When Happiness Is Not 'a Choice'


For years, I have seen a quote floating around social media. Shared over and over. And over again. A post  I have a really difficult time “liking,” because it’s one with which I don’t always agree. Not because I don’t think it’s beautiful and inspiring. No, not one bit. Simply because I don’t always find it to be true:

“Happiness is a choice. You can either choose to be happy or miserable. The amount of work is the same.”

Gulp.

You can “choose.”

That’s where I have a difference of opinion. Because, I know for both myself, and countless others reading this, happiness is not always a matter of choice.

You see, for as long as I can remember, I have been at the utter mercy of a relentless thief. Literally stealing the joy, the happiness, from so very many of life’s most-treasured moments.

A crook that has always been a part of my life. But one that totally and completely grabbed hold of my life, when becoming pregnant with our oldest, and that has kept its grasp for a very long time.

A.n.x.i.e.t.y.

A seven-letter word. That took control of my existence. And wouldn’t let go. That forced me to feel as though I was living my reality inside of a glass box. Watching the world around me thrive and grow and flourish. While I was entrapped. Held captive. By a force over which many times, I have no power. And I hate it. Despise it. That doesn’t even seem to cover it.

A bully. Pushing me around, forcing my mind to spend hours at a time set on a closed-circuit of “worst-case” scenarios, without a stop sign in sight. Like going scuba diving without my oxygen tank. Or sky-diving without my parachute. Grabbing for any kind of life-preserver around me at the moment. Literally, at times, struggling to catch my breath.

Thankfully, through each and every one of my experiences, as hard as they may have been, and still are, I have learned my “triggers,” and how to map out successful strategies for combatting these worries. Still, the path to feeling as though I am finally able to exist without feeling as though I am encompassed in cage bars has not come without a bumpy trail. My mind is always left reeling, constantly thinking about just how much I have missed out on. Because of this stupid force. This invisible predator. That took my joy. And let fear seep in to every moment meant to be amazing. That robbed me of my confidence. And stole so much contentment.

If you look at me from the outside, you would most likely never label me with “mental illness.” And neither do I. When I look in the mirror, I see someone who has achieved. Who is well-educated and graduated at the top of both my high school and college classes. Someone who excelled in sports, setting records and breaking them. Someone who loves to give and be around other people. An elementary teacher for over a dozen years. A wife. A mother to four. Who is “highly-functional” on a daily basis.

But I also see someone who is continuously filled with worry. A type of worry that deprives me of more moments of happiness than you could probably ever imagine.

My mental illness does not define me. It is simply a part of me. Some days, a much larger part than others.

While my anxiety has taken so very much from my life, it has also given me something for which I am so grateful: a story to share. One full of encouragement. The strength to step out of the shadows. Away from my comfort zone. And share my experiences with others. In hopes of encouraging them to know they are not alone. That anxiety isn’t something that has overshadow the entirety of someone’s being. That it is only one piece. And most importantly, that this is never something about which someone should feel ashamed. Ever.

The one thing I hope to share more than anything else? The one small piece of the puzzle I would wish for everyone to understand? Having anxiety and struggling with these smothering feelings is not a choice. There are days when it feels miserable to be happy. Standing in total anticipation of the next “bad” thing to happen. The “amount of work” that simply goes into keeping it all at bay, and to very well make it through a given day, can be utterly exhausting.

You may never have experienced anxiety. You may not think you know anyone around you who has. Yet, chances are you do. You may never know. Because this person may not speak up or reach out. Chances are, he/she is struggling. In complete silence.

Respectfully learning something about this illness can move mountains in the eyes of others. You see, it only takes a moment to know:

Those with anxiety can’t predict when it might hit.

In the mind of someone with anxiety, the seemingly irrational thoughts and worries are so very real.

There is often not an explanation for the anxious thoughts.

Those with anxiety are typically always in “limbo,” even when all is well… just waiting for the next worry to reel through their mind.

Experiencing anxiety tends to cause hours of overanalyzing.

Anxiety “looks” different for each individual. And it can “look” different from day-to-day for just one person.

You may or may not be part of someone’s “comfort zone” at any given moment.

You may not fully understand, but you can still be part of someone’s support system.

And if you think for even one second that those with anxiety, depression and beyond would not “choose” happiness and tranquility in those moments of panic, suffocation, and sometimes pure fear… “mistaken” would be an understatement. Truly, those things are all we want. Even for one moment.

Image via Thinkstock.

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