Some people might wonder: Can a 53-year-old woman find happiness despite her mental health problem?
For me, the answer is a wholehearted “yes.”
Everyone finds satisfaction in his or her own way. For me, there are 10 things to which I attribute my joy:
1. A Life Partner
Most of my happiness comes from sharing my life with my soulmate, my husband, Stephen. After our date, I called my mother and told her that I’d just met the man I was going to marry. In 2017, we’ll be celebrating 20 years of marriage.
Stephen has no trace of any mental health issue; he’s completely “normal.” His stability grounds me and has helped me be saner in my day-to-day life. He is a true godsend.
I couldn’t have walked this road without daily medication. At times, I resented having to “control” my life with meds, but overall, I’ve made peace with my need for these substances. There have been side effects: weight gain, acne, fatigue, lack of sexual desire — the list goes on. As a mentally ill individual, I’ve gotten used to living with side effects. They’re a fact of life, but the medicine has truly made me happier.
My immediate family, composed of my mother and my two older brothers, is a key component of my daily joy. I’m very close to these three people. I talk to each of them at least once a day and see them several times a week. They advise me, laugh with me, cry with me; they are my lifelines in a stormy world. We all live in a three-mile radius, and the paths to our respective homes are well-worn.
One of the best things about my life is that I have been blessed with many friends. I have several close friends, but then, there are dozens of happy people who populate and enhance my life by their very presence: my secretary, the funny post office worker, the waitress at my favorite diner, the cashier at the dollar store and many more.
5. A Good Diet
Thank God Stephen and I make enough money to buy good food — fruits, vegetables, fresh dairy, chicken, fish. My diet, I believe, contributes to my happiness. What we put into our body really makes a difference.
6. Meaningful Work
This is a big one! I love my work; it brings me much joy. My day jobs are teaching writing part-time at a local university and teaching online creative writing at a writing school in New York. My other, most important job is freelance writing, which I’ve been doing for over 35 years. Yes, working makes me happy.
7. A Child
My son Tommy is the joy of my life. We adopted him from Guatemala in 2005; he’s now 11. Finding an adoption agency that would “grant” us a child wasn’t easy; with my mental illness, the home study was difficult. But we got through it; my psychiatrist wrote a letter for me which essentially stated that I was stable enough to be a mother. (Thank you again, Dr. Clark!) Tommy makes me laugh and wonder and think. He is my joy!
8. A Good Doctor
And speaking of Dr. Clark, I could have never survived this disease without the good Dr. William Clark. A genius at prescribing and monitoring psychotropic drugs, this man gave and gives me stability to this day. Now, just hearing his voice on the phone calms me down.
It is my belief that education makes everyone happier. I’ve had the privilege of studying at some of the best schools in the world: Oberlin College, Iowa State University and The Writers’ Workshop at The University of Iowa. Education is key. If nothing else, it’s taught me the value of picking up a book and widening my perspective on just about anything.
I’m including this factor last because it is, perhaps, the most important. If one has a mental illness, one needs discretion to have a happy life. One cannot be blabbing to everyone about one’s condition. The illnesses are still just too taboo. Granted, I do write about my bipolar illness, but I use a pen name. Discretion helps you stay joyous if you’re mentally ill.
Above are the 10 keys to my success and happiness as a person with a major mental illness. As I mentioned, everyone has his or her own formula to joy. If you’ve been handed a mental issue, take the time to find your life equation that makes you happy despite your disease. If you do this, your life will be much better.
Take it from someone who’s been there and back. Mental illness is not a death sentence. You can and will find joy. Good luck.