Personal Story: The Importance of Joy

It is a difficult thing to realize that you have issues with the very thing you treat in other people. It is difficult to identify the symptoms that you see in others that are causing issues with their daily functioning. I can see these symptoms in others without dropping a beat. Lack of energy, inability to feel joy, feelings of sadness, weight gain or loss, irritability, feelings of worthlessness, and low self-esteem. Many of you I am sure recognize this as depression.

As a therapist, I have been in the field for many years and have diagnosed this in many people. I have given them advice on how to manage the symptoms, options for treatment, and how to move forward in their lives. So when I started exhibiting these symptoms, why didn’t I see it in myself?

Therapists and those individuals who provide care for mentally ill individuals are highly susceptible to depression with a rate of about 46% in a study in Great Britain. That is about half of the number of practitioners. And we as a trade, are much less likely to get treatment. We attribute it to being tired, stressed, feelings of guilt around not seeing progress in our clients, and the increased stress of issues such as Covid 19. We don’t often see that we are winding ourselves up every day to meet the needs of others and fail to meet basic needs in ourselves.

So when my primary care doctor started asking me the questions on the PHQ9 (Patient Health Questionnaire 9) and I started giving her yes answers and broke out into tears, I was probably the most shocked person in the room. Me depressed??? Impossible!!! I get up, I go to work every day, I do my chores around the house, and have not let one ball drop. I am not crying all the time, in fact, I feel like I am pretty upbeat especially at work… So then how could I possibly be depressed?

As I talked through this with my doctor, we started looking at the past 5 years. I had seen the loss of several family members, change, increased stress at work, increased stress at home, inability to feel any joy at all about anything, and I felt like I had let my family and friends down, I felt like a failure. It was so apparent that I got up every day and wound myself up, did what I had to do, and came home to crash. Self-care was out of the question because I had no energy to do that.

I couldn’t exercise, I couldn’t even say what I wanted to watch on TV, what I wanted for dinner, what I wanted to wear, I didn’t matter in the equation. I just needed to behave as if everything was OK and wake up and do it again. Doesn’t sound especially fun, does it?

OK, so now that depression has been established, what next? I opted for medication and online counseling. My depression was pretty deep and had gone untreated for more than a year, so medication was needed for me to even be able to see the difference between feeling normal and feeling depressed. The therapy provided me with some help to move forward with a plan to make the necessary changes in my life to improve my work-life balance.

About 2 weeks after I started taking the medication I started to see a significant improvement in my mood. I started experiencing moments of happiness, the real kind. I started to exercise and feel the joy of movement, the joy of being around people that I love and admire.
I started to be able to see the future with some measure of hope and light.

All of this, all of it, was necessary. I can now see that this had been coming on for some time. Years. The inability to see this in myself may have been because it came on so slowly and I was fully functioning. I hadn’t stopped doing anything, I just didn’t enjoy any of it anymore and I felt like this was just my life.

Joy has come to be an important thing for me now. It’s important that we all feel that sense of joy. Studies show that joyful people have less chance of having a heart attack, maintain healthier blood pressure, and tend to have lower cholesterol levels. There’s research to prove that joy boosts our immune systems, fights stress and pain, and improves our chance of living a longer life.

Joy is defined as a great sense of happiness and pleasure. Imagine that did not exist for you. Not at all. I look for joy everywhere now, I require it as part of my day. I am grateful for the doctor who asked me the questions and even more grateful that she took the time to help me figure out what to do.

If you are having a hard time finding joy, finding happiness, don’t be afraid to ask yourself the 9 questions and if you need help, I promise you it is out there just waiting for you.