For almost four weeks now, my Facebook feed has been filled with friends reflecting on their hopes for the year to come. Some hope to be more present with their families and enjoy the little moments. Most posts are positive and optimistic about what a new year will bring. Others use January as inspiration to pick a theme or word to focus on and improve their lives. A recurring theme is that we are encouraged to “CHOOSE JOY” or “CHOOSE HAPPINESS.” (In fact, my planner stickers from Michael’s demand it!)
I realized this year that sometimes choosing joy or happiness is not so simple.
In my early twenties, I didn’t “get” anxiety and depression. I thought people who experienced those feelings were weak and needed to buck up. I thought they just needed to be more positive. Empathy without experience is difficult.
My firsthand experience with anxiety and depression began in 2007, and of course, my whole perspective changed. For the past 10 years, my coping methods have also changed, some being more successful than others. I’ve modified my diet, taken supplements, worked out, and practiced breathing exercises. But even with all this effort, the past two years have been the most difficult. In 2016, I finally turned to a prescription to cope with my anxiety and depression. I felt defeated. The doctor explained to me that I would never judge a diabetic for needing insulin, so I shouldn’t be so hard on myself for needing medicine to chemically balance my brain.
In my search for ways to cope, I joined a Facebook group of women who struggle with Premenstrual Dismorphic Disorder. (If you’re not familiar, it is basically very extreme PMS symptoms.) PMDD can cause women to be depressed or anxious and is often misdiagnosed. I suspected I suffer from it, so I joined the group although I have not been officially diagnosed. The women in this group are generally very supportive and understanding of each other. It’s a safe place to vent or ask for advice. One woman in particular asked the group, “Anyone else feel like you’re just biding time before you can die?”
Another woman responded, “You need to find something positive to focus on.”
Her response made me cringe. I know she meant well. So does everyone else when they say, “Choose joy, “pray harder,” “think positive,” or “have an attitude of gratitude.” Some quote comforting Bible verses about being anxious for nothing if you trust God. Unfortunately, this catchphrase mentality is exactly what kept me from getting the help I needed for so long. For many years, I thought I wasn’t trying hard enough to change my thoughts. I kept trying to find something positive to focus on, but what I actually needed was to balance the chemicals in my brain. It wasn’t always this way. Before 2007, I felt like my thoughts were bright, happy, and excited. But there came a time in my life where I felt like there was a dark cloud hanging over my head. I felt panic. It came in waves, and I did a great job of hiding it to most people. But the waves started to connect, and before I realized it, I was drowning in a dark and anxious depression. I lost the bright feeling in my mind. Like the woman in the Facebook group, I felt like I was just floating through life, biding my time. This was not normal. But, after three different attempts, I finally found a prescription that makes me feel like myself again. The dark cloud is gone. That doesn’t mean I never feel sad or have negative thoughts, but I feel like the brightness has returned and I’m myself again.
I was struggling with anxiety and depression, and I wasn’t able to simply choose joy. My brain was incapable of it. For me, I just needed to choose the right medication.