Tuesday, April 8, 2014

My Happiness Cocktail

I feel great. I can feel the endorphins pumping through my body. Like you do after you eat a big salad for lunch or go for a hike on a warm, sunny day. Or have amazing sex with someone you love. Or swing on the front porch with your kid as you talk about the meaning of life. Healthy and intensely alive.

I've noticed I've been in--dare I say it--a good mood for the last week or so. If I weren't such a skeptic, I'd trace this elevated mood back to the moment Pastor Jonas sprinkled my head with holy water, but the explanation couldn't be that simple, could it?

Could the ice melt from my crotchety cold heart so fast? Could religious conversion change my attitude so instantaneously? I'm not one of those people who falls for such nonsense, am I?

Apparantly so, because try as I might, I can't seem to shake this good mood.

I also can't figure it out. Like, what do I do now? How am I supposed to get all worked up about something to have the energy to write about it? It's hard to write about past trauma when you currently feel so good.

As someone who has battled depression since I was four years old, it doesn't seem weird to hear myself say "I wonder why I'm in such a good mood?" like it's the oddest thing I'd ever encountered. When I say these words aloud in front of other people they laugh like I'm joking or look at me with pity. They don't get it. Most of the people in my life, thankfully, are far more emotionally stable than I am, so they don't question their good days like I do.

Sometimes the thirst is more familiar than the water, so when life offers us a drink we hesitate to accept it.

In defense of reason, spring has sprung. I'm not saying I have seasonal affective disorder, although it wouldn't surprise me since I'm predesposed to depression, but doesn't everybody just feel more alive when it's sunny outside? It's gotten warmer and sunnier in the last week. It had been a long, grey winter. I spent too long hybernating inside. Now that it's warmer, I've been walking outside more, soaking up the vitamin D, feeling the heat and the breeze on my skin, and listening to the birds sing. That's gotta cheer up any ole grump.

It's weird, though. It feels like the reason for my good mood is deeper than a change of seasons. Joining a religious community feels a lot like becoming a mother for the first time. It's shocking how instantly you feel connected. How instantly you fall in love. Like opening a gift you'd held in your hand for so long you forgot it was there. Like reaching inside and pulling out the little girl who learned to distrust others and have her heart fend for itself, and holding her hand tightly so she knows you'll never let go.

I'd almost forgotten how much I enjoy being around other people. I was brought up in a large family. I was born on a Sunday and brought home on Thanksgiving day to a house full of relatives: five much-older siblings, my parents, both sets of grandparents. I tried pooping on everyone's parade but managed to only soil my frilly pink dress. Everyone thought I was adorable and passed me around like a living doll.

My mom says that I was rarely set down, that someone was almost always holding me. Even at night. I shared a bedroom with two of my older sisters, who were 11 and 8. Each night when I'd cry, my sister Kitty, the 11 year old, would rise, change my diaper, give me a bottle, and bring me back to bed with her so she could get back to sleep and go to school the next day. To this day I credit her kind caretaking for much of my confidence and ability to connect with others despite other childhood trauma (sexual abuse, a shaky relationship with my narcissistic father) I experienced. When you are an infant and you cry and someone picks you up and holds you til you fall back asleep it feels like you're not alone in the world and your brain learns to trust others more readily. I firmly believe being held in my sister's arms at night, someone I loved responding to my needs so quickly, has helped me thrive emotionally just as much as talk therapy and psychotropic medicine.

Another explanation for my good mood could be the sertraline has finally kicked back in. I was on it when Will married me. Then I went off it when I was pregnant. Then I went back on it when I had post-partum depression. Then I went back off it when I decided to try more natural approaches. Then I went back on it when my brother died of liver failure. Then I went back off it when I read a book about natural treatments for depression. Then I went back on it when my doctor said to me as I sat in her office sobbing last fall, "You have post-traumatic stress disorder. Your brain developed differently because of early childhood trauma you experienced. You'll most likely need to take medicine for your anxiety and depression for your whole life."

I don't like to think my brain is so different that I have to take medicine to get out of bed in the morning. But why don't I question the same thing about my allergies? Sure, I've tried honey and tea and all kinds of supplements to treat my mold allergies, but if my eyes and my nose won't stop running and I can't stop coughing I take the medicine my doctor prescribes to treat my allergies, and I don't give it a second thought because suddently I can see and I can breathe. Why can't I feel the same way about my psych meds? When I feel a noticible improvement in my mood, why can't I embrace it? It just feels weird to embrace Big Pharma, but I'd be lying if I said I don't feel much better when I pop their pills.

Sertraline helps me see that not everything in the world is so black and white. And depressingly grey.

The fact that I survived the times off my meds is a testament to my husband's amazing strength and devotion to our family. During my down days Will picked up the slack. I'd be too sick to get out of bed and he'd take Katie to school, go to work, pick Katie up from school, come home and help her with her homework, make dinner, do the laundry, get her ready for bed, all of it by himself while I laid there feeling helpless. He never once complained. He treated my bouts of mental illness as gifts to him, ways for him to show that love is an action verb.

I have a feeling my sudden boost in mood has to do with all of these things: the love of my husband and daughter who are my immediate family, the newfound support of my church family, the old foundation of love that was applied by my birth family, the sun, the drugs, blogging, all of it.

I started this blog because I discovered that writing about my life helps me understand it better. I often don't know how I feel about something until I write about it. The act of arranging my thoughts into words and sentences and paragraphs and stories organizes them into a manageable way so I can distill wisdom from them.

I haven't been blogging as much since I got baptized and joined a church. Part of it is time constraints. I used to spend my Sunday mornings writing. Now I'm hauling our seven-year-old Katie to church at 8:30 in the morning so she can sing at both services and attend Sunday school in-between. Then I get home and it's time for lunch. Then it's back to church again for choir practice. Pretty much my whole day is lost to God.

And I'm totally fine with that.

In fact, I love it.

I miss hiding in my basement blogging, sharing my story with the online world, much less than I thought I would. I'm too busy out in the real world sharing my love. I used to feel compelled to write every hour of every free moment I had. Like a born-again Christian espouses her faith at first. Writing helps me feel better so I'm going to do it all the time!!!

Now I see I have other things that help me. Love from my family. Walks in the sun. Cheap pharmaceuticals. Writing to you. A little less often, but hopefully more flavorfully. Writing, like family, the sun, and drugs, is an as important ingredient that adds just the right mix to my happiness cocktail.