The Pursuit of Happiness

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I don’t know if it’s the medication, the condition or the fact that I’m getting old but I don’t remember being a very happy person. I’ve always been cynical and sarcastic and angry, but happy? I struggle to think of moments of pure happiness. Apparently I used to be a happier person, but I get the feeling if I met that person now I’d take an instant dislike to them.

How did I get to the point where I managed to be a funsponge; draining every ounce of pleasure I, or anyone around me, can take from anything. I sit in judgement like a real life Cowell or Revel Horwood looking for the errors, misery, mistakes and problems in life.

But then I thought about it a bit longer and I’m realising that my memory is not great full stop. Looking back I struggle to see very much in terms of memories that I’ve held on to – there are snapshots of moments but they are all on pause, waiting for the click to resume and I can’t make them work. While there are some things that stand out in my mind – all clear from cancer, wedding, birth of children – there doesn’t seem to be very much saved up in the memory banks.

I’m no psychologist – as I’m sure is abundantly clear – but I wonder if the lack of ability to recall happy memories means I struggle to recreate or renew the emotion again today. You fight the darkness within through sheer willpower and of course medication, but the obvious cure to misery would be happiness and yet it’s beyond my reach. I see others enjoying themselves and start to feel more unhappy because I can only switch it on in small doses. You become a player in the story of your life.

Scene: INT 8.30am – Walking through school corridor

John walks along towards his class and passes colleagues and pupils on his way as he makes eye contact and smiles. These are hollow gestures but he knows if he doesn’t he will be called out as a cyborg. 

And that’s just it – I switch on the showbiz smile and get through things rather than enjoy them. And it’s with everything – not just work, but social situations and bumping into friends and going out – there’s an empty space where pleasure should live and it’s missing. It can also work with other emotions where you know the situation dictates a certain response and you comply to fit in.

What I really want to do a lot of the time is just walk away and be on my own. There’s no pretence, no forcing conversations or societal niceties, and that’s a horrible thing to want or to be but that’s who I am at the moment. How the fuck did I get to the point where the very things that make us human – emotions, empathy and pleasure – are missing in action? When did they check out? And has it always been this way and I’ve just noticed recently?

In truth you only want the simple things in life: to be with those you love, be able to provide for them and to have your health. The worst thing about the Bipolar life is that you don’t actually get these things guaranteed. You push away the ones you love – often unintentionally and through the behaviour associated with the condition. To provide means work, which entails routine (which can actually help and forces you to get out of bed) and effort. This can be so difficult when you are fighting an internal battle with yourself to stop yourself walking out the door shouting obscenities. Work can be the hardest thing to deal with as the expectations are there upon you and some days you just can’t do it. Finally, health – well no need to an explanation on that front.

It is these three simple things that we all crave yet my own brain is impacting on them all. This along with the apparent loss of any history to your personal experiences makes you feel like you are alone in the world; lost, confused and trying to fight your way back to whoever you once were and could be again. The problem is that I doubt I’ll ever be off the tablets and Bipolar is something I’ll have to live with for the rest of my life. The sad fact is that this illness is worse than the cancer I had twelve years ago now – at least it was easy to cut out and monitor leaving me free of it. Mental Health conditions such as mine are life sentences – they won’t necessarily kill you, but they’ll reduce your life expectancy and trap you in a cerebral prison that makes Colditz look like a kindergym.

I don’t know how I can get back my memories or find the ability to be happy again. I know that music is one form of escape and performing does help, but it’s short-term and I’d like something that allowed me to even have a glimpse of “happy” me again – if such a thing existed. Sadly I think that this is my lot; my course is plotted and if the last decade is anything to go by things will only deteriorate further. Maybe I just have to ensure that others find their happiness if I can’t find my own. I could try to do it vicariously through those around me but even that’s tough when you live with a negative mindset.

JD

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