Thursday, April 2, 2015

The Key To Happiness

Day two of Health Activist Blog Challenge: The Key To Happiness. 

Man, if I actually knew this, I'd be one rich son of a b*tch. And obviously, a happy one too. But I don't have all of the answers, of course, and so I'll have to improvise a bit. Hang with me.

Clearly, there are a lot of things that might make a health activist happier. Like not having any health conditions to have to advocate for, for instance. Or erasing the stigma associated with said condition and being able to go through life viewed as a "normal" person (hate that word!) instead of an anomaly. That kind of stuff would, undoubtedly, make my day to day life easier. But I'm going to assume here that we're dealing with the cards we're dealt, and I was dealt the card of a chronic illness that ignorant people stigmatize against. Given that, when I dig down deep and think about it, I would say that the key to happiness is being true to, and accepting, oneself. 

Sound cliche? Probably. But I think for those with illness, and perhaps particularly invisible illnesses, there comes a point at which you realize that a lot of people, possibly the majority of people in your life, won't ever truly understand. This doesn't make them bad people. It makes them people who have never lived with your illness or perhaps any chronic illness. They'll look at you and think "she doesn't look sick" or "she was fine yesterday, how can she be so much worse today?". They'll think they know what it feels like to be depressed because they were sad after their last breakup, or that they understand anxiety because they were nervous for their job interview the other day. They're trying to empathize, but quite simply, they can't. There are those who will who think you could control it if you really wanted to, that you're not trying hard enough or using it as a scapegoat. Some of them are being a**holes, taking advantage of your condition as a place to lay blame. Some really just don't get what you go through every day. There will be many, many people who will want you to change, or to hide it. There will be those who sympathize with the support and understanding and reassurance you need, but decide it's too much to give, a drain on them, and frustrating to be around and they leave. 

When all of this happens, we have a choice. We can choose to try to deny our condition, or at try least fool ourselves into seeing it the way others do. We can try to be more "normal", to hide our emotions, feelings, pain, symptoms - to smile and fake it and to blame ourselves when we can't. Or we can acknowledge who we are and the illness we have, and the fact that there are people who won't be ok with this. We have a condition, but we are not our condition, and there are numerous other traits about us that are wonderful. If people choose not to see those, or feel that all the positives don't overshadow the difficulties, do we really want them in our lives? Do we want them dictating who we "are" and who we "should be"? 

For over 30 years, my greatest enemy was, in fact, myself. I held myself to others' standards, to what others thought I should be. I changed when they wanted me to, convinced that, because of my cyclothymia, they knew better than I did. I allowed them to convince me that I wasn't thinking straight and that they had my best interests at heart. After all, if my moods and emotions changed from one day to the next, sometimes one hour to the next, how could I know what was real, and what was really best? I allowed their opinions and beliefs of me and my condition to pull me away from my true self, to who I knew I was deep down. In the past couple of years, particularly since I started mental health advocacy, I've learned to listen to myself much more. I don't think we ever stop caring what others thing 100 percent of the time - we're human, after all - but I've learned to care less. I have, sometimes tearfully, walked away from people in my life who didn't accept me, cyclothymia and all. I've started to see some of my unique views of life and the world as positives, instead of weird, delusional, or just plain "wrong", as others have tried to convince me. I've embraced my imagination and creativity instead of backing down from it for being a bit "over the top" at times. I have learned to be me again, and to find enjoyment and love in that, instead of just pain. 

It's not easy. There are always naysayers, ignorant people, those who you thought were in your corner that turn out to be untrustworthy. But guess what - whose people don't matter. Let them take their judgement and negativity elsewhere. Do what you do best: be you. You'll be much happier. 

"Be yourself. No one can say you're doing it wrong." ~Charles M. Schultz

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