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what it's like to be happy

In my last post, I shared a little about a day in the life of bipolar II depression. For those who don't know, bipolar II disorder is characterized by long periods of depression punctuated with brief, hypomanic upswings. (Hypo = less than; meaning that these episodes are often less exaggerated than the manic periods of bipolar I disorder, yet still decidedly manic).

So, in my life when mental illness is rearing its exasperating little head, it's not uncommon to experience weeks or months down in the dumps followed by a few days respite soaring high in the clouds. And the cycle continues.

In these seasons, the mere feeling of happiness is a precious, precious gift.

Happiness is looking forward to what the day has to bring. It's watching every bizarre expression of my two- and five-year-old girls' rambunctious personalities with delight. It's the overflowing energy to hug and cuddle them until they squirm; to make silly faces and ridiculous voices as we go through our daily routines. Happiness is cranking the bass in my 2004 Elantra and bobbing along with every ounce of rhythm in my white suburban mom soul. Singing along with tears in my eyes, because, O Lord it feels good to be happy.

Happiness is dreaming about tomorrow. Happiness is having new ideas for blog posts, that novel I've always dreamed of writing, a killer comeback solo jazz routine, the non-profit that would revolutionize opportunity worldwide. It's getting excited about trying that new basil pumpkin linguine recipe and baking spiced chai buttercream cookies. Happiness is feeling okay with all my shortcomings because I feel the strength to make improvements over time. It's believing I can change the bad habits in my health and in my thought life. It's believing I can have the presence to invest in my marriage.

The feeling of happiness is pretty great, and it affects not just me but everyone around me.

But, I don't have a whole lot of control over the feeling of happiness. I don't mean that as a cop-out for working on my inner toxicity or digging deeper in my faith. I'll always be working to overcome the pitfalls of my mood disorder. However, there is a for-real, ongoing physical attack that affects my mental functioning. I often simply don't have control over whether my mood is going to be elated or oppressed. Happy or sad.

Thankfully, my soul is sustained by something far better than happiness. In the Bible, it's called joy.

"You turned my wailing into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, that my heart may sing to you and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever." - Psalm 30:11-12

"Joy is not necessarily the absence of suffering," writes Sam Storms, "it is the presence of God." Because I am as close, if not closer, to God in the midst of depression, I can bask in the radiant joy of his incredible kindness, tenderness, and love. I can find purpose and meaning in the hard times, while looking forward to an indescribable future with the One my heart adores.

Where happiness comes and goes, here one moment and evaporated the next, joy is forever. I can sing that simple yet profound chorus with my girls on sad days and on happy days and every day in between, "I've got the joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart, down in my heart to stay."


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Sam Storms (2014). “Pleasures Evermore: The Life-Changing Power of Enjoying God”, p.27, Tyndale House


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