a blurb on joy.

It’s been a while since I’ve posted here, and, transparently, it’s because I have felt that I don’t have a ton of mental illness content left to share at this point in my life…which is… kinda awesome???

The realization hit me all at once today that this is the exact reason I should be writing. I have signed no such contract that states that I must only write about struggle and strife. Hell, I’m the happiest I’ve ever been and I think sharing that is just as crucial to the conversation surrounding mental health as is normalizing the struggle with it. I want my story to serve as a testament of hope; that things can and do get better, that mental illness can be treated and lived with, that there is a way to live with such richness and abundance and joy despite what you’ve suffered. 

I was on the phone with my mom the other day and was just beaming about how happy I am and about how much I absolutely adore my job and my coworkers and my friends and my apartment and New York City and every single detail and aspect about my life and I sensed toward the back of my subconscious a sneaky ounce of guilt creeping in that I didn’t understand at first. I asked my mom “Why am I guilty for being happy?” Of course this was rooting from the obvious contrast of my utter bliss and the state of the world around me. Amid the (hopeful) end of a two-year long pandemic and while watching a war unfold in Ukraine and the tons of bad news I see on my news feeds everyday, it felt wrong to be skipping down the streets of Manhattan, spewing my happy feelings and overflowing with gratitude. 

My mom responded with a short story about her conversation with my step dad that same morning. Toby, my step dad, had asked, “How’s Ash doing?” Toby is a man of few words, but the questions he asks have real intent and purpose. He has been sincerely asking my mom how I am doing ever since he saw me hit rock bottom, when he had to carry me sobbing from the car to the couch many times over, during my extremely long and painful manic episode. To which my mom responded, “she’s honestly doing so well. There’s a lightness in her voice I don’t recognize… she just keeps getting happier and happier with no signs of it changing.” To which he responded, “Good, she deserves that. Life was hard on her for so long, it’s about time she gets to be happy.”

When my mom relayed this story to me, I immediately put my hand on my chest because I felt it, sort of in the way that you really feel happy for your favorite character in your favorite movie when they finally get that promotion or that relationship or that big break, but in this instance the character was me. It was the most revolutionary validation I may have ever received. It reminded me of this stanza from one of my all time favorite poems from Mary Oliver, Wild Geese:

“You do not have to be good.

You do not have to walk on your knees

for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.

You only have to let the soft animal of your body

love what it loves.”

I do not need to feel guilty for experiencing joy while bad things happen in the world. I do not need to walk for a hundred miles on my knees repenting because I’ve been given a gift of joy after so many years of just the opposite. I only have to let the soft animal of my body love what it loves. I realize now that, more than guilt, what I really feel is a deep desire for others to experience this happiness too. I want the end of wars and disease, and I want for every person to feel the immense relief that comes from healing your lifelong wounds. I want the whole world to skip through the streets of New York City shouting their joy down the avenues alongside me. And while these things might be unrealistic, I know that I can manifest the desire to share my bliss in ways both small and big each and every day, and that joy can be such a powerful motivator for change.  I am pouring out my joy when I smile and give spare change to the homeless man I walk past on my way to work. I am manifesting my desire for others to feel joy when I donate to relief programs on the ground in Ukraine, and I know that I can hold space for the pain and tragedy and my desire for them to heal simultaneously. I’ve said this before, but you can be both horrified by the world and completely in love with it at the very same time. And right now, I’m really leaning into the “being completely in love with it” part of that sentence, and I hope that this gives you permission to do the same. 

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