Guest Post by Rebecca Verlander – Co-host of the Madwomen Podcast
Aren’t the most beautiful skies blue, grey and gold? Maybe for some of us its the same for happiness.
In so many ways I am ‘better’ now. Yet it is a rare day, even hour, that worry, panic or hopelessness doesn’t make a grand, crushing entrance. So, is recovery not so much of a happy ending afterall? It shouldn’t be this way. Maybe a new way of defining happiness can change this. I propose the Blue: Grey: Gold Rule.
I’m speaking to Ruth. We’re happily chatting away on the phone. The light in my kitchen shifts as March snow appears again at the window. Then it clears. The founder of 1000 Ways To Be Fearless and the other half of the Mad Women Podcast is in, perhaps, the best place I’ve ever known her to be. She’s got a brilliant job lined up, wonderful people in her life and is being asked to speak at events about this blog. She points out that I’m not doing too badly either. She’s right. I live in an incredible city, love my job in the NHS and have great friends. Oh, and a puppy.
There’s a small lull in the conversation and I start to stare at the snow that’s picking at the sun and dragging at the corners of the sky.
“So are you”, I start to ask, “are you happy?”. I explain what I mean. Days filled with joy, hours of breezy laughter and lightness. Do you smile when you wake at the thought of all you have, all you’ve achieved?
“No.” We’re laughing now. I know it’s not funny when its 2am and we’re cowered in a corner as anxiety or intrusive thoughts rage in the night. Why can’t you just relax. Why can’t you just be happy. But right now, in this moment, it seems hilarious.
I think about the other night when my intrusive thoughts battered so loudly through my head that I was picking things up for days after. I’m good. I’m loved. I’m not my thoughts. Don’t hurt yourself. Slotting these worn pieces back into place. I think about the guilt I felt when I ate desert. The way I could feel it crouched over my stomach for hors after, smouldering with remorse.
You’re just not a chilled person.
There are all kinds of reasons why our external circumstances matter to our well-being and happiness. Of course, having a secure job, a safe home and a supportive community are necessities and conditions every single person needs. It doesn’t mean that when you have them your world is drenched in gold.
I no longer have debilitating depression, suicidal thoughts and blue-black insomnia. I’ve recovered and I’ve not. Every day intrusive thoughts will knock the wind out of me and still leave me feeling sick, but it lasts for an hour or a day rather than a solid two months as it used to.
I can sort of accept that being calm doesn’t come easy to me but I refuse to beleive the idea that there are just happy people, and I’m not one of them. Yet it seems no matter what I do, no matter how many daily practices I take up, I can’t stop my mind turning on me. So, I’m redefining my happiness and building in the grey.
The Gold: Blue: Grey: Rule.
If you’re like me, we need a new way of definining happiness. A way that means even with an hour of panic or a weekend of sleeplessness we don’t write off the week, or ourselves, as a bad one.
The Blue: Grey: Gold Happiness Rule is that happiness must always include these three elements:
- Blue: daily concerted efforts to be happy
- Grey: slip-ups, anxiety, and the dark breaking through
- Gold: joy, peace and calm, conventional happiness
If I make my definition of happiness that it must include both efforts to be happy (meditation, yoga, actively rejecting negative storyline for positive ones) and difficult moments in the day (intrusive thoughts, insomnia, panic, hopelessness) then suddenly hey, I’m happy nearly every day.
Does it work?
It has been a good few days. I’ve tested this way out and found it’s pretty good. I write off less days as unhappy ones and can see that I’m happy enough each day to let myself say that ‘I’m okay, I am okay.’
Try it yourself. Maybe your ratios will be different. Maybe you’re grappling with anger, not depression, or panic, not intrusive thoughts. But don’t let those hours or spikes steal your good days or haunt your narrative.
So there’s gold in my days, the happiness most people would recognise. There’s the blue, the daily, sometimes hourly, effort to choose to re-write how my thoughts go. Then there’s the grey too, the odd ten minutes I feel cold or flat or like the whole thing is just a circus masking the reality that I am a bad person who will get found out.
I’m not saying I’m tied to misery so I’ll just stick a sign on it ‘happiness here’ and pretend I’m fine. I’m saying that for me, a decade of talking to myself like I’m worthless or disgusting or lazy takes a long time to coax into a different kind of voice. For me, my good days will always involved mindful efforts and probably daily slip ups. But they’re still happy. In fact, my capacity for joy is greater in some ways because of the gratitude and awareness that comes with it.
Anxiety is shit, insomnia is relentless and intrustive thoughts, they’re the worst, but I’m happy. There’s gold in these days.