Thief of Joy

thief of joy

Recently, I thought of a quote attributed to Theodore Roosevelt. I heard it from the general primary president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at our last General Conference in October. It goes, “Comparison is the thief of all joy.” Perhaps the obvious meaning of the quote is that comparing what we have to what someone else has, always thinking this person or that person has it better, doesn’t make you happy—it only makes you miserable. I think there’s more to it than that.

Some of the most miserable people I know or have met are ones who think no one has suffered the way they have, people who get upset when someone else talks about their own trials or hardships. I recently heard a woman share her outrage that her sister had the audacity to complain about how hard her life was—because apparently her sister’s life isn’t as hard as hers. I guess that means she’s the only one who has the right to complain! She said her sister has no clue how hard her life is. Well, maybe this woman has no clue how hard her sister’s life is. This sort of attitude robs you of happiness because you are dwelling on your own negativity instead of being grateful for what you do have.

Also, one of my biggest pet peeves is to hear someone say, “I’ve been through things no one else can imagine,” or, “If anyone else had been given my trials they would have given up or just died.” Well, how do you know that? How do you know how much someone else has suffered or what kind of strength they have in them to endure? Thinking this way certainly doesn’t bring strength, and it certainly doesn’t bring happiness. Maybe this will sound judgmental, but that sort of attitude reflects egotism, in my opinion. Ego definitely stands in the way of happiness.

There’s one other way I’ve found this quote to be true. And that is when we compare our hardship to others—not in a I’ve-suffered-more-than-anyone-else sort of way. In a I-shouldn’t-feel-so-bad-because-other-people-have-it-worse-than-me sort of way. A friend from high school helped teach me this lesson. It was after the second time in high school that I almost took my own life. I told her I felt bad for feeling bad—because really I had a pretty good life. I was just depressed, but I knew I shouldn’t be because there was real suffering in the world, and I was blessed to live in a first world country. She told me I shouldn’t compare my problems to other people. She said something along the lines of, “Something that’s hard for you might not be hard for someone else, but what’s hard for someone else might be easy for you. We’re all individuals, and we’re all different.”

As I’ve grown, learned, developed I’ve gained a strong belief in God’s love for all of His children. We are all important to Him as individuals, and I truly believe that He cares just as much about me as he does anyone and everyone else in the world. He cares about my own individual struggles. He cares about yours. If we are that important to Him, there’s no need to compare ourselves. Doing so only steals joy from your life. I think most of us, as humans, are pretty good at being hard on ourselves anyway. If you have mental illness, on top of that, you are probably an absolute expert! Now, that doesn’t mean it’s okay to become one of those people who says no one else has it as hard as you do, but we all have emotions, and those emotions are real. It’s okay to feel them and even, at times, let them batter and bruise you. It’s about what you do after that counts. Are you going to stay down? Are you going to wallow in misery? Or are you going to say, “Yeah, I have problems, I have trials, I have difficulties, and they are real, but I can keep going. I will keep going, and I will be grateful for the blessings I do have.”

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If comparison is the thief of all joy, then perhaps acceptance is the giver of it. Being able to say that you are good enough, that you are of worth. It’s hard. Believe me, these days I don’t feel like I’m good enough—for anything or for anyone. And I have a hard time seeing my worth in a world that seems to be full of people who are so much more amazing and better than me. But there’s that comparison—it really doesn’t help. It only brings me down. I need to work on it. Maybe we all do. And if we did, maybe we’d be a happier people, a happier world.

Help and Hope

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In my last post, I said there was hope. There is hope because there is help. There is no one set “cure” for mental illness, but there are things that can help improve quality of life, things that can help make it a little easier to get through life. First, we have to break through the stigma within the stigma. I know, you are going to get so sick of that word, but it is attached to mental illness, so there’s no going around it.

One of those stigmas is medication. Medication is something that can help. It has helped me. It does not “cure” my depression, anxiety or OCD, but it has improved my quality of life. It has made the big things that seem impossible, a little bit smaller and the smaller things more achievable. Yet there is a stigma attached to taking medication. For some reason, people don’t want to take it or others don’t want you to take it. They think it means there is something wrong with you, and you should be able to take care of it yourself. Yet, no one has a problem with someone taking medication for their thyroid disease or a diabetic taking insulin. Medication for mental illness is no different. It is an illness that can help be combatted by medication. Maybe the way to fight it is through medication.

Counseling is another thing that can help—and another one of those things with a stigma. There will never be an end to psychiatrist and therapy jokes, but if getting therapy helps, it is a good thing! I’ve been amazed in the last ten years or so to learn just how many people have seen therapists—not just for mental illness. People see therapists for all sorts of things. And there are different kinds of therapists and therapy. You just have to find the one that is right for you. I have been to three different counselors since I was sixteen. Sometimes just having someone to talk to really helps. Sometimes the advice they offer works. Sometimes their perspective gives you understanding. All of these are things that can lift up someone with mental illness.

Light can also help. I have seasonal affective disorder. Even when taking medication, winter where I live is hard. It’s cold, dark, gray and depressing. I always struggle in winter. So sometimes, I would go to a tanning salon—just for the light and the warmth. Steam rooms, saunas, hot tubs or a warm bath also help. It may sound silly, or even stupid, but it really can help!

Other things that have made a difference to me are exercise and yoga. I really believe keeping your body in shape helps keep your mind in shape as well. When I exercise, I feel good about myself. Yoga is meditative for me. Meditation—another thing that can help. As a parent it can be hard to find time to yourself, but you have to do it. Even if it’s only for five or ten minutes, find a time and place where you can be alone without crazy, noisy distractions.

Depression steals the joy from your life. It’s hard finding joy in anything—even thingsflute-2047943_1920 that once did bring you happiness, but it’s important to try, anyway. Go back to the things that brought you joy, develop interests and hobbies. This one day, not long before my divorce was final, I was feeling really down. Going through a divorce is the hardest thing I’ve faced in my life. I ran upstairs, away from my kids, because I could tell I was about to break down. Then I saw my flute sitting there. Before I could fall on my bed and start crying, I picked it up and started playing. I only played for a few minutes, but it relieved the stress, tension and sadness in me, and I came out feeling happier than I was before. Other things that do that for me are reading, writing, being outside, talking to a friend. I understand how hard it is to motivate yourself when you have mental illness, but if you can find even one little thing that helps bring some bit of light back into your life, it is worth it.

I hope some of what I’ve shared helps. If anyone out there has their own story of things that have helped them through mental illness, please contact me. I would love to share your story here. Let’s inspire each other!