Sometimes joy is found, not in what you receive, but in what you finally let go.
I can pinpoint “the happiest moment of my life” almost to the second. I was on a plane taxiing down a runway en-route to visit my parents in Chicago. The airline attendant began the all too familiar announcement: “Should oxygen be required, a mask will drop down from a compartment above your seat … if you’re traveling with an infant or someone in your care, make sure to secure your own mask first.”
The depth of those words suddenly hit me. Secure your own mask first. Being a mother now, I can hardly imagine the idea of putting myself before my child. Yet, at that moment, I understood this profound truth: You must love yourself and make yourself happy before you can extend that love and happiness to others.
This depression, though, has had me feeling a deep sense of loneliness. The paranoia makes me feel ostracized from the world, and it’s really hard to feel like no matter where you go, you’ll never fit in.
This was weighing on me the other day until something happened that struck me. It put a long-overdue, sorely-needed smile on my face.
Those of us who struggle with low self-esteem might not like ourselves very much. But, because we’re alive, we like other people and other stuff. As scathingly as we might view our reflections in mirrors or our performance at work, a few things out there in the world still bring us unadulterated joy.
No matter how harsh I’ve been to myself all day, no matter how much I’ve regretted a certain morning’s dialogues, let a crow land near me and I am rapt. Transported by its sleek black muscularity, its knowing eyes. Transformed. Make it a raven and I might treasure this moment all my life.
You’d never suspect this by listening to pharmaceutical ads, but only one-third of people with major depression get better after trying an antidepressant. The others go on to try different drugs, or combinations of medicine and psychotherapy, and usually seven in 10 achieve remission.
The other third?
They are labeled with the three most dreaded words in the mental health profession: treatment-resistant depression.
Things are OK as they are. That’s the one fact I’ve been struggling with recently.
I have this image in my mind as to how I want things to be. I want to make lots of money, I want a house in the mountains, I want to get married. All of this I worry about on a near-daily basis. These are also the things that drive me to work, to be better, and to achieve more things.
I didn’t hesitate.
“As a nun in a third-world country doing missionary work,” I said.
Somewhere around that time I also told him it would be five years before I slept with him. It was the quickest five years of my life.
My father was a machinist and my mother a nurse. I still recall the smell of the machine shop on my father’s clothing when he came home from work, the name “Gary” embroidered on his blue shirt. When I was a child, my father chopped wood and sold it by the side of the road to help make ends meet for his family of 5.
Due to my education I am considered “white collar” but still have “blue collar” values. I identify and belong to both groups.
Some of the biggest myths about depression are that it’s a character flaw, a sign of weakness, a lack of trying, a lack of will, a choice.
You just need to think differently. Remember, happiness is a choice. You just need to suck it up. Be strong! Why aren’t you trying harder? You don’t even have anything to be depressed about!
This week The Atlantic shared a video in its Editor’s Picks series called ‘The Benefits of Living Alone on a Mountain.’ It followed a young man named Leif Haugen, a Forest Service firefighter in Montana. For three months out of the year, Leif lives alone at the lookout on top of a mountain.
Watching the video, I couldn’t help but feel a rather fervent mix of desire and fear.
Living in solitude like that, with no one to talk to and nothing to distract you but books and chores seems like a dream to me. At the same time, though, it made me wonder if, were I to live like that, I would get lonely.
It’s been tough getting to sleep the last few nights.
I’ll go to bed and turn off the light and then the thoughts start pouring in. I’ll worry that I didn’t do the right thing in any number of situations during the day. I’ll worry about the work I have to do the next day. I’ll worry that no matter what I do, I’ll never be closer to my dream of buying a house in the mountains.
It occurred to me last night while I was lying there, though, that you can’t force sleep. If you try to fall asleep and see that you’re not, that’s just one more thing to worry about. The sleep will come; it always does. There’s no point in trying to force it to happen.
It had been a long, hot day and I was ready for the heat to subside. Now, the sun was setting behind a stretch of jungle palm, ohia and mango trees, and as the ambrosial hour set in, darkness allowed for greater visibility of an unusual light off in the distant northern sky. This light — glowing red and brown and golden — gives the impression of a city that is burning. It is light reflected from a brush fire caused by a river of lava flowing down our mountain.
My current home is the Big Island of Hawaii, and like many other volcanoes right now on planet Earth, our Kilauea volcano is active and causing a bit of a stir. Unlike flows for the past couple of decades, where we have been able to walk out to the rivers of lava in the middle of nowhere and appreciate the grace, beauty and power of a new earth being born, this flow is heading straight for our small, humble town of Pahoa, an old western-style town of wooden, slanted boardwalks and a smattering of restaurants and shops.