What does it mean to be happy? I know we always ask each other and ourselves if we’re happy, truly happy, but what does happiness really look like? Must we eliminate all emotional adversity and sadness in order to be happy, or can sadness and happiness coexist in a way that consciously living within the balance allows for happiness? Given my life experiences thus far, I’ve lived enough to realize that happiness is met with moments of not-so happiness, but once we accept this as a truism, I believe there is room for joy.
For as long as I can remember remembering, life has just been a little harder for me. Some of this feeling is due to things I was unable to control, stemming from events in my childhood that have undeniably shaped my psyche and emotional life. It’s not until recent years in which I’ve done some real, raw introspection to look back at these events—my biological father leaving me and my mother before I was one, accepting my step family as my own, my parents’ eventual divorce and my father coming out as gay-- to address their impact on how I view the world, and how I view myself in it. I’m still doing the necessary work to piece together some of the messy, painful moments of my life to comprehend how they have contributed to who I am and how I deal with things. There is always work to be done.
Once I learned that some of these things I couldn’t control actually contributed to my self-image, I was able to travel back to my past and trace the experiences I endured as a young child as things that have been a threat to my happiness. Once my biological father left us, I developed a fear of abandonment. When my mom married the man who I now call my dad, I was forced to accept my step-siblings as my own. I went from being the oldest child to a middle child, with a stepbrother my age, to whom I always compared myself, making me feel inferior—not as competent, not as smart. Now I view this as a blessing, since I got to grow up with a brother who was also my best friend, but it was challenging to see that at the time. When my step siblings’ birth mother passed away from cancer, I was faced with death at a young age and it perplexed me. When my parents divorced when I was 16, my idea of family was shattered. And lastly, when my dad came out as gay, I felt like parts of my childhood were a lie, and my models of an “ideal” relationship became muddled.
I don’t mean to name all these experiences for pity or to make anyone feel badly for me. Though I have not been dealt the easiest deck of cards, I am still grateful for a lot of things in my life that I know other people don’t have. That being said, when I feel like things are tough for me, or when I become overwhelmed, drowning even at times, I feel even worse because I know I am a lucky person. But some days I feel trapped, stuck, like this feeling of drowning is inescapable. At times I have gotten too comfortable in this dark space, turning to self-medication and self-numbing just to feel a little better. I’ve used relationships and girls as a self-medication too, to distract me from how I’m really feeling. I have relied on others for validation, doing anything that felt vital to enhance my self-esteem. I have historically feared being alone because in this space of solitude is where I am confronted face to face with my problems; I can’t hide from myself. And when things have gotten really dark, where it feels like lightness is forever invisible, I have thought and done things that the person I truly am wouldn’t recognize the person thinking in these distorted ways.
I choose to recognize patterns in my behavior in order to improve, and I know I am not alone in the ways I’ve tried to cope with my problems. So many of my problems have been rooted in trying to escape my pain, which in turn has caused me more pain. Though no matter who we are, we all endure pain and the only way to ease our pain is to actually sit down with it. Be with it. The events in my life not only made me the person I am today, but they also gave me the perspective to be able to see the world the way I do. I don’t know the world in any other way than through my own eyes. Sometimes I just think that life may just be a little tougher for me, and I have grown to be okay with that. I feel sad a lot of the time, but this sadness is met with moments of extreme happiness too. I have a rich life with a friends and family who support me who have had my back through it all.
This past June, I decided to seek real professional help for the first time and go away to a treatment center. It was a safe, welcoming environment where I acquired different kinds of healthy ways to cope, from experiential therapy to workshops. Since returning in September, I have found things to fortify my emotional toolbox: I attend therapy, I am active in a 12-Step Program, and I am approaching my 300th day of sobriety. It has not been easy, nor will it really ever be, and I was mistaken when I thought I’d be completely fixed when I returned home. The things I have faced will be things I deal with for the rest of my life, but I now have skills to deal with them productively, learning to live with them. I realized the real lesson in all of this is that I am not ashamed of my experiences. They have made me who I am, and if anything, they have also illustrated how mental health is so important and should be taken seriously. I am fortunate enough where I can incorporate these lessons into my professional life too, where Madhappy’s ethos aligns with a lot of my own personal struggles.
It’s far from easy to talk about these things, and I'm even apprehensive as I sit here and talk about myself, fully knowing that my thoughts will be on such a public forum. Though any anxiety I have is quickly overridden when I think that my words have the potential to inspire even one person to talk about their problems and seek help. To answer my own question, I think it’s pretty impossible to define happiness, but I know I have felt it. I think the real answer is not how to be happy, but how to be okay with myself. It is only when I have learned to be okay with myself that happiness can let itself in. Every day that I grow to know myself, I slowly open the window to allow for true joy.