Happiness by Judith Atwood
July 31, 2012 5 Comments
This is the story of me, finding happiness. That may not matter very much to the general public, but for people who struggle with depression, maybe my story will help you write your story.
I was not a happy child. My father insists that I was, but I have finally learned to believe my own emotions. Dad was not around for much of my childhood – he was an Air Force pilot, and often flying. Then, at age 14, I was diagnosed with juvenile onset diabetes, and warned that I would not live to see thirty-three, (the age of Jesus, Eva Peron, and King Richard II at their deaths.) (I was a very dramatic child.)
(I have thought for years that the doctor said age 40, but my sister has set me straight. I suppose when I hit 33 and didn’t die, I needed a new excuse to be miserable; I then moved the age up to 40 in my mind. Quite an understandable reaction, I believe, but nevertheless absurd.)
So I was depressed for a great huge chunk of years, from 14 to 50. I was happy at times, sad at times, completely delusional at times. But through it all, I was depressed, and I could see no relief for those feelings anywhere in my future. I couldn’t hold a job, couldn’t succeed in love or marriage, couldn’t stay long in one location, and I couldn’t control my finances, (including impulsive spending of way too much money.)
I’ve presented rather a long background here, but to know why I am happy now, one must know why I was unhappy then.
Throughout my thirties and forties, I received much quiet instruction and advice from my older sister, who is also my best friend, and my rock. I believe my very first step was to read The Celestine Prophecy, by James Redfield, which she offered to me when I was thirty-three, (life has no coincidences.) After that book, she shared her knowledge of such authors as Louise Hay, and Don Miguel Ruiz, author of The Four Agreements, which still figure heavily in my spiritual structure today.
We spent time in a group of women who shared their own spiritual journeys, troubles and possible solutions. After she moved to Key Largo, she included me in her circle of soul sisters there, and they welcomed me with open arms. So I was steeped in the language and the culture of spiritual growth, balanced carefully around some central tenets, which included:
- Defining my spirituality, and constantly revising and up-dating that definition
- Identifying my moral and ethical rules, and re-adjusting them to meet truly the way I live
- Broadening my knowledge of world religions, and remaining open to spiritual inspiration from many sources
- Valuing play, and artistic creation, as spiritual expression, and welcoming the presence of like-minded people in that process
And one I found on my own:
- Replacing an organized religious faith with one I have created for myself. This included coming up with my own spiritual guidelines for life, with regard toward myself, my spirituality, my family, my friends, and the earth that is our mother
Had anyone asked me, at that time, I would likely only list a couple of these spiritual precepts; over the years, I have used those early influences, and consequent observations and lessons learned, to create my own spiritual faith.
So why, if I am writing about happiness, am I concentrating so on spirituality? Until I felt strong in my spiritual belief, I remained unable to address my emotional state. I used creating a faith as a method for me for much emotional work. And when the time for that effort arrived, understanding the value of this tool, of being unafraid to question, and doubt, and declare, was vital.
I knew all of this, intellectually, but I remained crippled emotionally. I couldn’t cross over that big, broad line, which represented love for myself, and the ability to forgive myself for so many wasted years. Nevertheless, I created a home altar, read daily affirmations from Abraham Hicks, and Neale Donald Walsh, and I drew a Four Agreements card every day, upon which I meditated, and the lesson of which I followed, as best I could, in my normal activities.
My depression continued to escalate, and I became isolated and uncaring about my physical self. I could easily have become permanently crippled by this period of sadness. My sister, and other family members, can attest to the depth of ennui to which I had sunk. But then, an old friend found me on Facebook, and we began to correspond via e-mail. He introduced me, very gently, to the idea of GHF – Glass Half Full – as a life practice; in other words, optimism. Not until my first tiny attempts at GHF did I realize how terribly pessimistic I’d become.
Two years passed, and I continued to read my Four Agreements cards and daily affirmations, and to use GHF philosophy. Then, this good friend, who had helped me introduce optimism to my life, wrote an extremely unkind retort to a comment of mine on Facebook. I felt betrayed and quite angry, and I fired off a nasty e-mail before leaving the desk to cool off by sitting in my recliner. From there, I saw the Four Agreements card I’d drawn that morning, and as I read it again, my life changed forever.
I don’t even remember the exact wording of the card, (I have since passed it on to a friend in need,) but it came under the Agreement Don’t Take Anything Personally. The message was: no one could hurt me unless I let him or her. I’d heard this phrase dozens of times, over the years, from my sister, and read it in books and affirmations as well. Now, the lesson clicked within my heart, and I understood.
No one can hurt me unless I let HIM OR HER
…and a corollary:
No one can love me unless I let HIM OR HER
Suddenly, I got it. After years of hearing the words, the meanings shone out at me like stars in a night sky, if one is away from the city lights. Bright, brilliant understanding flashed upon me, and I knew that I hadn’t really been hurt by my friend’s comments, unless I chose to be. And at that moment, instead, I chose happiness.
Since that evening, I have had some sad days; at times my old reactions would sneak in and carry me down that pessimistic path. This happens most often when I am physically unwell, and that happens most often when I forget to take my medications, a problem I’ve always wrestled with. When I return to a more balanced physical state, I remember that feeling sad is something that happens to everyone, but it need not be a permanent condition. I know the answer: look inward and choose happiness once again.
The choice is an easy one; the work leading up to it was so very hard, took a lot of time, and required me to forgive myself for clinging to depression so strongly and for so long. I do not mean to say that just ignoring sadness will chase it away; nor do I intend to make the process through which I came seem simple. Even though my choice came suddenly, I needed years of preparation, to understand that self-forgiveness and self-love were the answer. Perhaps, by reading this, someone struggling with depression will have a shorter journey to joy.