I'm not in control of my happiness. That is the theory that I accepted for a very long time.
It appeared that whenever things were going too well, for too long, some unknown force would ultimately descend upon me and effortlessly snatch away any feelings of well-being I was experiencing. I attributed this abduction of my happiness to the fact that I had merely exceeded my “happiness quota.” Essentially, the universe just wasn’t going to let me get too happy. I deduced that I had a happiness limit and if I came too close to that limit, or God forbid exceeded it, the universe would be forced to cut me down to size, humble me and remind me who was in charge.
Believe me, I had very good reasons to believe this far-fetched theory. One example of an swift and forceful response to an overabundance of happiness happened in March of 2012. During the first few months of 2012, things had been going very well for me: my career was zooming forward at the speed of light, I was six months pregnant and excited to meet my new bundle of joy, and my personal relationships were flourishing. Things were going really well. But as usual, this feeling of “well-being” would prove to be short-lived.
I remember commenting to a friend that I sensed I was getting too close to my “happiness quota.” “You know, things can’t be too good for too long,” I told her. She scoffed at me and replied that I was just being paranoid, (I mean who really believes that their happiness is rationed out by some mythical energy source that rules the universe? ... Me, that’s who.)
Within a week of that ominous conversation, the biggest life-changing incident that has ever happened in my life took place. I accidentally ran over my then two-year-old daughter with the family car and was subsequently run over myself after throwing my six month pregnant body under the vehicle in an effort to save her.
This horrific accident not only put me well below my perceived quota, it left a far greater impact on my life. Happiness seemed to eluded me. Though my daughter made a complete recovery (after days in the ICU and numerous fractures and bruises) and my unborn child was born beautiful and healthy as well, that incident implanted doubt and fear as my new constant companions. My daughter’s life was almost lost due to my negligence and my psyche responded with almost OCD like tendencies. I would check, recheck, and check again to make sure that my children were present and accounted for when in the car, even if I understood that I had taken all the appropriate safety precautions a mere seconds earlier. Anytime I was away from them I was preoccupied with wondering if they were OK. I began to have frequent and brutal panic attacks that came and went as they pleased.
Eventually, with therapy and a great life coach, I was able to come out of that space. Through intense counseling I have learned that I was suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, a common reaction to a situation as awful as what I had experienced. That situation also “turned up” my current bipolar disorder symptoms, which at the time were undiagnosed. The effects of trauma on your mental health are well documented and something that today I know a great deal about.
Through it all, the greatest lesson that I learned was that I deserved to be happy; that my happiness doesn’t have a cap. After the hard work and dedication to my mental health that I had to commit to, I finally understood that there's work necessary sometimes to be happy and content. No, it wasn’t easy pulling myself out of that slump but if I allowed myself to stay in that space I would certainly still be there now. Once I accepted that there was no theoretical force keeping my joy at bay, it was easier to also accept that the only thing keeping me from being happy was me.
Ish Happens!! It’s how you react to these occurrences that makes the difference. I now recognize that the lows that regularly came soon after my highs were in part due to an undiagnosed bipolar disorder, and that the chronic sadness that always triumphed over spurts of happiness was in fact depression.
Sometimes life has a way of making us believe that everything is working against us. We believe that we are not worthy of the good things that life has to offer. For years I truly believed that there was a finite limit to my happiness. Today I live by the motto: no one can want something for you more than you want it for yourself. With this in mind I have thrown away the notion of a happiness quota. I want limitless happiness. I want to end the fear that has historically preempted the happy moments in my life, and I now command my journey to be one of unbounded joy and optimism. I accept my role in achieving such a feat and I revel in the notion of grasping happiness and not letting go. I implore you to do the same.
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