My wife is happy by nature. She has always been this way, for as long as I’ve known her. Barring outside intervention, she is simply… happy. Content. Joyous.
The concept is entirely foreign to me. My mental health has often felt more akin to a war, waged against myself. It is said that neural pathways are strengthened by repetitive use, so that the same thoughts crop up easier and easier each time:
I am worthless.
I am not wanted.
I am not loved.
The script it gives me changes, the only consistency that I am always on the losing end. Sometimes I am able to combat these thoughts successfully. Sometimes I lose. Sometimes my heart will not see reason, can only focus on the loneliness of that moment.
I was diagnosed with depression when I was in college. I could tell you what the DSM (Diagnostic & Statistical Manual, the bible of criteria on mental disorders) specifies must occur for that diagnosis, but for me, it has always been this: an uphill battle, happiness like sand slipping through my fingers.
As I’ve grown, this mental illness has presented itself in many shifting forms: sadness, hopelessness, anxiety, numbness. I have had panic attacks on the bathroom floor, I have looked at oncoming traffic lovingly.
I have also felt endless love. Boundless joy. I have felt so entirely filled with these things that I dared to use the word recovery.
Friends, it’s okay to need help. It’s okay to struggle, to show weakness, to reach out. It’s okay to be imperfect. You are worth love, worth gentleness, worth care. When I struggle, when I am lost, I try to summon the same unconditional love I have for my partners and turn it towards myself.
Then I get out my toolbox and I get to work.
Sometimes that means stepping into battle. Reminding myself that my brain is lying to me, tearing down each and every one of those traitorous thoughts with cold, hard logic. I am not worthless; if I believe every living thing on this earth is worth love and care, I must also grant that to myself. I am wanted; I have two partners who have chosen to spend their lives with me. I am loved; there are many people who have told me so, and it is my responsibility to trust them.
For those times when I simply cannot win a battle of logic, I care for myself in different ways. I take a hot bath, I drink a cup of tea. I pull a dog into my lap and marvel at the love in their eyes. I remember all of the times I have felt hopeless or lost, and the ways in which those feelings gave way over time to happier ones. I remember that my mental illness does not define me, and I grant it the kind of gentle understanding I would give to anyone else who was struggling.
I tell it: It is okay to hurt, my love. It is okay to feel lost and alone. You have made it through this and worse, and you are still here. You are strong. There are brighter days coming, as they always have before.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
National Suicide Prevention Online Chat
Trevor Project: 1-866-488-7386
Crisis Textline: 741-741 (Text HOME to begin)
Trans Lifeline: 1-877-565-8860