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When was the last time you felt happy? Saturday December 6, 2014

My therapist asked me this question last week. I was being re-assessed, after claiming that many of my depressive symptoms had gone and I believed I was recovering. I was thrown by the question, but still trawled through 30 years of memories, to try to find the point where I last felt that serene, stable, elusive positivity that is 'happiness'. Oh no, I thought. Don't make me say it.

"I can't remember the last time I felt happy."

And suddenly my claim that I was on the road to recovery sounded utterly foolish. I cried, and she passed me a little box of tissues, and wrote something down.

The question plagued me for the rest of the session. How could I have felt that I was recovering without being happy? It was only later that I started to think that perhaps my answer wasn't the problem. Perhaps the problem was the overly-simplistic question.

If depression is defined as 'prolonged unhappiness', it seems logical that not being depressed should mean the opposite. But in my case, the beginning of recovery didn't mean a sudden onset of happiness at all. It meant a gradual emergence of any feelings that weren't despair. When I felt hopeful after a lovely first date, I knew I was recovering. When I felt joy holding my niece for the first time, I knew I was recovering. When I doubled up with laughter at a comedy gig, I knew I was recovering. Have I felt sublimely happy recently? No, maybe not. But I have felt, and that is the important thing.

Depression is not the negative end of a binary scale, and recovery is not the polar opposite. Recovery is complicated, it looks different for everyone, and there is no tick box that covers it.

A Moodscope member.

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crafty wee midden Sat, Dec 6th 2014 @ 6:49am

Thank you. Right now Im not in a good psychiatrist of over ten years told me, at the end of our last session, that he was retiring, and I was now 'signed off to my GP' . Leaving aside the - to me, extremely insensitive and at best thoughtless - manner and time and way of communicating this to me, I am still shaking my head in disbelief. I am not 'all better now'. In the last couple of years Ive been though a great deal of 'external' things.....the death of my mother in a fire, the death of my beloved husband and soulmate in May this year, plus other things....and I feel myself closing in on myself, saying less....I have agoraphobia, and rely on online support and help a great deal(my shrink/GP premises are literally across the road: a five minute walk....though even that is extremely anxiety inducing) ....I've found that it's very difficult to find any group or individual who will listen, just listen, without automatically trying to "fix me"; always with good intentions, aLways meaning well, but Ive never been helped by unsolicited advice( with good reason, which is too long and complex to go into) and it's making me close in, close up, feel backed into an e,optional corner, and, well, sort of snap and growl a bit. Politely, if snapping and growling can be polite( actually, I *am* polite....I make a conscious effort not to be rude, and m not ungrateful....but in the last week Ive been called both of those things and worse.....and told that the other members of that group felt they had to walk on eggshells with me.
Really sorry for making this about me. Just feeling lost, and scared, and afraid of everything and nothing. My cats(Spock and Data) are keeping me going. And lots and lots of Leonard Cohen.
Alex aged 59 and a half, on the chilly Scottish east coast.

G Sat, Dec 6th 2014 @ 7:20am

When that happened, I requested my GP and psychologist to recommend another psychiatrist. Turned out the second psychiatrist is even more helpful. Hopefully you can get another psychiatrist, or considering talking to a psychologist that works on psychotherapy---if listening is all you need without having someone try to 'fix' you.
This is indeed a very difficult year for you, I wish you all the best. Glad that you find online mental health support helpful.

G Sat, Dec 6th 2014 @ 7:29am

Thank you for this post Helen, I cried at almost every session in the beginning of my therapy for almost two years. Every question seems to trigger me. Looking back, I am glad to know more about myself through the seemingly "provoking" questions and understand my triggers well. While I was at my worst, I found myself chuckled or laughed at some movie and cute animals, while knowing I was still in the deep darkness of depression (and was perplexed when my partner told me "this is the first time I heard you laugh since such a long time"). Just like you said, happiness is not measurable. When little things appear to warm our heart we are happy enough to know something has touched even the severely depressed people. Through meditation, I think moderation is key to any feeling and reaction. The more extreme we felt (overly-happy or overly-sad), the more we throw ourself off the recovery track. All the best to all of us who are still working hard to recover.

aj Sat, Dec 6th 2014 @ 7:35am

Alex, Helen is right. Happiness isn't an all pervading and all encompassing emotion that'll be there for ever. And neither is depression.

At my darkest, anxious lonely, lowest times I was still capable of a smile or a "that looks nice" emotion. I'm slowly recovering and Helen I really recognise your now finding youself able to enjoy things - I find myself a bit scared of these feelings at times because its been so long!!

Thank you for reminding me that its OK to feel both sides!

Alex, I hope you start to feel some of these "good" feelings soon too, you're not alone and please remember that even on the coldest darkest of mornings, dawn comes and some light comes too.

