Mental Health Monday: Why Am I Grasping, But Not Latching, On To Happiness?

March 20th is International Day of Happiness and on that day in 2019 I put up a post titled Find Your Happy. In it I wrote about how, for the first time in my life, I identified as happy.

I have spent most of my life pursuing happiness. My second tattoo, which I got in 2011, is Kanji symbols for strength and happiness. Strength because I am the second strongest person I know (second to my mum) and happiness because one of my life goals has always been to be happy. Of course I have known happiness, my life has not been all gloom and doom. I have just never had happy as part of the repertoire of emotions that make me who I am. That might sound hyperbolic given I have one of the loudest laughs ever, but there is a difference between experiencing fleeting moments of happiness versus being holistically happy.

It may have taken 31 years but for the first time in my life I was genuinely happy. However, a lot has changed between then and now and I no longer identify as a happy person. I am back to experiencing fleeting moments of happiness rather than being holistically happy as I am grasping, but not latching, on to happiness.

At first I thought being unable to latch on to happiness was something I started struggling with this year, but after my annual medical checkup two Fridays ago I realised it started last year only I did not notice it then as I was also falling in love with the most incredible man I have ever met. How paradoxical is that? On the one hand I was falling in love with my future husband, but on the other hand I was falling out of love with things that previously sparked joy in me. Things like writing, something that is not what I do but who I am. In hindsight I should have paid more attention to the fact that I was falling out of love with something that is not what I do but who I am, but that is why the saying hindsight is 20/20 is a cliché.

Up until two Fridays ago I was confident the reason writing felt like a chore last year was because I was telling the story of my mum’s 5 ½ year battle with stage IV breast cancer in 13 themes, but 2020 has come and gone and I still have little to no enthusiasm for writing. And then two Fridays ago I had my annual checkup and my doctor clued me in on how the stress and uncertainty brought on by the pandemic has physically affected a great number of people in the year since the first COVID-19 case was declared in the country. Which is why last year when I did my annual checkup BC (before COVID) my body composition was the best it has ever been in my entire life, but this year it was so terrible I was even taken aback by how bad it was. I knew 2020 was a stressful year, but I was not fully aware of just how stressed I was and the subsequent impact it had on my body until my doctor pointed it out to me.

This pandemic feels like Satan has designed the perfect set of circumstances to make sobriety seem impossible. Isolation, fear, futility, anger, hopelessness … you name a trigger, it is stronger.
Amelia Shepherd, Grey’s Anatomy S17E11

For someone like me who has been on the pursuit of happiness my entire life, if you replace the word sobriety with happiness in that quote by Amelia, you get a perfect explanation as to why the pandemic is fucking with my happiness.

I have said a couple of times before that I have control issues. I like to be in control. I think part of it is your typical firstborn personality; we tend to be rather bossy motherfuckers. But another part of it stems from my childhood. I grew up in a very violent household. I never knew which mood my father would come home in and always walked on eggshells as a good mood would change in the blink of an eye. Once I was old enough to understand how his volatile temperament impacted my childhood I began to avoid being in situations where the outcome is uncertain. Being in control of situations helps me feel as far removed as possible from that powerless little girl.

Enter a global pandemic, exit control and with it goes my burgeoning mental fitness. Things that brought me happiness BC no longer seem to spark joy. It started with writing feeling like a chore, then I fell out of love with the gym and now I no longer enjoy doing my twice daily skincare routine, something I was so fucking excited about a mere two months ago when I first embarked on my skincare journey.

The pandemic, with all its stress, uncertainty, lack of control, job insecurity etc etc., has been wreaking havoc on my mental health in more ways than I was aware of before my annual checkup two Fridays ago. The only things that seem to bring me joy nowadays are reading and watching TV but that cannot be where I draw my happiness from because books and TV shows are not real life. They are more of an escape as they allow me to leave this world and fully immerse myself in the author’s/screenwriter’s world. And while that is completely fine every now and then, I will not find lasting happiness in something that allows me to escape from the world.

So how am I going to Find My Happy 2.0? How will I shift from simply grasping, to actually latching, on to happiness? I have no idea 😐 but what I do know is that I need to work harder at letting go of my need to control things. There is only so much you can actually control in this crazy thing called life. Add in an unprecedented global pandemic and the things you have control over, that were not many to begin with, significantly reduce. Worrying about things you cannot control will only drain you of the mental strength you need to be your best, a fact I am finally coming to terms with now that I no longer find joy in things that made me so happy BC.

I am also coming to terms with the fact that I have to go back to journalling regularly, something I stopped doing when I started blogging because journalling + weekly blogging was writing overkill for me. But my head is, and probably always will be, a very busy place and writing down my thoughts has always been extremely cathartic for me. Plus, given that I want to increase my therapy sessions to every two/three weeks, I also need to increase the time I spend doing my therapy homework because majority of the change brought on by therapy takes place outside the therapist’s office. If I am not going to practice the things my therapist is teaching me, then why am I even attending the sessions in the first place? I need to be more deliberate with applying what I am learning from my therapist and journalling feels like a great place to start.

On this year’s International Day of Happiness The Economist (ironically?) published an article about how the pandemic has changed the shape of global happiness in that the old have become happier and the young more miserable. It helps to know that my struggle with grasping, but not latching, on to happiness is not unique to me. And after my annual checkup two Fridays ago I am now more determined than ever to find my happy again and reclaim it as part of the repertoire of emotions that make me who I am.

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