It’s been brought to my attention by a couple of different therapists over the last few years that I don’t find joy in many things or experiences.
“What do you do for self-care? Or to relax?” they asked. “What makes you happy?”
A short list
The list is so short that the first time I couldn’t think of anything to say other than, “My partner”.
And I know that’s a terrible answer. I know it’s incredibly unhealthy to rely on my partner (now wife) as my sole source of happiness. In fact, it’s a trait that I’ve come to loath when I recognise it in other people, because it makes me feel very sorry for the person who holds that tremendous (and probably unwanted) power. It’s a lot of pressure to be someone’s everything. It’s too much pressure, and that’s not a pressure I want for my wife.
Most recently I was able to extend the list to include my pets as well, so that’s a step in the right direction. My rabbits, my dogs, my hamster, my wife’s turtle who will soon come to live with us… with these little guys, I get joy from being their everything as opposed to the other way around.
And let me be clear; I have lots of wonderful friends and a great relationship with both my family and the in-laws. Spending time with them is a joy. But, often, it’s a lesser joy than staying at home alone in PJs with Netflix. I love visiting my family and spending time with loved ones; we always laugh so hard as we exchange news and anecdotes. But the morning before I go, it’s just a thing that I have to do, something on a ‘to do’ list that I would rather cancel or postpone, and by the end of the day I’m utterly spent and exhausted.
Sure, a lot of those feelings come from being an introvert but with my energy levels so completely depleted, it’s harder and harder to maintain these absolutely vital relationships.
But what about hobbies?
But let’s take people out of the equation altogether for a minute. Although it’s great to have a support network, I also think a person should have a source of joy that doesn’t rely on anyone else. A person should be able to turn to hobbies and projects and self-determined things for joy too. That’s where my joy has really gone AWOL.
Lately, if I have a spare minute or thirty, I’m watching Netflix. I’m drowning out the sound of my own thoughts with comedy shows and cartoons. Or I’m playing the highly addictive but poorly named Ball Sort Puzzle Game on my phone.
I used to get joy from writing. I wrote fiction like crazy; I delighted in creating my own characters and giving them their own dilemmas to solve; I loved creating worlds of magic and complex relationships. But I haven’t completed a novel since I was 19… and I’m 31 now. I have a collective 80,000 words on two works-in-progress but I don’t get the same joy or the same rush that I used to when I was an over-achieving novel-writing 11-year-old.
One thing I gained from my first serious spell of depression was a love of makeup. At the time, I used it as an artistic outlet for my gloomy feelings and then it became something I did as a form of mindfulness. I gave myself time to sit down and create interesting looks, focusing on nothing but the drawing of lines and blending of colours on my face. It was an unexpected outlet for me, a girl who had made it through all of my teens years with only a concealer stick and some occasional nail polish, but it became a hobby that brought me more joy than I ever expected.
But then the pandemic came along and somewhere along the way, I lost that joy too. I stopped going places so the need for creative makeup was significantly less and I also limited my shopping trips so I chose to conserve the supplies that I had by doing makeup infrequently… and then I just stopped doing makeup altogether. I tried to get back to the basics whenever I made a new acquaintance or started a new job, but the joy had vanished and it just became an extra fifteen minutes to build into my morning routine, minutes that I’d prefer to sleep away.
I also used to be a prolific reader. In my primary school years I went to the library often, always borrowed the maximum number of books and I kept them all on my desk in a pile so that during the school day I could steal away a few minutes of reading whenever the teacher left the classroom or I finished my work early. But during college I felt tremendously guilty for reading anything other than course-relevant texts (which I hardly read either) and when I returned to books of fiction, they too lacked the joy I’d grown up with.
Somewhere along the way, the things I used to love turned into deprioritised items on an agenda. I became obsessed with ‘achieving’ and ‘producing’, my joy intrinsically linked with accomplishments, all other activities now tinged with guilt. And, as you may know, one of the first things depression strips from you is the will to produce. The accomplishments go from the likes of winning awards and writing books to taking a shower and getting out of bed before noon.
So now, as I try to heal my brain a bit, I’m trying to reignite some joy in the things I once loved. I’m reading (both fiction and self-help books – baby steps), writing this series of confessions to keep the literary muscles active and I’m celebrating the small victories – the micro-accomplishments, if you will.
Today's celebrations include:
- waking up at 7:30 to let in the man laying down our floors
- getting dressed
- returning my work laptop to the office (via courier, but still)
- doing some minor laundry
- not cancelling a virtual-coffee date.
(I can’t make any promises, but the rest of the day will hopefully also include these micro-accomplishments)
- attending said virtual coffee date
- doing the dishes
- cleaning the rabbits’ room
- writing a few sentences in my novel
- getting to bed early.