Rainy Days and Mondays

This is not going to be a “fun” post. I’m sorry. Today is one of those days that I feel sad. These are the days that I really have to practice being happy. As I’ve said, though, happiness doesn’t really happen when you try to ignore your less-than-happy emotions.
 
I have good days and bad days. I think that is true of most people. I’m not really sure how to say the things that I want to say today. It feels like there is a lot, and I don’t know where to start. I apologize if I end up rambling.
 
I am, in general, a fairly private person. I don’t like to share certain things with the whole world. I don’t have a ton of trust that people won’t take anything I share in the worst possible way, and I don’t know if I can handle that all the time. I don’t know if I can handle the judgments.
 
We all make judgments. I know that. I know that I make judgments. To a certain extent, it is necessary to make judgments to navigate our lives. I think, though, that judgments become a problem when we judge people harshly without giving them a break or the benefit of the doubt – when we get right to the ugliest possible interpretation of them or their actions. I think that this is something that happens all too often in our society, and that it is a habit that we should all work to break ourselves of.
 
I think that most people are doing the best they can with what they know and the resources they have.
 
I think that the additive property of happiness is important because it helps us make the decision to do the kind thing, to extend the hand of compassion rather than the cold shoulder of judgment.
 
Today I am going to tell you some things about me, and I hope that you choose to be kind – but not necessarily directly to me. Though I won’t turn down any kindness sent my way, I would be especially grateful if you go ahead and extend that kindness and compassion forward to the people you encounter.
 
In the harshest terms – which are sometimes the ones that I hear in my head – I am an unemployed anxious depressive with post traumatic stress and a still unknown endocrine disorder that makes me tired, prone to illness, possessing of more acne than most teenagers, and, worst, prevents me from having children without medical assistance. I also have asthma, which I think is often just there to add insult to injury. These are the harshest descriptors, and they are all technically accurate.
 
If I look at myself in the harshest way, and I do sometimes, then it is easy to see why I fear judgments. My judgments of myself are already so harsh, it isn’t at all hard to imagine others thinking similarly.
 
In the harshest terms, I am unemployed and, I fear, unemployable. Yes, I have managed to do contract work over the last few years – but that was work as an independent contractor. I could see that as something that I made happen when nothing else was happening for me – or I could see it as something that started and continued mostly because other people felt bad for me and decided to throw me a bone. If I’m honest, I don’t really know which it is. Maybe both? I know that I try really hard, and I take work seriously, but maybe I’m just not good enough to get a “normal” job. Am I a self-starting independent business-woman, or am I just not good enough to want to hire in a traditional work setting? I don’t know.
 
It’s not entirely true to say that I am unemployed. I do a lot of smaller side things. I help others with their research, I consult on social media marketing, I do some ticket brokering, and now I write this blog. I want to write a book, and this blog is feeding in to that, but does that make me an author? A blogger? Is it “legitimate”? I don’t know.
 
I have an advanced degree in International Affairs. I have an undergraduate degree in History and Educational Psychology. I have a solid understanding of all three. I like to research and I like to teach. I am a talented social media consultant. I like to write. I do all of these things – but does that mean I am a professional at these things? Or does that require someone consistently paying you? I have no idea. Is it legitimate to declare yourself something? An expert? An author?
 
Who knows? Not me.
 
And then I talk about the fact that I have these illnesses. That’s got to be a mistake, right? Unspecified endocrine disorder? That sounds scary. (It’s scary to me sometimes.) Who wants to hire someone with an “unspecified” illness? Sounds like a lot of possible sick days. Who want’s to hang out with someone like that? Who want’s to read what that person writes? I have no idea.
 
And I want to have kids. That’s probably a mistake to admit. Doesn’t that mean that I’ll want that pesky maternity leave at some point? No employer can openly discriminate against you for something like that – but here I have admitted it on a public forum so people don’t even have to ask the question (asking the question is illegal).
 
And I admitted that the odds of me being able to get pregnant without assistance are quite low. That sounds like a lot of medical stuff. Again, with the sick days. Again with the friends who don’t want to have to hear about all of that, or deal with someone who has to take weird medicines, or is “unnatural”, or is “playing God”. (I have heard the last two quotes from people talking about others – they didn’t know that I had any issues.)
 
