Yeah, I’m a Spike Jonze fanatic. Did anyone expect anything different from me?
Let me clarify…
This quote was pulled directly from his film adaption of “Where The Wild Things Are” which I hated the first time I watched it, but then I couldn’t stop watching it, and then I realized that it was actually perfect. That was seven years ago. This quote has been on my mind ever since.
The movie caught a lot of flack for being too dark, which is I think what turned me off about it in the beginning as well. It eventually became, not only the thing I loved most about the film (I mean, other than the fact that it was scored by Karen O of course) but in my personal opinion, exactly what the film adaptation needed.
This isn’t a film review though, this is about depression. My depression.
Many people might protest this statement, but I have always been depressed.
That doesn’t mean there has never been a happy moment thrown into the mix– it means, exactly the thing that I was never able to explain until I heard these words:
Happiness isn’t always the best way to be happy
I recently came to a kind of profound realization about the state of my psyche: I wouldn’t know what I would be if I were not sad. It has been so much a part of me that I’m afraid to let go of it, even if it’s only hurting me.
It is mine. It is the only thing that has ever felt unequivocally, irrevocably, and whole-heartedly mine. No one has ever been able to take it from me (despite my highest expectations) and after so much time of living with it, it has become me. I am not someone who lives with depression, I’ve never even considered myself someone who “suffers” from it.
It doesn’t feel like a part of me. It feels like it is me.
At this point… I don’t know that I could think of a thing more terrifying than the idea of being happy. What could be more unsettling than knowing you have everything to loose? Depression isn’t fun, but it’s at least comfortable. It’s familiar. In a lot of ways, I know exactly what to expect when I’ve resigned to the fact that I have always felt this way and I will always continue to feel this way.
Happiness is daunting. Happiness is overwhelming. Happiness is terrifying. Happiness oftentimes feels unattainable. More often than not, happiness is not the thing I find myself longing for.
Happiness is… well… not always the best way to be happy
I haven’t viewed happiness as that golden nugget waiting for me on the other side of depression. If I’m being honest (and that is the goal here) I’m not even sure that I know what that would look like.
I don’t know what it’s like to live in a sense of contentment beyond the fear that at any moment, a flip will switch in my brain leaving me questioning everything I’ve ever done and feeling stupid for ever trying anything different than what I know. I don’t know what it’s like to go any more than a couple months without being triggered by something that will undo me for weeks. I don’t know what it’s like to trust that happiness is anything other than an emotion, as fleeting as any of them are.
I am doing so much work to live better with this, but I want to make something pretty clear: happiness is not the end goal, nor is a desire to feel like I’ve “overcome” mental illness or somehow feel like it’s no longer a part of me. It always will be.
I think of mental illness like pushing a huge boulder to the top of a hill. It’s easy to think that you can walk away from it once you get to the top because, well dang, I just pushed this enormous boulder up this really steep hill so I’m done now right?
(I feel like it’s impossible not to imagine a good ole Dwight Shrute “FALSE!” here, although, that may or may not be helpful….)
It has taken me so much time and effort to come to terms with the fact that I’m always going to have to watch that boulder unless I want to live in an infinite loop of carrying that same heavy rock up the same tired path. Which I don’t.
I only recently realized that the effort to keep the boulder at the top of the hill is lesser than continuously pushing it back up. It’s only because nothing compares to the lack of effort that is leaving it at the bottom and crawling under it.
Work is work. It’s usually not very fun, and it’s almost always painful. Hard, painful, not very fun things don’t sound like happiness to me. They sound like, well, work. I mean, happiness should be effortless right? Does not every happy person leap out of bed every morning at the first sound of a chirping bird to join it in a musical dancing number like something out of a Disney movie? Does not every happy person effortlessly move through life free of adversity, blissful in never having known the crushing weight of mental illness?
I wouldn’t know.
What I do know is that phrases like “happiness is a choice” and “think positively” are at the very bottom of the list of helpful phrases a person with depression can hear. Yes, I know that “thinking positively” has the power to re-route your neural pathways. Yes, I know that ones perspective has an enormous effect on the outcome of situations they are in.
I also know that my brain will shoot down your trite quotes about happiness that you pulled off your tear away calendar from the Hallmark store. I also know that, no matter which perspective I take, what I am looking at is still at the end of the day, mental illness.
The fundamental flaw in this kind of suggestion is in thinking of depression as a lack of happiness. If we could just be happy, then we wouldn’t be depressed. What a concept!
No… happiness is not what is waiting for me on the top of that hill.
Happiness…. okay I’ll say it one more time…. isn’t always the best way to be happy
Nothing is constant. That includes my at times overwhelming symptoms of mental illness. That also includes happiness.
I don’t expect that this ideal of happiness that has lived in my head since the beginning of time is in fact the way happy people behave, nor do I believe that if I just do more happy things, I will be a more happy person. I assume that happy people probably do (in private, when cynical people like me aren’t around to catch them) admit to themselves that things might kind of suck sometimes.
I’ll always have to keep my eye on that boulder. It might even get away from me a few more times. The goal is not to live as though it weren’t there. The goal is to just… LIVE…. even though it is there. It’s so much easier to live once it’s at the top rather than pushing it up from the bottom. It isn’t effortless. It never will be. I don’t expect it to ever be.
Happiness is, perhaps, too much to ask for at times.
Happiness is the cheap reward that is often dangled in front of us if only we could just be a regular person who just lets joy flow into their life like honey.
Happiness can feel heavy after so much of that.
Happiness is what taunts us from outside the window when we can’t get out of bed in the morning.
The thing that I want to find at the top of this hill is not the thing that has been promised to me in a fit of hope that someone spewed at me again and again to try and get me to believe that things WILL get better. I know that things get better. They get better until they don’t. That isn’t happiness. That isn’t want I want.
I want acceptance.
I want to know that happiness will sometimes pass through me like a ghost and there is nothing I can do to stop it. I want to not go running into a hole every time it happens. I want to live in my feelings without them eating me alive. I want to feel happy without also feeling terrified. I want to accept that the happiness I do feel is fleeting. I want to learn to live better in those times where happiness is just too much to ask for.
I want to live not in spite of this, but inside of this… and find a way to keep going.