“I just want to be happy. I can’t think of another phrase capable of causing more misery and permanent unhappiness. With the possible exception of, ‘Honey, I’m in love with your youngest sister.’
Yet at first glance, it seems so guileless. Children just want to be happy. So do puppies. Happy seems like a healthy, normal desire. Like wanting to breathe fresh air or shop only at Whole Foods.
But ‘I just want to be happy’ is a hole cut out of the floor and covered with a rug.”
~ Augusten Burroughs
This is a follow-up to last week’s post about my friend Nicky. In the last few days there have been significant updates. Mental health is nothing, if not consistently weaving in and out of stability.
I posted the above quote for a couple of reasons:
- As someone who understands the mental trap doors of depression, Augusten Burroughs (one of my favorite authors) uses his wicked humor like a bucket of water – us sorry souls in the Depression Section need the refresher. Any opportunity to sweep the underbelly of our mental illness with laughter instead of numbing ambivalence is welcome.
- The visual of the phrase ‘I just want to be happy’ being a hole cut out of the floor and covered with a rug is exactly the picture I paint within the walls of my own struggles – and one I know Nicky (and everyone with depression) understands.
After his breakdown, Nicky was able to keep his job – albeit with a demoted salary, which should make him somewhat relieved and happy. He lives in a great neighborhood, has wonderful friends and is physically healthy – which again – falls in the lines of the happiness barometer. But happiness is a mistress of personal fulfillment and gratitude. She doesn’t enter inside our mind unless both of those other tanks are full. Depression is the flat tire keeping us from reaching the station. We can see it up the road, but fuck if our mental illness doesn’t take the air out of our plan.
Here is an old photo of a little boy surrounded in a field of wild flowers. He seems in deep thought while (presumably) inspecting a flower he picked. It’s a beautiful day and we can imagine the warm glow of the afternoon sky comforting the back of his neck and shoulders. We wonder what he’s thinking – where his mind is wandering as he rests in solitude with the sun and the grass. We assume it’s peaceful.
God, what we would give for a world where our outsides reflected the lives we were living on the inside.
The boy in this photo is Nicky. And as anyone with an ugly childhood filled with abuse and neglect will tell you – pictures can be deceiving.
Even now, in his beautiful neighborhood, with his fancy job and lovely friends – so much of him is still that little boy trying to make sense of the pain he’s carried with him for a lifetime.
He asked me this afternoon why he is always fighting. I sent him that photo with the words: “you are always fighting because he never could.”
Last night, Nicky had another breakdown and was treading on thoughts of suicide. This is not his first time struggling to stay above water when all he wanted was to drown.
Thankfully, using the same courage he mustered in facing his fear last week, he did one of the bravest things anyone in such despair will tell you they’ve done: he called a psychologist and asked for help.
I only know this because he reached out to me this morning – and I’m honored to be in his safe haven of people he feels comfortable enough to do so. He knows I’ve been there. And that there’s nothing I can really say to him except the two most powerful words we can say to someone who gets it: me too.
So although working through our FEAR is something we all must do, maybe the struggle is more about letting go of what’s expected of us after we face the FEAR. Nicky was expected to pick up where he left off – his employers not giving him a chance to explore the WHY of it all.
Now, with a doctor on his side, he can finally feel the pressure release from what is expected of him – from his boss, his family and friends – and just BE. Living our OWN life, putting our OWN happiness first? I can’t think of anything braver than that.