Opinion | Columns

Understanding happiness and holding onto depression for support

Flying back from spring break and through a setting sun, I cling to the last rays of light and the momentary lightness of being, carrying them home with me like the rest of my baggage, real and metaphorical. Up to this point in the semester, things have been coming along nicely: I get up most every morning ready to start the day, looking forward to at least one thing. I’ve been trying really hard these past few months to stay “up” and in good spirits. But then I have days or hours where I don’t want to be around anyone and I just want to be alone and cry for absolutely no reason at all, and it’s worrying. I am so afraid of getting back to where I was, but sometimes it gets exhausting constantly finding ways to keep my energy up, to keep moving. Like a shark, I fear that if I stay still too long, I’ll start to drown.

When you’ve been depressed for so long, your depression starts to become a kind of comfort blanket. Though this perpetual melancholy turns you inwards, it also makes you feel an acute understanding of the world around you: Just when you can’t see your meaning anymore, every trivial thing you encounter takes one on. Anything has the possibility to spin you up into the folds of your depression—sitting in a seminar at dusk, staring into your closet at the start of the day, even accidentally burning your bagel can open a floodgate of tears. 

You feel most “you” when you’re in this dark and sheltered place, and coming out of that—coming back into the life you once led—can feel overwhelming, disingenuous, or unappealing. You start to miss your depression and look for a way to crawl back into it. Being happy doesn’t make you happy—it feels selfish and indulgent to be content, like an emotional luxury you have grown accustomed to not being able to afford.

This is a maladaptive train of thought, but when you’ve been on it for a while, you barely notice the screeching sound it makes as it barrels around a curve toward its own destruction. You find yourself turning over this thing called Happiness and you just kind of stare at it and say, “Well, what now?” When you’ve spent so long living in survival mode you just don’t know how to be. You catch yourself actively conjuring negative thoughts or latching on to something that makes you feel a flicker of sadness or upset, you try to magnify it, but it ultimately slips through your fingers like a black balloon and you’re stuck feeling “happy.”

There’s nothing special about happy. You’re not interesting unless you’re fucked up. Having issues has been fetishized, made trendy. Maybe if I self-harm, people will show concern for me. Maybe if I develop an eating disorder, people will pay me attention. If I drink myself into oblivion, someone will have to take care of me. If I’m not depressed, I’m not on anyone’s mind. If I’m not depressed, I have to take up the heavy responsibility of happiness and drag it behind me—worse, I may even have to help someone else carry her own cross. Even though these are serious issues that no one willingly chooses to take on, when you’re so intent on sabotaging your own happiness, you put almost nothing past you. These are the kinds of poisonous thoughts that block everything else out of your mind like a soundproof room. Negative thoughts like these hover around like gnats that you have to walk through on the sidewalk during a spring day.

As the days get longer and the weather gets warmer, now that (for most) midterms are behind us and summer is ahead (you know, just beyond those pesky finals), the discussions on mental health and Counseling and Psychological Services fade back into a hum, and we have to remind ourselves that this struggle isn’t for just a season. You don’t have to hit rock bottom before reaching out to people, and with so many in our community experiencing these trials, it shouldn’t take a crisis to bring about a reminder of one simple fact: People are here for you. 

I hope everyone’s spring break allowed them to return with renewed spirit. But even if you don’t feel quite as rested, quite as stress-free, quite as OK as you could be, just remember that it’s a continuous process of relapse and recovery. It’s about learning to be happy for more than a moment, and fighting not to stay down for too long.

Chayenne Mia is a Columbia College sophomore majoring in creative writing and psychology. Speaking of Mia runs alternate Tuesdays.

To respond to this column, or to submit an op-ed, contact opinion@columbiaspectator.com.

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