Happiness: a bright and slippery thing

At the beginning of the year we decided on a few themes to structure each month and March is “happiness”. I approach it with a strange mixture of dread, uncertainty and hope: and it feels both acutely relevant but also more slippery than ever.

In some ways it is an impossible quest – the promised land, always beyond the horizon, always slipping out of our grasp. It’s the motes of light that vanish as soon as you fix them in you sight, the perfect feelings we yearn to return to, a land we have lost and memories.

But despite its difficulty, I feel strongly that we need something to strive for. One of the most depressing (and I don’t use that word lightly) things that was said to me when my mental health was spiralling out of control, was “but is that normal for you”. YES I silently screamed – YES it is normal for me to feel such sadness and pain but NO that does not make it easier to bear, on the contrary it makes me more hopeless by the second that things will ever change.

Recovering and living with mental health problems is such a delicate balance of accepting imperfection and being kind to yourself in the struggle, whilst also needing something more than the drudgery of constant effort not to sink. Sometimes I want to soar, sometimes I want to feel joy and beauty and brilliance. Like a flying fish catching the sunlight before plunging back into the inky water.

It is the promise of joy and hope that pull me back from the brink, and the aspect that is so often lost inside mental health services, where the emphasis is understandably on preventing dysfunction, pulling people from extremely low to quite low, helping them stay alive but not necessarily to feel happy.

I think it also takes practice, to notice and feel the happiness when it comes. Sadness is the equivalent of landscape photography or still life painting – it stays in shot for long enough to capture and adjust. Whereas happiness is always in motion – a flash of light, a flap of wings, a jet streaking through the blue. We must train our eyes to see it, to feel it and to accept it, and, painfully, to let it go.

It also becomes harder and harder to see and feel the lighter moments the more depressed you become. Your senses become dulled, the world flattens into 2-dimensional monotone everything seems fixed and hopeless.

But it is also exhilarating when your senses return. There is a rush of colour and smells and the light takes on a quality of hope. I try and cling to the promise of this when my mood dips and the darkness sets in, but please feel free to remind me, not of the mundane and dreary effort of staying ok, but of the brilliance that can pop into view when you are least expecting it.

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