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The Fear of Happiness

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If you looked at me from the outside, as a stranger or onlooker, you would most likely never know. If you are a trusted, close friend of mine, the only reason you might know is the mere fact I have felt comfortable enough to open up to you. About the rampant twists-and-turns of my mind. The constant battle. To settle and calm the incessant worry. Racing around the closed-circuit track in my head, over and over and over again once more. But most, unless intimately close, have no idea just. how. intense. this daily battle can be.

Because I have become an absolute “pro” at putting on my mask. My “happy face.” Working overtime to keep this seven-letter beast at bay. And to keep the smiles coming. Even when my insides are looping. Intertwining. Entangled in an unimaginable knotted heap.

You see, I have gone head-to-head with this monster for over 30 years now. Like a game of “Whack-a-Mole.” As one fear retreats, another pops up without any warning or notice. It took me just over 28 years, four months postpartum with our oldest daughter to realize just. what. a. ruthless. thief. this fiend really was. Completely relentless. Robbing me of countless, beautiful memories and milestones with our precious 4-month-old daughter. This brute was winning more than I would ever care to admit. But with utter exhaustion and depression overcoming my mind and body, I knew I had hit one of the lowest points conceivable with my struggle.

And then it happened.

One frigid, snowy, gloomy December afternoon, I had run myself into the ground, trying to take on the care of a beloved newborn life, all by my fearful and protective self, as a first-time mom. When I realized, with every part of my heart and body, that I was quickly losing my crusade against this life-draining ogre.

And with tears streaming down my face, in a very candid conversation with my amazing mom, I made the confession of a lifetime. Words I will never, ever forget:

“I feel like I can never just be happy. Because when I start to feel happy, if I let my guard down and actually breathe in the beauty of life, I am petrified that something bad it going to happen. I literally feel like I can’t catch my breath. I am going from worry to worry to worry, without a breath in between. No breaks. No joy.”

And that fear? That fear of being happy? Although the two words together seem to create an oxymoron of sorts, they create such genuine feelings, all-too-familiar to so. very. many. struggling with both anxiety and depression.

Battling this unyielding bandit? It can become nothing shy of an absolutely grueling task. A full-time job. To simply breathe. Inhale. And exist.

Lately, I have found myself in a stretch of life where breathing has been a bit easier. And those stretches? Those are the hardest and scariest of all, beautiful souls, because those are the times when the vulnerability creeps back in. Along with the mind-play: “Things really are going wonderfully right now, huh? Are you enjoying yourself? You really shouldn’t get too comfortable where you are at right now. It’s not going to last long. You know something scary and unpredictable is about to happen very soon.”

And then, the “flip.”

The shift.

From joy to fear.

In an instant.

Those nagging, unremitting thoughts flood back in. Because the time has once again come for something to go wrong.

But my message to you, beautiful friends? Don’t give up hope. Push back. With e.v.e.r.y.t.h.i.n.g. you have deep inside of you. Buried within your weary heart and soul. Yell aloud if you have to… “You don’t ‘own’ me! You don’t ‘own’ my thoughts. You don’t ‘own’ my emotions! I am allowed to be happy! And you will not take this moment from me!”

Please know, it will take practice. I would never tell you it’s going to be easy to push back against this bully. Because it won’t be. But after 30 years of going round-to-round with this merciless monster, it is starting to realize I am no longer a pushover. There is too much joy and beauty at stake in our short time here on Earth. And I am willfully determined to have a winning record.  

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Thinkstock photo by Serghei Starus

Originally published: November 20, 2016
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