Please Stop It With The ‘Choose Happiness’ Memes

Josh Felise
Josh Felise

You people probably don’t know this, but we call you The Normals. We are the other ⅕ of the population who know clinical depression (and other mental illnesses) too intimately. And we not-quite-Normals generally agree: you just don’t–or can’t–get it.

If I wanted to convince you of the horrors of my illness, I would not start by telling you about the short and relatively mild episode I had in my late 20’s. Instead, I would detail the next one, roughly 17 years later. I remember the EXACT moment I knew it was back: I was in the kitchen, near the basement door, mid-stride, when my legs and arms froze. I might have been stuck in that position only a moment, but that split-second combination of paralysis and dread signaled I was not “cured”–and that I was going to plummet.
I did.

For 836 days.

Everything got hard again, from getting off the couch to putting a bag of trash in the outdoor bin. I could hardly work up the motivation to get a spoon out of silverware drawer, pick up a dropped potato chip, use a safety pin, tie my hair back. Pouring a glass of water became so difficult that I avoided doing it. I don’t think you other ¾ of the population (we, the not-Normals, comprise about ¼ of what’s leftover) can imagine putting Herculean efforts into minute, everyday tasks.

A quick story for you: a friend brought me a bouquet of Gerbera daisies, which I used to love. I didn’t appreciate the gesture. I wanted to set them in their cellophane on the counter and let them wilt until someone (not me) would throw them away. But she stayed, and I had to work to figure out what to do with her gift. I realized I was supposed to put them in water, but to do that, I had to climb a chair to reach a cabinet where the vase was, get off the chair without falling, fill the vase with water, and finally take the flowers from her hands and fit them in the vase. Every movement was an effort and it felt like my limbs were dead. When she suggested I cut the stems, I wanted to vomit.

Things got exponentially worse when I had to deal with routine mishaps.Getting dressed, I would miss the armhole of my camisole and have to try again. A clump of toothpaste would be globbed on the vanity, and it needed to be wiped off. My son broke a glass, and I had to sweep the shards off the floor. The cat would vomit, and if I didn’t clean it, it might be tracked throughout the house–and I knew that was something that would require
energy that I just didn’t have.

That familiar lump in my throat comes back, followed closely by the defeated feeling that there is no way I can push through another day. These are the times when lethargy becomes secondary to my other depression symptoms.

Correcting a small error, my brain tells me, is something I should be able to do. Something the most feeble dolts can do. Hopelessness, confusion, shame, self-hate come to forefront. I am crushed, again.

***

I don’t expect most of you will finish reading and have an epiphany about our mental health and how we are often characterized as weak and lacking. You will continue to send memes that suggest “You Can Be Smart and Happy or Stupid and Miserable,” because, in your minds, all we need to do is follow our “bliss.” Do you think your overly simplistic and pedantic slogans show your love, solidarity, or support?

They don’t. What is really happening is this: you are strengthening our self-loathing (another symptom of our illness). Really, if “Happiness is a Choice,” don’t you think we would choose it? We have no idea why we can’t overcome mountains anymore, or even mole-hills. We know we’ve become impotent husks, but there’s absolutely nothing we can do about it. Let me be clear: stop sending us “inspirational” quotes. They, and you, are slowly killing us. TC mark

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