During my first bout with Postpartum OCD, I could not begin to count how many times I got the lecture “Happiness is a choice” from my husband. But that was then and this is now. We have both come a long way in our sensitivity towards the very real condition of Depression, both of us having struggled with it in our own way.
If happiness truly is a choice, then why are so many of us struggling with depression? I mean, really, who chooses to be depressed? I sure didn’t. My husband didn’t. It just happened. Not overnight, mind you, but it happened. The thing with depression is that you don’t feel yourself fading away. As a Casting Crowns song states, it’s a “slow fade” as you fall away from happiness. Such a slow fade sometimes it’s not caught until it’s too late.
I don’t like the intimations of happiness being a choice. Call me jaded if you want but I just don’t like the idea of someone telling a depressed mom that she made the “choice” to be depressed. Yeah, right. I CHOSE to have horrific thoughts about harming my children. I CHOSE to slide so far down my pole that I landed in a psych ward. Yeap, that’s me. Choosing to be horrifically clinically depressed with OCD thrown in just for kicks. Why? Cuz I like it there. I like it in the dark, all alone, milling over thoughts of how to hurt my kids, thinking that everyone is out to get me.
I hated it there. Abhorred is an even better word. Emphatically detested the place, actually.
But now that I’ve graduated to Survivor, I have a very unique insight into the subjectiveness of this very phrase.
I didn’t choose to become a sufferer of Postpartum OCD. Nope, that part kinda bit me in the ass all on it’s own.
However, I CHOSE to become a survivor.
Like David gathering rocks to throw at Goliath, I turned and sought for my own rocks to place in my bag as I stood strong in the face of the Giant.
My rocks were strength, faith, and endurance. I needed all of them to carry me through. I found strength in stories of other survivors who had gone on to become tremendous advocates for other women and were now reaching their hands out to me as I struggled mightily to stay afloat. I found faith in God’s word and actions. Through my journey with PP OCD, I realized I had not strayed as far from Him as I thought. The wandering path behind me suddenly became clear as I moved forward. Everything, even the traumatic events that had once rocked my world, became illuminating lights that allowed me to develop endurance. I had been through several family deaths as a child, having lost an aunt at just 5 years old. It was through these losses that God prepared me for the road ahead. I knew I could strap on those boots and turn and fight.
Let me tell you something here. There is no feeling more empowering in the entire world than victory over your own personal demons, whatever they may be… mental illness, cancer, heart disease, etc. Those of us who choose to stand and fight know the taste of victory and it infuses into all we do from that point forward. We know we are not immune to the challenges of life. We just know how we’ll handle them no matter what they may be.
The biggest lesson I learned through all of this? Life isn’t about what it hands you. It’s about how you handle life. Looking at life through that lens would make it seem that happiness is a choice and to a certain extent it is a choice.
But sometimes life throws a screwball you just can’t avoid. So what are you to do? You have two choices. You can either let it knock you flat on your ass and stay there for awhile…..Or you can pick yourself up, dust off the dirt and mend the wounds, and go on your way.
What are YOU going to do?
You make some good points, and I do agree, sometimes a chemical imbalance causes one to develop depression. I’ve never been pregnant but from little I know a woman’s hormones are thrown completely out of whack, so I can completely understand how many women would experience extreme mood swings that left them little choice to select a more uplifting mood.
But I still believe that the majority of the time happiness is a choice.
I recently read a wonderful book called ‘Wake Up your Life is Calling,’ by Andy Feld and he talks about how he chose to be happy when he discovered that his wife had cancer. He knew that if he allowed himself to think “Why me!?’ thoughts that it would not only hurt him it would hurt his wife even more.
And so he focused on loving thoughts and positive aspects that each day brought. And in time his wife became cancer-free.
Thank you for sharing your story, and I whole-heartedly agree with your thought that it’s not about what is happening-it’s about how you react to what is happening… therein lies the choice.
I believe that happiness is not a choice. Happiness is a frame of mind and not in the sense of an optimistic outlook on life but happiness with yourself. You could enjoy the life you are living but still not be happy with yourself. Happiness is living and accomplishing the life you are trying to attain. I’m dealing with depression and I’m taking medicine for it and the whole thing; I am living my dream of playing college baseball but I am not happy with myself and I don’t love myself and that is why I’m depressed. My mom gives me the speech that “happiness is a choice” and it’s not. Like the writer said, “if happiness truly is a choice, then why are so many of us struggling with depression? I mean, really, who chooses to be depressed? I sure didn’t.”
Thanks so much for sharing. As someone who’s dealt with OCD my whole life (I literally can’t remember NOT having it in my childhood) I’ve been stung by the phrase “happiness is a choice” just about as much as the phrase “just stop it!” I CAN’T. That’s the whole point.
But I think the “choice” and the “can’t” took on a new perspective for me when I stepped back a little. In my “normal” I really wasn’t choosing this, I really couldn’t stop. But as I fought hard to conquer my OCD through Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy I learned the power of making choices outside my normal. I learned that it wouldn’t come easy, but that -through blood, sweat, and tears- I in fact COULD STOP. Maybe not all of the time, but at least some of the time, and more and more often. I was shocked at how I could eventually come out of my darkest places when I made choices as if I were living in light.
There’s a great book that shows the power of our thoughts and choices. “Brain Lock” by Dr. Schwartz shows UCLA studies of an “OCD Brain” before and after CBT type treatment. It gives some credence to the idea of “fake it till you make it.” There are literally pathways in our brains that are shaped by the flood of chemicals released every time we make a choice! It’s empowering to know.
BTW, I don’t want to miss the chance to say that you are not your thoughts -not as a person, and not as a mother. I applaud your bravery to ask for help with thoughts that so many live alone with due to shame.
Thank you Lauren,
Having had my own recent bouts in and out of depression I very much appreciate what you’ve written. My wife has not been as lucky as I’ve been to come out of it but she’s not ‘given up’ to it either. Thanks for sharing your experience and I’m so glad you’ve ‘survived.’ Perhaps happines in not so much a choice as a goal one needs to choose to seek and find. Best wishes for your future.
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