My brilliant friend Bethany inspired me to share my experiences regarding navigating life as a twenty-something who lives with mental illness. I’m 23 (I’ll be 24 in less than three months) and even though I’m commonly mistaken for a teenager, I feel like I’m much older because of all I’ve experience in my short time on this planet. Since I’ll be 25 in almost a year, I want to put some of my realizations and life lessons I’ve learned out there to not just help people in my age range, but people of all ages. Because of all of this, I decided to start my Quarter-life Chronicles.
I’m at the age where people are telling me that these are supposed to be the “happiest years of your life”. How depressing is that? To peak in your twenties. I wonder if those people were also lied to about high school being the “best four years of your life”. Happiness (and love) is what we’re “supposed” to desire according to our society and it’s kind of gross how often people try to push happiness on others.
You see the cookie-cutter sentiments pushing the importance of happiness:
“Do what makes you happy!”
“Strive for happiness, not perfection!”
“Think happy thoughts!”
“Happy girls are the prettiest girls!”
Not going to lie, these quotes make me cringe for so many reasons. If these phrases help you, that’s great, but there’s a huge gap between happiness and reality. Reality is not “rainbows and butterflies”, nor does it involve being happy 100% of the time. It’s a roller coaster of highs, lows, and the in-betweens. You get thrown curve balls that hit you like a punch to the gut and knock the wind out of you. Emotions are not static. Life isn’t static (not matter how slow your progress may feel).
Happiness is fleeting. It’s a temporary high that you hope will break up the monotony of painful and boring moments. When you chase happiness, you’re running towards one finish line after another because you don’t know when the race really ends.When you feel physically unable to feel anything because depression strips you of that right, happiness feels like a foreign language that you learned in middle school, but can only remember bits and pieces. You can’t quite remember the significance of it.
For many years, I resented every time I felt anything other than happiness. I equated not being happy to being “broken”. I wanted to be a robot who could be serviced to be on the “happy setting” like everyone around me. Because that’s not really a thing, I felt defective. I had no warranty and no way to exchange my life for a new one. In order to try to work towards happiness, I desired a lot of things. I wanted to be a specific kind of “skinny” (a toxic mentality), wanted thick, lustrous hair (probably never going to happen unless I wear a wig), a ridiculously difficult position to achieve at a prestigious government health organization (“Shoot for the stars they say!”), and to meet a bunch of other ridiculously unrealistic goals.
Over the years I realize happiness means different things to different people and businesses try to sell you happiness in the form of diet pills, make up, gym memberships, vacations, clothes, and other material goods that you think you “need” to be “happy”. You know what I need and want more than happiness? Resiliency.
Because treating and recovering from mental illness isn’t like recovering from a broken bone, I have to accept that the recovery period is indefinite. I will likely be working on my issues for the rest of my life, but at least I’m working on myself (unlike most people without mental illness). I want to be able to bounce back from life-altering experiences in a more timely fashion like a rubber band (or gumband as we call it in the Burgh).
I’ve fought damn hard to become more emotionally resilient and stable. It took more than a few (almost) quarter-life crises to conclude that what I really need isn’t happiness and it allowed me to tailor my plan for working on my mental health to better suit my needs. I can confidently say that I’m the most stable I’ve been in my entire life and I know that is largely due to the fact that I shifted my efforts from seeking happiness to seeking resiliency.
Think of it this way: I’m in a really healthy, positive relationship with my fantastic, supportive boyfriend. I’d love for us to get married and have a happy life, but I acknowledge that our relationship isn’t 100% happy. No relationship is. The levels of happiness may waver due to circumstances like a fight or going through other times that test your relationship. What’s going to help you get through those time to get to the happy ones? Resiliency. Doing the work with your partner to strengthen the relationship. Communicating. Learning to cope with negativity in positive ways instead of putting on a happy face only to become passive aggressive or blow up. If I sought a relationship for solely happiness, I would never be content. I apply this mentality to my relationship with myself.
While I wish most people I come across happiness, I also wish them/you all resiliency. May you become stronger over time and reach out for help to fight your way through your obstacles. Don’t strive for happiness. Strive for realness and resiliency.