TW: Trauma, Grief, Depression (This post may not be helpful for someone in the depths of grief, trauma, or depression.)
Right off the bat, I want to say that this is not a post about toxic positivity. Anyone who knows me knows that I am not a fan of hiding my feelings and pretending like everything is fine when everything is NOT fine. I am and will always be an advocate for feeling all the things.
But I also know that joy still matters.
Even when it's hard.
After going through one of the most traumatic events of my life (an event that is not mine alone to share), I remember sitting in my therapist's office feeling completely numb.
My usual zest for all that is good and lovely somehow vanished and I was left with a sheer sense of apathy that just wouldn't go away.
My therapist and I had been working through the grief process for months and I just felt like I should at least want to feel joy again.
But I didn't really.
I mean, I kind of did, but I just didn't really believe it was possible.
I cried in her office that day and told her that it just felt like joy was taunting me, laughing at me in the corner while I sat with my knotted ball of yarn, trying to make sense of all the grief.
She looked up at me and gently encouraged me to think of things a bit differently. She asked me to think of ALL of my emotions like balls and told me to pick them up, one at a time and give each of them a little attention.
Picking up the "sadness" ball was easy.
So was the "angry" one.
And most definitely"fear."
But "joy" - that was a different story.
That ball just sat in the corner, behind a curtain I didn't even want to see past.
But she encouraged me to pick it up anyway, even if I didn't feel like it.
She asked me to write a list of all the things that used to bring me joy and start trying to put some of them back into my life.
And so I tried it.
And honestly, at first, it felt kind of like I was "faking joy." I told my therapist that it felt like I was playing make-believe (and since being authentic is one of my most important values, this whole concept seemed ridiculous to me).
But she told me to try and stick with it.
And so I did, even though I kind of hated it.
But you know what?
Eventually, and ever-so-gradually, the joy started to occasionally feel real.
Even for just a small moment.
It was like a "remembering" started to kick back in.
And as I continued to do this work, I started to have more and more moments of actually feeling joy on a more consistent basis again.
I hope this post doesn't come off as insensitive to anyone who is in deep grief or sadness right now.
I get it.
We all have to move through these things in ways that work best for us.
I'm also not implying that we should (or even can) feel joy ALL the time. Life is a mixed-bag and I would never suggest that it isn't. I'm simply saying that sometimes (when we are able to and ready) it can be helpful to be more intentional and work extra hard to cultivate it.
I also know that life isn't fair and doesn't deal the "hard stuff" out evenly and that depression and other life challenges are very real and complicated.
I don't know how to reconcile the unfairness of life.
All I can do is try to help when I can and manage my own life in the best ways I know how.
And for me, I knew when it was time to do the "joy" work again.
I had to do it for me.
And as hard as it was, it was worth it.
It's a mindful practice for me now.
(If you are in deep grief or depression, please find help, however and wherever you can.)
Lots of love,
(The concepts in this blog post do not replace the need for proper mental health care. If you are experiencing mental illness, please seek help through a licensed mental health professional.)