Happy, At Any Cost

Dates like these are always kind of arbitrary, but it’s been three months. Three months since I was last crumpled up on my parents’ couch, since I cried for no reason at all, since I could speak of “being depressed” in both a present and seemingly eternal tense. Three months, and it already seems so foreign, so distant, and so unfathomable that I sometimes wonder if I really was the same person. Unfortunately, I was, though I really, really wish I weren’t.

I was fifteen when I first realized that I was just sort of automatically sadder than most of the people around me. I told myself it was a good thing. I could focus on changing the world; giving myself to others; martyring myself for the cause, without being distracted by the petty business of actually enjoying life. In a weird way, I think being depressed made me a better person. I turned outwards for the first time in my life; I became more empathetic; having been forced to acknowledge my own imperfections, it became easier to accept those of others.

But there is a certain baseline level of happiness—a requisite amount of non-misery—that I’ve learned is necessary, even for being self-less. And so, this time, when I realized I was way, way sadder than the people around me, I replaced self-denial with a desperate sort of hedonism. For the last year, I’ve done whatever seemed likely to make me less-unhappy at the time, and figured that the consequences for others—who couldn’t possibly know what I was going through, after all—could be ignored. And so while I firmly believe mild depression made me a better person, I’m gradually realizing that major depression made me a far worse one.

Weirdly enough, when I was at my worst, the feelings of self-loathing and low self-esteem that have been my traveling companions since adolescence disappeared. Depression crowded them out; I felt so shitty that even my brain—trained to explain bad feelings as well-deserved punishment—couldn’t come close to rationalizing them. Stranger still, now that I’m feeling better, all these feelings are back And, paradoxically, precisely those things that seem to have made me better have made me feel even less deserving of the happiness I have.

Maybe it’s a reflection of the particularly pharmaceutical nature of my recovery, but so far, I’ve experienced happiness as an absence: being happy is not being miserable, not being incapacitated, not feeling hopeless all the time, not being terrified of going to bed because you know that you’ll wake up in the morning. And, to some extent, that emptiness has been enough to get back to my life. But if you had told me three months ago how hollow happiness could feel, I never would have believed it.

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