions” I have taken because of my mental illness.

Exercising Regularly

I wouldn’t say I was a total couch potato before my mental illness, but it certainly was high on the priority list. Now, I try to exercise as much as I can every week. I even track it on an app because I know that physical activity is crucial to maintaining mental health. It promotes endorphins, which put you in a better mood. Plus, I feel if you are physically fit, it just makes the daily battle against mental illness easier. In this way, sometimes I think maybe mental illness might have given me a few extra years on my life.

Redefine My Purpose in Life

At my sickest, I was an in-patient at the hospital for over a month. Before my hospital stay, my understanding of mental illness was almost zero. Ironically, I actually learned a lot about mental illness through talking to the patients at the hospital. I learned that they were just like everyone else really. They needed compassion and understanding, not marginalization and stigmatization. In fact, I admired their strength in surviving despite the odds.  It was after this hospital stay, I gradually started to tell others about my mental illness. I wanted to normalize discussions around mental illness, not as something that you see romanticized in a movie or hear about on the news. That there are real people battling this illness every day.

Finding Gratitude Everyday

No, I don’t write a gratitude journal or anything, but I do try to enjoy life more. I find it is so easy for every day to go by in a blur. Sometimes I can’t even remember what I did yesterday. So I will often stop myself during the day, and remind myself to enjoy the moment. No one knows when their life will end. I think to die without regret is too unrealistic, but to be able to find small joys in your life is absolutely attainable. It all sounds a bit cheesy, but sometimes when I am at work, I would think how I love certain parts of my job instead of just going through the motions. I find it is often these small joys in life that we often forget to celebrate.

Happy World Mental Health Day!

What are some “new directions” you have taken because of your mental illness?

No One is Happy 100% of the Time

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No one is happy 100% of the time 

That is what my husband said to me as I was having one of those monthly groans about how I wasn’t feeling great. How I was finding it difficult to feel happy because happiness should come easily right? I mean, I should be grateful I wasn’t consumed by my mental illness anymore on a daily basis. I should be happy. Of course, as any human being knows, it is impossible to hold on to happiness every single second of the day. I find I often have to remind myself of that.

Before my first bout of depression, I knew absolutely nothing about mental illness. As a I dove in, and did more research, what I learned was helpful yet terrifying. It was comforting to know that depression episodes usually didn’t last forever, but it was also terrifying to know that there was no cure. It fact, depression usually comes and goes in one’s lifetime.

After learning this fact, I sometimes got hung up on trying to be as happy as possible between episodes. Mostly, I tried to find some joy in the day. It could be as simple as seeing a tree changing colours in the fall to completing a project at work. However, sometimes, I feel like I have to maximize joy. I will get stressed that I am not feeling great sometimes and wasting this “healthy period” on being unhappy.

It’s reminders like the one I mentioned at the beginning of this post, that bring me back to reality. I guess, if someone is high all the time, they might not understand true happiness because they don’t have any lows to compare it to. Anyone else have this experience dealing with happiness as well?