Within Us

I often find myself asking “how did I get here, why am I like this?” I think it’s a dangerous question, and almost definitely the wrong question. But it is an interesting one. I wasn’t always depressed, I didn’t always have OCD. I was however always an anxious child; I have always felt guilt and responsibility to an extreme degree. And I often wonder what would have happened if I hadn’t nursed those qualities the way that I did. If instead of sticking to my comfort zone so much of the time, I had pushed myself to experience a wider variety of emotions, of safe and purposeful discomfort. Do we all have a different cache of possibilities within us, a multiple choice question of who we will be and what we will feel? Do our decisions, the paths that we take, make us more susceptible to mental illness? Was this something that was always in me, that always had the potential to take over if I just gave it the opportunity, if I gave it that power? I wonder if the choices I made, the events that happened to take place in my life, led to option C. If I hadn’t lost my mom so young, if I’d relaxed more and studied less, if I had taken a year off between college and grad school, or if I had followed a completely different dream, would it have led to option A? Would I be happier?

It isn’t good to dwell too long on what-if questions such as these. Even so I catch myself dwelling, unable to wrap my mind around the fact that I went from a happy, relatively carefree child, to someone afraid to leave the house. The same dark curiosity I hold surrounding death and loss; how things can change so quickly and unexpectedly. Darkness takes ahold of us so much more easily than light, than hope. There seems to be an innate quality in humans to expect the worst, and this quality has conditioned us to almost welcome the bad and be wary of the good. Being aware of this, I can see how that quality affects my recovery. In such a way that I almost fear getting better because I don’t expect it to last. That’s not to say that I don’t want to be better, but the idea of getting better and then falling so hard once again is almost unbearable. My mind accepts the depression so much quicker than it ever accepts the fleeting moments of happiness, as if it’s suspicious them.

In my less tired moments I try very hard to fight that quality, to retrain my mind to expect happiness, to demand it. To believe that I deserve it. And every day I feel myself getting better at this. It’s like learning any other skill, like learning a new habit. Yet the question remains and I am not the only one asking it. It’s one of the many questions we still have about mental illness. And while I think it is important to find the answers to these “why questions” for the purpose of developing a more well-rounded understanding of mental illness and treatment in general, in terms of my personal recovery I am finding that it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter why or how I became so depressed. Dwelling on that will only convince me further that this is my fault; that feeling less than happy is something to be ashamed of. But it isn’t. And whether I got here because of genetics, or because I circled multiple choice C instead of choice A, I deserve to be happy. It doesn’t matter how I got here, this is my fight just the same. I am here. The power is within me to feel sad, hopeful, depressed, dark, twisted, happy. And it is okay to feel all of these at once.

I have spent so much time mourning the loss of my happiness when it was never really lost. I just forgot that I deserve to feel it. I didn’t lose my capacity for happiness, it’s just been waiting for me to open that door again, and I think I’m finally ready.

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