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To the People Who Say 'Happiness Is a Choice'

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Happiness. It’s quite an emotion… if you’re able to experience it. A lot of people with depression experience moments that may look like happiness, though in my experience this is usually just a brief jolt of energy or a fleeting moment of excitement — not genuine happiness. Good things do happen to people with depression, like me, but the depression makes it difficult to show any emotion. I may think, “Oh, this is cool!” or “Wow, I really like that!” yet I cannot seem to bring myself to show the emotion on my face. Most of the time I am uncontrollably numb, so it annoys me when people say, “Happiness is a choice.”

I’m sorry to those of you who believe this, but for many people who have mood disorders, happiness is not a choice. You are not helping anyone with depression by telling them that being happy is a choice. Whenever someone says this to me, it hurts. I have a hard time getting through day-to-day activities and this comment can make it even harder. It makes me feel inadequate as a human, as if I could do something more to help my mood. As if being on antidepressants and trying all the natural ways of coping in the world isn’t enough. My brain is sick. I have done yoga and meditation and have talked to people about my illness, but life is still difficult and some days are better than others.

I have often been told to just “shake it off” when people say hurtful things to me, but recently I have realized that if you don’t tell people how their actions make you feel, there is no hope for making a change in the future.

Mental illness is a real thing. I’m not faking it and it is not “all in my head.” I do not have the power to simply “snap out of it” and happiness is most certainly not a choice. I do my best and all I request is a little patience. Most importantly, I hope this message gets people to think before they speak, especially if they are aware that the person they are speaking to has a mental illness. Words have a much bigger impact than people often realize. And to those of you who struggle with mental illnesses, I challenge you to speak up. The only way to bring about a change is to speak up when words hurt or cause discomfort. Even though some may have a different opinion, I hope I have shed some light on why this statement can be more harmful than helpful.

The Mighty is asking the following: What’s one phrase you wish people would stop saying about your (or a loved one’s) disability, disease or mental illness? Why? What should they say instead? Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

Originally published: June 15, 2016
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