My therapist asked me this question last week. I was being re-assessed, after claiming that many of my depressive symptoms had gone and I believed I was recovering. I was thrown by the question, but still trawled through 30 years of memories, to try to find the point where I last felt that serene, stable, elusive positivity that is 'happiness'. Oh no, I thought. Don't make me say it.
"I can't remember the last time I felt happy."
And suddenly my claim that I was on the road to recovery sounded utterly foolish. I cried, and she passed me a little box of tissues, and wrote something down.
The question plagued me for the rest of the session. How could I have felt that I was recovering without being happy? It was only later that I started to think that perhaps my answer wasn't the problem. Perhaps the problem was the overly-simplistic question.
If depression is defined as 'prolonged unhappiness', it seems logical that not being depressed should mean the opposite. But in my case, the beginning of recovery didn't mean a sudden onset of happiness at all. It meant a gradual emergence of any feelings that weren't despair. When I felt hopeful after a lovely first date, I knew I was recovering. When I felt joy holding my niece for the first time, I knew I was recovering. When I doubled up with laughter at a comedy gig, I knew I was recovering. Have I felt sublimely happy recently? No, maybe not. But I have felt, and that is the important thing.
Depression is not the negative end of a binary scale, and recovery is not the polar opposite. Recovery is complicated, it looks different for everyone, and there is no tick box that covers it.
A Moodscope member.
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