Elizabeth Sat, Dec 6th 2014 @ 7:39am

Good luck, Helen

crafty wee midden Sat, Dec 6th 2014 @ 8:05am

Thank you....I have a GP appointment in ten days, stroke linic check: I'll discuss it with het. Thanks again

crafty wee midden Sat, Dec 6th 2014 @ 8:07am

Thank you, AJ. It helps to come here, and read, and write. I sort of feel "I belong", if that makes sense

Di Murphey Sat, Dec 6th 2014 @ 8:07am

Dearest Alex aged 59 and half, on the chilly Scottish east coast ~

I adore your posting. It brings up many experiences I have had, though I've never talked with anyone else quite so frankly about it. Your courage is significant.

Cohen is a balm. Spock and Data as well. Hold on to them.

Your sharing is a huge help to our community ~ it is a service to humankind. Thank you.
Di Murphey

Melanie Lowndes Sat, Dec 6th 2014 @ 8:17am

Dear Helen, I found your post very wise indeed - and shows your strength and belief in yourself. (I felt angry as I read about your therapist asking that question and then "writing something down" - how dare she/he? I felt!) We are all a mixture of emotions and we find our own way.
Thinking again - I do believe we create all our circumstances which move us forward - however painful that next step may be - the fact that your therapist asked you that question and you went through that self-questioning gave you more clarity than you had before.
I often think these days that clarity is one of the most important things we can gain ...
Alex, thank you for your honest sharing - I am glad you feel a belonging here. It is a safe place where we can be ourselves - thank you to Moodscope.
Love and blessings to you both and to all,
Melanie :-)

Anonymous Sat, Dec 6th 2014 @ 8:34am

December 1980: I was sharing a flat at Uni with my girlfriend and two of her friends, we were in our final year, had just opened our presents to each other and were about to go to our various homes for Xmas and New Year. Many ups and downs since then but nothing to dispel the inner darkness. Thanks for asking the question, the answer gives much food for thought. NR

Anonymous Sat, Dec 6th 2014 @ 8:52am

Gosh people say the daftest things don't they? Even counsellors and psychiatrists - even us!! We feel what we feel that is what I have learnt - especially when we have been through a terribly rough ride - be good to yourself!

Anonymous Sat, Dec 6th 2014 @ 9:31am

Helen, your post today is brilliant. I'm somewhere in there too...a slow dawning. Beautiful things can't be rushed. Thank you, love ratg.

Anonymous Sat, Dec 6th 2014 @ 9:33am

NR I tried but couldn't comment on yesterday's post. Really, really liked it! Love ratg.

Anonymous Sat, Dec 6th 2014 @ 11:14am

This post is amazing and inspirational some day I really hope I feel like this too. I dont think everyones depression is the same just as everyones recovery isnt the same. Thank you for this it gives me hope.

Julia Sat, Dec 6th 2014 @ 12:20pm

In my view asking someone if they are happy is plain daft. Who can actually say yes I am happy in any one given moment? No-one. You see happiness is elusive and impossible. We can feel content with our lot but the only time anyone can truly say they are happy is when they are involved in something so intense that the rest of living is blotted out. For instance I feel truly happy when I'm at a rock concert and absolutely love the music. I am lost in it all. It doesn't last. But asked in a therapy session to relate when you last felt happiness is mad and impossible to answer. I am probably being a bit OTT here but I feel for you Helen. When we are coming out of a depression or a bad patch, an insomnia cycle for example, you are so right, it's the little things that makes us realise life is getting better not one sudden burst of happiness! Leave that for the Sound of Music fans or unreality. Anyway Helen, I hope you will not be returning to that therapist.I think you would make a better therapist than her or him.

Anonymous Sat, Dec 6th 2014 @ 1:56pm

Sorry to be so blatantly scientific, but is it not just a question of how you define happiness? Are you not just setting your sight too high. Or putting it differently: Could not all the things you mentioned be defined as happiness? You have been happy without knowing it...

Anonymous Sat, Dec 6th 2014 @ 2:51pm

Similar to anon 1:56pm. For me, happiness comes in fits and starts and is not at all a "permanent" state - so moments such as joy at a baby, etc, ARE times of happiness. Maybe that's what your therapist wondered about? Because when we are DEEPLY down it's not possible to feel joy at anything.

Anonymous Mon, Dec 8th 2014 @ 9:26am

Thanks for your support. I was worried that I might have put my foot in it, being labeled insensitive.
Just to add another footnote:
I have on my desk a postcard which a very good friend of mine gave me years ago. It reads:
A true master of the art of living is already happy, if he/she is not unhappy.
anon 1:56pm as above

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