My Big Mistake

“When you take charge of your own narrative, it gives you a handle on it.”

– Liz Murray

It’s been a long journey to happiness. And while I’ve haven’t quite achieved the level of satisfaction with my life that I’d like, I have come a long way.

One of the ideas that held me back for so long—and still does from time to time—was my belief that happiness just happens to you.

That you wake up each day, optimistic, with a smile on your face, and ready to face the world.

It’s the idea that people are just born happy—and that I. Was. Not. One. Of. Those. People. For decades I looked around at my peers, most of whom appeared reasonably contented with their lives, and I wondered why I didn’t feel the same way. Why could I just not take life as it comes, without all the fear, worry, depression, and anxiety that plagued me each day?

Obviously I wasn’t born happy, but surely taking a pill (or two or three) would do the trick, wouldn’t it? Go to the psychiatrist, get a prescription, and BAM!—life is all better. I tried that method for years, with very, very little success.

The medication helped some, enough to raise me to a baseline where I could hang on, hopeful that someday I’d find the find psycho cocktail that would magically cure whatever my problem was.

That never happened, though. That magical potion did not appear. I didn’t wake up one day and feel transformed.

Over time, however, I did realize that the key to lasting change lay within myself.

While the medication helped a little, I discovered the old motivational saying was true: “If it’s to be, it’s up to me.”

I realized that to find joy and happiness in life, I had to quit feeling sorry for myself and being angry that my life wasn’t the way I wanted it to be. I had to take charge of my destiny with a new drive to make my life into something better.

Instead of sitting around waiting for a pill to change everything, I needed to catapult the little amount of benefit I got from my medication into something bigger.

The pill gave me breathing room—now I had to punch back with a determination to practice gratitude, change my way of thinking, and begin to truly change my life.

And that is where I am today.

I had picked up a number of useful tools for dealing with depression over the years, although I’ve never really put them to good use.

However, I now realized that one of the main keys to becoming a truly joyful person is to quit looking at the past. Instead of saying, “Oh woe is me…I’m just not a happy person”—I needed to press forward, quit feeling like a victim, and get on with change.

I had taken great pleasure in playing the victim and feeling sorry for myself. I felt like the world owed me an apology for treating me so badly. I didn’t want to move forward—in fact, I couldn’t move forward—because I was too busy waiting for an apology and explanation as to why I felt the way that I did.

Little tip: You’ll never get that apology or that explanation. Just move on.

It’s been a very slow process, but now when those depressive feelings enter my mind, instead of getting down on myself and wallowing in self-pity, I have a desire to overcome those feelings and to take action to make my life better.

This deep drive and desire is what has made all the difference. Until I truly wanted to feel better—instead of taking some weird pleasure in feeling sorry for myself—it was not possible for me to make any lasting change.

I haven’t yet arrived. Not by a long shot. But, I’m well on my way.

See you there.

Some thoughts on depression

Life really sucks sometimes; sometimes I just say to myself that this whole experiment we call life just really hasn’t worked out for me. This is a familiar theme for me; I have written about it often over the last three decades.

In fact I really feel that my whole adult life has been some kind of awful comic tragedy. Nothing that I aspired to be or do when I was growing up has happened for me. I’m sure much of this is my fault, but it’s hard for me not to feel like the deck was somehow stacked against me from the beginning.

If I could just quit it all I would. I’m not implying suicide; I could not do that. But if I could somehow just quit, walk away from it all, I believe I would do so. If I could be reassured that my family would not realize my absence, and that there would be no weird cosmic repercussions, then I would just cut my losses and go cash in my chips. I would never know the difference.

However, if I choose to look at things differently, to flip the chip over so to speak, I might have a different view. It’s true — nothing has quite worked out how I wanted it to, but does that mean that my life is as bad as I think it is? If my dreams have not been fulfilled, does that automatically mean that the end result is bad?

Many (maybe most) people would say no. I think right now I’ll have to agree with them. If I only envision one outcome, one life, as “good”, or “successful”, then I’m definitely going to be disappointed. Flexibility is crucial to enjoying life.

Even though I realize that adaptation is the key, the stubborn side of me still wants to resist. Deep down I have a sense of entitlement. I feel as though I shouldn’t have to adapt, that however I am, whatever I want, whatever I dream of being and doing, should happen just like that. The way I am is the right way and the forces of the universe should align themselves with me.

To say that this kind of thought process is crazy is really putting it mildly. I know this; I’m not trying to kid myself.

However, old habits acquired in childhood are hard indeed to break. When circumstances turn against me, quite often I just don’t feel like trying to adapt, to look on the positive side. I don’t want to change and don’t feel like I should have to — the end.

I’ve noticed something important about the way depression works in me. If I am depressed, one of two mindsets will be true. Either I will want to try to feel better, or I will wallow in self-pity and not want to change. If I feel the second way, then my belief at that time is that things outside myself should change — not me.

I believe this last sentence is a major key for helping me understand and overcome depression.

Has anyone else found this to be true in their own lives?