“I decided to be happy because it’s good for my health.”
During my most recent battle with the clinical blues, in the wee hours of a sleepless night, I came across this quotation. Misappropriated from a 90’s French movie, it’s been falsely attributed to Voltaire, though familiars of the philosopher see through the straightforwardness and singularly-dimensional phrasing. Regardless, a healthy life is a priority for me — I exercise (though not during spells of depression), I eat well (when not binging at low points), I use face masks and apply the latest techniques for anti-aging. Despite all this, perhaps the WORST thing you can do for overall health is wallow in existential agony.
At the onset, my depressive episodes kick up feelings of anger and frustration when the primal instinct to live and thrive wages war against a mind with means to an opposite end. After a time, the internal battle becomes exhausting and relenting ensues until, fully submitted, the darker thoughts prevail. I give up. The nature of disease is often insidious and cyclical, but at the end of it all, our nature is to survive: At our very core we want to live. I rationalized that, in my week-long bouts of extreme dejection and devaluation, I still dabbled in thoughts of ‘what-if.’ Though I didn’t leave my bedroom or brush my teeth, I looked at faraway real estate and imagined that in another life I could be happy; I shopped online for overly expensive clothes that would be neither appropriate nor necessary for a person in my bedridden state. I figured I would have to start over in the next life, and that one would be good.
But in this life, and on that night, that phrase was an abrupt slap in the face, as benign and poignant as the trigger that sent me into depression yet logical enough to be the catalyst for change. Because of it’s admirable trueness, the message flooded me with shame. But because of it’s supreme rational, the words seeped into the porous gaps of my depression, saturating my reason with watery resolve, ultimately ending hopes’ drought. It was exactly what I needed to hear to reawaken my innermost desire for life.
I know that happiness is not just a choice, and neither is depression, but we force ourselves to do so many things out of comfort, determination, habit, etc. What the sufferer often fails to see is that there is an equal and opposite pull to all these motives. If you have committed to resigning, to opting out of this life, it is just that — a commitment. On the flip side, if you make concerted effort to live fully, well, that is a commitment too. Either way you’re all in, so which the best option to lean your full weight upon?
A poet, posthumously assumed to be similarly afflicted, once wrote, “If you’re losing your soul and you know it, then you’ve still got some soul left to lose.” This is true, except I say that if you’re losing your soul and you know it, what was lost can always be gained back.