These past few months have felt a lot like a New York City spring. As I’ve traveled through death and rebirth, defeat and victory, my life has been reminiscent of the unexpected frosts, brief snow flurries, sixty degree days that warrant celebration, and the heads of baby crocuses emerging from the cold soil. The April showers are giving way to beautiful May flowers. For the first time in my short life, I feel steady.
My current daily routine begins with waking up anxious, my chest pinched tight as I try to shake the sleep off of my heavy eyelids. The first moments of my day remind me where I came from, as every twenty four hours, I am brought back to the eighteen years that preceded this one. It is remarkable how I’ve learned to change my natural state, as every morning I awaken a nervous and depressed wreck, before slowly putting myself back together again. Someone once described this phenomenon perfectly: “Every morning, I wake up a dry drunk, and I have to become a sober person.”
Several months ago, I watched the documentary Happy (by director Roko Belic). It explained how 50 percent of our happiness is determined by genetic predisposition, 10 percent is determined by external conditions (our health, our relationship status, our house, our neighborhood, our car, our friends), and 40 percent is determined by “intentional action”. As a young woman who is still getting her footing in a confusing and often scary world, I frequently need other people’s words to help me describe what I am feeling. Happy summed it up quite perfectly.
Because, as you see, for my entire adolescence, I was miserable. Sure, there were happy moments, hours, days, weeks, or even months! But over the years, little to nothing changed. The way I saw it, the only change was that things were getting worse. That is the 50 percent genetic predisposition. As the only person who can diagnose myself, I believe that I was born with the disease of addiction.
I had an amazing, unconditionally loving, and unbroken family. I went to good schools. I lived in a beautiful neighborhood. So why, then, did I always feel empty? I was surrounded by love, but I always felt less-than, out-of-place, restless, irritable, and discontent. Perhaps you’re reading this and thinking that I was simply ungrateful. Yes, I was. But a lack of gratitude wasn’t my only problem. I was the problem. I was not born a happy person.
Some people believe that it is impossible for people who come from backgrounds like mine to suffer from the diseases of depression and addiction. They may believe that we don’t appreciate what we have, make bad decisions, and/or have some sort of moral deficiency. I am here to tell you that that is not true -- 10 percent external conditions. Mental illness does not discriminate. However, that does not mean that there isn’t hope for each and every one of us.
On many occasions during my recovery, the importance of external conditions has worked for me, rather than against me. I am inexplicably blessed to be surrounded by such beauty, love and positivity; but that doesn’t mean I haven’t dealt with my fair share of horrific situations. At those times, the inner peace and serenity I have worked so hard to develop save me. This is the intentional action, as I have come to understand it best.
I have learned healthy ways to make myself feel better. I meditate. I exercise. I make myself get out of bed even when I really, really don’t want to, and it always pays off. I cry when I need to cry. When someone asks me how I’m doing, even as a rhetorical and superficial greeting, I tell them the truth. I write poems.
I practice gratitude by counting my blessings; no matter what’s wrong, there’s always something right. I try to make myself proud and give myself love. It’s not easy at all. But I’ve learned that if I keep on doing what I’m used to doing, I’ll keep on feeling the way I’m used to feeling. It has proven invaluable to me to make a conscious effort to break the vicious cycle that kept me in the hellish depths of depression and untreated addiction. Today I am in recovery.
There are challenges; there always will be. But every day, I focus intently on progress. It’s progress -- not perfection -- that’s important. Getting better is the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I know that fighting my depression, anxiety and addiction will be a lifelong battle. But today, it is one that I’m willing to fight. Intentional action. The problems that I have aren’t ones that fix themselves. But as I always say, the most beautiful things come out of pain. And so long as I’m trying to create a beautiful life, I’m in a better place than I was before.