by Lillian Csernica on August 22, 2013
Editor’s Note: I wrote this for my monthly writer’s group in response to the question/prompt, “Where do you make room for happiness?” I have mentioned my depression occasionally. Out of respect for all the writers and the special needs parents who have to struggle against depression, I’m posting this here. Remember, my colleagues and comrades, you are not alone.
If you ask me where I make room for my happiness, it will take me a minute or two to come up with a reply. Not because I don’t know where I keep it, but because in a very real sense I don’t have any to keep. I live with Major Depressive Disorder. It’s not like I get depressed every now and then. I’m depressed all the time. I have to fight my way out of it to a state of mind that approximates the kind of baseline cheerfulness that gets most people through their day. The specific name for the no-happiness part of my condition is anhedonia. That’s the inability to experience pleasure from normal activities such as watching a funny movie or playing with a pet. If that sounds sad, it is. Some days it goes beyond sad all the way into tragic. I sit there and watch life go by. I can see the colors and hear the sounds, but I can’t feel anything other than depression. The tastes, the smells, the textures are there but they don’t connect to the pleasure center in my brain.
I have had to actively seek out qualified people who have taught me the skills I need to change my perceptions and reframe my thinking. I might not be able to feel happiness, but I take great pleasure in other people’s joy. Here are a few examples:
My mother is taking an art class. One of her projects came out really well and her teacher hung it in the public area of the senior living center where everyone can admire it. The project involved learning a new and difficult technique, so my mother is particularly proud of that achievement.
My son John just finished taking a class at the library on using a digital camera and laptop to make movies. He learned how to use some new software and do some interesting things with the storyboard pages he’d spent so much time drawing. He doesn’t have a completed animation project yet, but John did master a new part of the process in just one hour. I put the experience in context for him, explaining how the animators he admires had to learn step by step methods as well. John is proud of himself.
Michael, my older son, just brought home his latest award-winning art project. He and his aide had kept it in his classroom until summer school ended because it’s a triptych with two of the panels created by two of Michael’s classmates. It shows a street scene right off the beach in Capitola, done in multimedia that includes paint and crayon and some glitter. While Michael didn’t make it into the Top Three for this year’s school district art contest, he and his team received ribbons for Awards of Merit. All of us at home made much over Michael winning his fourth award for an art project.
I think I’m the closest to real happiness that I can get these days when I write. When I get into the creative trance, all sense of time passing vanishes. I leave behind the sorrows of the real world and function within the world of my story. I am on that intuitive wavelength where I’m processing structure and characterization and setting and dialogue all the way down to the microwriting level of word choice and punctuation placement. I could be a gem cutter working with the magnifiers and the precision tools that allow me to cut a stone into a solitaire, a baguette, a marquise, whatever suits the particular gem. With a story I’m suiting my own taste, but I’m also reaching into the story itself for its reality, its shape, the right way to show off its color, cut, and clarity. There is no pleasure like the pleasure of finding the exact word and putting it in the ideal setting within the story.
I suppose it’s true that I have to really work at making room for happiness in my mind and in my life. Every day I have to survive in an environment of ongoing tragedy, knowing that because of their disabilities both of my sons will not enjoy everything life has to offer them. My 25th wedding anniversary fell on the 10th. . Chris and I set aside everything that has piled up between us over the years and saluted the accomplishments of keeping our household intact and our children healthy despite all the challenges we’ve faced. We are not the people we were when we first met. Sometimes I think we know each other too well, and sometimes I think we’ve never known each other at all.
I’ve learned that I can’t hold on to happiness. Life changes too quickly, and some of the changes are permanent. I’ve learned that I have to take medication to correct my brain chemistry so I can get out of bed in the morning and get through the demands of each day. I’ve learned that I can’t let my mental and emotional room be taken up by negative feelings and old baggage. Most of all, I’ve learned that if I just keep still and be in this present moment, happiness will wave at me or throw me a smile. Once it a while, it will even come and sit beside me so we can share the moment.