I had a very difficult time feeling joy during my journey with clinical depression. I did everything that was suggested today during a talk I heard: I read my scriptures, I prayed, I served, I loved. And I still felt like (pardon me) crap! I felt helpless to change…. I believed that joy will naturally descend upon us when we do all of these things. After all, that is what seems to be preached over the pulpit. But it wasn’t happening for me.
Let me describe to you two experiences that dealt directly with my lack of feeling joy.
First, In 2008 we went on a cross country trip as a family. We went to the Church History sites of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. There were so many amazing sites and adventures and it was an incredible experience for our family. We were driving on a stretch of road somewhere and I put my hand out to feel the warm air. I glanced at the side mirror and saw my reflection. My brow was a bit furrowed and there wasn’t much happiness in my countenance. I distinctly remember wondering, “Why do I feel this way? Am I really going to have to go the rest of my life feeling empty? And sad? And without real joy? We are having amazing experiences as a family and I feel unhappy.”
The second one is a more general feeling that pervaded the years of struggle. While Prozac helped me to be able to cope, it numbed me. I couldn’t feel anything more than dark on the worst days and “okay” on the other days. It got to the point where I just literally did not feel joy. Sure there were moments of feeling happy for a certain situation. But to really feel hope or joyful celebration rarely, if ever, happened.
So when I hear messages like I did today, I think about the men, women, and youth who are hearing the same message. I wonder if they are feeling what I felt. For me, it was too easy to feel despair, like I was doing something wrong. I certainly was not feeling the joy. It was easy to feel beaten down. It was too easy to believe that I was guilty of missing an opportunity somewhere along the line. It was easy to believe that I was not good enough.
Joy is a choice, yes. If you are battling depression or any other mental illness, I know that this will sound cliche. I know you will think that people who say this just do not understand. I know because the same thoughts ran around in my head, too. “Thinking a happy thought” is NOT the anecdote to depression or anxiety or any other mental illness. It’s about getting to the root of the illness FIRST.
I now know how to get to the root. I understand now that joy is a choice and it is attainable after the root is exposed. I know how to get to that place now. I didn’t then. I had no idea that I had any choice in the matter. I learned to choose to do something about the lack of joy. I chose to practice a new behavior. I share a tool in this former post called “Weed and Feed.” I invite you to make it real this week. My intention is to help you build strength by consciously saying, “I am choosing to find joy” and then to practice with this tool. If you practice both, change will result, and you’ll find that a new pathway has opened up.
Move forward. It matters!
(first published Feb 15, 2015)