And as wonky as all of those things are – they are really just icing on the cake. Didn’t I say that I have depression, anxiety, and ptsd?
 
In case you missed it, mental illness of any kind is one of the quickest ways to get yourself off of an invitation list. It doesn’t matter if you’re well controlled and have managed to work your way to a point where no one would ever guess those things about you. The stigma is so very high in this country – in this world. Admitting to mental illness, or being “found out” means that some people will inevitably treat you like you are unexploded ordinance.
 
So why in the world would I admit it publicly?
 
Four reasons:
 
  1.  I am what I am. This is part of who I am and, you know what? It’s really not a huge deal. I know how to handle myself, ask for help, recognize when I need to treat myself with extra kindness, and all the rest that is necessary for coping.
  2.  I am not the only one. This has always been true. There are so many people who survive with these illnesses, and there always have been. I guarantee that you know people who fight these battles every day. You might even be one of them. The numbers were always high, but now that there are veterans returning with symptoms, both mild and severe, our numbers have grown. If you ask people to face the horrors of war for you, then you need to understand and support them when some of those horrors follow them back.
  3. Stigmas lose power when you challenge them.  Sunlight is one of the best disinfectants. If I am open with you and can show you that my mental illnesses are really not much different than, say, my asthma – something that I have taken the steps to control – then hopefully you’ll see that it doesn’t control me, and it doesn’t control most of the people with similar diagnoses. Mental illness is not equivalent to unexploded ordinance – we don’t have timers and, really, there is only one major difference between those of us who have been diagnosed and most of the rest of the world…
  4. We know we have it and we have gotten treatment. Do you know the absolute WORST thing about stigmas against mental illness? Those stigmas prevent people from getting treatment. They prevent people from getting treatment for two main reasons, either because people are afraid to admit that they have it or because our healthcare system all too often reflects our society and dismisses or rejects those who suffer. We think there are legitimate illnesses and illegitimate ones. People think of mental illness as something that is “all in your head” – well, yeah, and so is a brain tumor, does that not “count” either? (Interestingly, structural damage to the head, like that found as a result of even a mild traumatic brain injury manifests itself via what we commonly refer to as mental illnesses, like depression, anxiety, and ptsd – and severe emotional trauma likely leads to the same structural damage as seen in traumatic brain injuries). Mental illness is just illness, not a character flaw, and it is the people who DON’T get treatment who have the hardest lives. It is also the people who don’t get adequate treatment who are more likely to commit a violent crime of some sort. So the next time there is an act of violence and the media reports that the perpetrator likely had some sort of mental illness don’t think, “People who have mental illnesses are dangerous.”, think “What prevented that person from getting the treatment that they needed so that they wouldn’t become dangerous?”

In short, I admit that I have a mental illness because I, and people like me, are the real face of these illnesses, not the face of a monster. My illness is not a character flaw, and it doesn’t define me. I am not “weak”. I’m not even rare. I am not afraid for or of the people who have been diagnosed with a mental illness. I am afraid for the people who haven’t – both because THAT is where you will (very rarely, statistically) find unexploded ordinance, and, even more, because those are the people who will really suffer throughout their lives… and that is sad.
 
 
So I am having a harder day today. I fear your judgments and their impact on my life and those of the people I care about. My life isn’t perfect – far from it. I, like everyone else, have bad days. I, probably like everyone else, think unkind things about myself. I am not always a ray of sunshine, sometimes I am a rainy day. Even rainy days, though, can be beautiful, and any farmer or gardener will tell you that they are also necessary. That is what I tell myself when I have days like this. That is what gets me through them.
 

 

Practicing happiness on days like today is a lot harder. It is also on days like today where it is most necessary, both for the person having the bad day and the people around them. I can choose to do the work to shift my focus, which I am. I can reframe the unkind thoughts I think of myself, which I have. I hope that is what you will do for yourself on your bad days too. Also, as I said before, I hope that you take this post as a motivator to give people a break – like Puppy Kitten Silhouette tells us to do – and to spread happiness to the people around you. 

Be kind, do good, and keep trying.

This post was originally posted on the blog "I Try: The Additive Property of Happiness".  

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