The Happiness Conundrum

Friday was good. I showered and dressed, I vacuumed the bedroom and the landing, the laundry rumbled away downstairs, Little T was well-rested and content (as content as it’s possible to be while teething!), and I saw my best friend in the afternoon. And with it being Friday, it meant lots of time spent with my lovely husband to look forward to. So if someone had asked me how I was feeling then my answer would have been either, “great” or “amazeballs” depending on who was doing the asking.

Except the fundamental answer to that question is always, “I have post-natal depression,” which tends to be a conversation stopper. It’s not that people don’t care, I suspect it’s that they don’t know how to respond to the stasis of it all.

There’s an unspoken social rule which applies to all mental health conditions, that after an arbitrary amount of time we’re supposed to have sorted out our problems, or at the very least stopped talking about them. I’m not saying that my nearest and dearest think I should be better by now, but it does seem they don’t know how to handle me deviating from the social script when I talk honestly. There’s a certain look I get, even from people who’ve known me for years, that says shiiiiiiiiit whenever I say that yeah, I feel crap, I always feel crap and the constant nature of said crap leads to even more crap and I could really do with a break from the crap, y’know? (N.B. exaggerated for effect – not how I actually talk.) The impression I get is that I’m supposed to operate a one-in-one-out policy on my emotions. If I dare tell someone I’m having a good day, such as Friday, then that’s to the exclusion of any negativity, as though happiness and sadness can’t co-exist.

Well frankly that’s bullshit.

I’m tired. Tired of sanitizing myself and tired of not being able to feel good without committing to never again opening up about my depression. There’s something wrong with this picture, and I want to change it.

To those who know a PND or depression sufferer (or agoraphobia or anxiety or…) try to understand what it means when your loved one is having a good day. It might mean that they didn’t start the day feeling frightened for once, or that they answered the phone for the first time in months. It could be that they had a long bath and feel nicely put back together, or a stranger complimented their shoes. When Little T was very small some of my best days came from just leaving the house and not having a meltdown resulting in Big T leaving work to rescue me.

I’m not trying to be pessimistic or obtuse and I’m certainly not playing down the significance of a good day. I just wish more people recognised that every day is a battle fought and sometimes won, but that life itself is an ongoing war that can feel insurmountable. Those victories are amazing and they make the sweat and tears worth it, but they don’t change the daily reality. Smile with us when our days are bright, but don’t take away our right to cry too. Listen, understand, and most of all don’t demand that we change. Your good intentions can’t change anything, but your acceptance can.

…Still though, Friday was flippin’ awesome. 🙂


One thought on “The Happiness Conundrum

  1. Big T says:

    The wake-up call on this was really appreciated, one of those things I didn’t know I was doing. You said it’s like an ongoing war – that is a very useful way for friends/family to think about it I reckon. You can imagine living in the shadow of a war: good days are possible, but it doesn’t mean that the war is over, or that it doesn’t still affect everything.

    Like I said to you earlier, I find it helpful when trying to get my head around stuff like this to imagine for a moment that it’s a physical ailment, because the way people react and know to react to physical problems (unless it’s particularly serious) is closer to what’s required when the conversation is about mental health issues. “I had a great day, but I’ve got PND” becomes “I had a great day, but I have a broken leg”.

    When I thought of it that way it clicked into place for me – just because you’ve had a great day, doesn’t mean your leg isn’t broken and it doesn’t mean that the leg was fine, that it didn’t hurt, that you could walk on it normally. A good day doesn’t mean depression is gone, and it trivialises it as a persistent illness to think of it that way.

    Having said that, if someone tells you their leg is broken and it sucks, nobody reacts to that by going all quiet and awkward, or act like the polite thing to do is to pretend it isn’t there. People so often don’t know how they’re supposed to react, and that ignorance is what makes mental health stigma such a common problem.

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