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Choosing joy

| Thursday, January 31, 2019

I do not, and probably never will, identify as an optimist. I find cynicism comforting to my anxiety about the future: I’m either right about failure or pleasantly surprised by success. I look for the bad in myself and the future, because at least if I fail, it isn’t surprising. This is not my best characteristic, but it is one that dictates much of my life.

To be fair to myself, my preoccupation with the bad is not entirely my fault. Since I was in middle school, and potentially earlier, I have cycled through patterns of depression and anxiety. There are likely structural and neurochemical aspects of my brain that influence these thoughts. There are definitely events in my life that have encouraged and exacerbated my anxiety. Most of all, in my two and a half years as a Notre Dame student, I know that I am not alone in these patterns.

Early February 2017, I began my therapy journey. I feel no shame in sharing this; rather, I am extremely proud of myself. In the past two years, I have come to realize that I have a wonderful, beautiful, intelligent brain that also happens to constantly think of worst-case scenarios. Therapy is active: I can’t just realize all of these things about me; I have to actually change. It’s that last part that’s hard, and that’s where choosing joy comes in.

Every single day, I choose a little bit of joy. Each night, before I go to bed, I spend a little time reflecting on two things that made me happy, or that I’m thankful for or that were objectively good. For five minutes, I stop the interior and exterior cycles of bad and search for something good: the joy of a warm room on a cold day or the feeling of a hug that I didn’t know I needed.

I’ll be the first to admit it: choosing joy is most definitely not the easiest or simplest thing to do. It’s easier to wallow in sadness and pain, blocking out the rays of cheer and hope from the people around me. However, over the past two years, I’ve built up enough trust with myself to admit when I need help. I have to trust that, when I can’t choose joy for myself, the people who love and care for me will help me find some joy. Writing joyful things down has made a world of difference for me; it’s a tangible marker of my progress.

Having to actively search for good things in my life has been alternately easy and difficult — it usually depends on the day. Recovery and survival is not a straight path, but two years since embarking on this journey, it has made a world of difference choosing two bits of joy every day.

For all of you suffering out there in your own silence: Keep strong, my friends. Take one day at a time. Joy can come. Some days are harder than others. Some days are easier than others. The best I can do is choose a little bit of joy.

Peyton Davis is a junior and can be reached at [email protected]

Show Some Skin is a student-run initiative committed to giving voice to unspoken narratives about identity and difference. Using the art of storytelling as a catalyst for positive social change across campus, we seek to make Notre Dame a more open and welcoming place for all. If you are interested in breaking the silence and getting involved with Show Some Skin, email [email protected]

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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