WARNING: Some content in this article may be triggering for some readers, so caution is advised.
Before we get started, I want you to pause for a moment. Take a big deep breath, and slowly, exhale all that carbon dioxide.
Now, before you take another big deep breath, I want you to think about everything in your life that makes you happy. Truly happy. I’m talking smiley emoji’s, rainbows, and unicorns kind of happy.
Now, as you exhale, think about the things in your life that make you unhappy or get you down? What was on that mental checklist? Did you find that one list was bigger than the other? Was one easier to think of than the other? Why is that?
I know, it’s a lot of questions for an article, right? But when was the last time you actually stopped to think about it? I mean, really think about it?
I started seeing my psychologist because I had reached the lowest point in my life. Whilst it had become so comfortable wallowing in this state, I knew I needed to do something about it. That was an exercise my psychologist got me to do in my very first session with her. You'd think that it would only take a few minutes, but it ended up taking the entire one hour session. As all that nourishing oxygen surged into my lungs and diaphragm, I really struggled to find anything that truly made me happy within my soul. It looked like a list of ‘vanity’ things - attributes that I’d always been told were the components of a happy life - that would convey the message to anybody else that I must have a happy life because I had these things.
Living on my own and being fully independent? Tick. Great income? Tick. Great friends? Tick. The problem with this list was there was a huge disconnect between how it appeared on the surface and how it actually manifested itself in my day-to-day life.
'Every single aspect of my life, in my mind, had simply become too overwhelming or too difficult to deal with.'
Every single aspect of my life, in my mind, had simply become too overwhelming or too difficult to deal with, and I had planned to take my own life. I’d planned everything - how it would happen, when it would happen, and even the aftermath. To some people it sounds terrifying, but to me it was no different to saying I was going down to the supermarket to get some bread.
Sitting on this information for a couple of weeks left me in a constant tug-of-war with my own psyche. The part of me that couldn’t cope and just wanted it to be over versus the part of me constantly trying to rationalise and fight to stay alive. Ultimately, the fighter in me won, and that’s what brought me to my psychologist.
The reason I struggled to create a list of things that made me happy, was an inability to identify anything that genuinely made me happy. My severe depression created this invisible obstruction that would only let the negative in, and kept all the happy out. I had become so entrenched in focusing solely on the negative thatI’d convinced myself that it was the entirety of my existence, that negativity was all I was worthy of.
'This was undoubtedly the start of me completely changing my life for the better.'
In hindsight, I couldn’t have been more wrong. I just couldn’t see it at the time.
Working with my psychologist forced me to be really blunt with myself and look at every single element of my life. I documented what lifted me up, what knocked me down, what made me feel great, and what made me feel like shit. Upon reflection, this was undoubtedly the start of me completely changing my life for the better.
Fast forward 12 months, and I feel like an entirely different person. I’m behaving differently; interacting differently; developing better friendships - real friendships with people that have genuinely got my back and support me! I’ve found happiness - not just on the outside, but on the inside as well. To be honest, it still feels strange, because I had shut it out for so long.
It certainly wasn’t easy either. It came at a massive cost. I quit my high-paying job after 15 years with no job to go to. I left a high-profile fitness role which was devastating at the time, but another blessing in disguise. I needed to make big changes in my life. Whilst each one was incredibly scary and daunting at the time, every change has brought new opportunities, and new waves of happiness. Now I find myself about to launch my own marketing business. It’s exciting and scary and overwhelming and I feel like I’m the happiest I’ve ever been!
Now, I’m not saying you should go into work tomorrow and quit your job. But I am saying that sometimes we have to do something scary or uncomfortable in order to find happiness.
So, having said that, let’s take a moment and go back to where we started and try this again...
Take a deep breath in, and think about everything in your life that makes you happy. Truly happy. I’m talking smiley emoji’s, rainbows, and unicorns kind of happy. Has that list changed at all?
If you’re finding it challenging, try talking to a close friend (the one who will be brutally honest with you!), or a sibling, or a parent. It can be challenging to allow ourselves to be vulnerable with people that we’re close to, but remember, vulnerability is NOT a sign of weakness, it’s a sign of being strong enough to acknowledge that you need help.
Alternatively, speak to a professional - mentor / career counsellor / psychologist. They will be able to help you to identify what should be on that list, and give you the support and encouragement to not only add to that list, but show you some paths to creating more happy in your life.
If you or somebody you know is struggling with mental health issues, there are a number of mental health services available:
Out & Online (ages 18-25) – online help for same-gender attracted youth
QLife (counselling and referral service for LGBTI people) – call 1800 184 527 or chat online
beyondblue (for anyone feeling depressed or anxious) – call 1300 22 4636 or chat online
Headspace (mental health service for ages 12-25) – call 1800 650 890 or chat online
ReachOut.com (youth mental health service) – visit the website for info or use the online forum.
Lifeline (support for anyone having a personal crisis) – call 13 11 14 or chat online
Suicide Call Back Service (for anyone thinking about suicide) – call 1300 659 467
Josh suffers from anxiety and depression, but like anybody else, manages it on a day-to-day basis and uses his experiences to help provide support for others who may be struggling with their mental health issues. He's a passionate dancer and enjoys the creative scene that Melbourne has to offer. Connect with him on Facebook or Instagram if you'd like to talk it out.
Sometimes our negative thoughts are just a perspective that can be challenged.
Talk to people close to you about how you're feeling and allow them to be there for you.
Allow yourself to be uncomfortable on your way to finding your own happiness.