When I was in the sixth grade, at the age of 12, I struggled considerably with anxiety and depression. Many would relegate feelings of anxiety as simply "growing pains": part of the process of becoming a teenager that many of us must go through to find our identities. However, in many cases, anxiety evolves in a much more complex manner, manifesting in the form of panic attacks, mood changes, identity crisis amongst other experiences. Anxiety is very frequently coupled with depression, as was my experience. For a 12-year-old particularly, these feelings can be especially devastating.
Outwardly a very friendly and outgoing person, the evidence of my mental struggles wasn't always outwardly apparent. At times, I suffered in private. I would have uncontrollable bouts of crying, often inexplicably crying myself to sleep every night. But perhaps the most noticeable indicator of my complex internal state was my inability to laugh. I found myself unable to genuinely laugh for nearly a year. Nothing. Comedy shows lost their luster, and my favorite corny jokes of the past didn't hit me they way they had previously. Needless to say, young me was very perplexed- and saddened.
After nearly a year's worth of personal progression and evolution, as well as some help from my loved ones, I learned the things vital to help me navigate my feelings of depression and anxiety. Perhaps the most significant of quotes that's stuck with me since the six years I first experienced my depression is that "You are the only person responsible for your own happiness." Now, this hit young me square in the face, as I was very reliant on the people who I thought were my closest friends and my investment in my extracurricular activities (I was a competitive cheerleader at this time) to keep me happy. But the instant those friendships felt apart (as middle school friendships invariably do) and simultaneously I did not make the cheerleading team that I had dreamed of being apart of for so long, I no longer had a source of happiness. And thus came the depression. I realized the hard way that outside sources of happiness are fickle, and the only common denominator was me. After the friends, after cheerleading, I was the only one that had to live inside my brain and deal with my emotions. So I should be the one responsible for cultivating the permanent positivity in my life, myself.
Another thing I learned, although it may seem plainly obvious, is that by recognizing myself as a person deserving of happiness, I manifested that very same happiness in my everyday life. How I felt about myself directly correlated to my feelings of what I was worthy of, and by feeling as if I do not deserve to be happy, I was keeping myself from the very happiness I desired. Recognizing myself as a person who deserved to be happy did not "cure me" by any stretch of the imagination, as I still struggle at times with depression and anxiety. However, it allowed me to shift my focus and prioritize my own fulfillment. I was able to channel my energy into the activities that made me the happiest and reap the benefits of those activities, as I now saw myself as a willing participant in my own happiness rather than a passive spectator.
None of this is to say that people who suffer from anxiety and depression simply "aren't trying to be happy" nor are they to blame for the complex feelings they experience. My understanding of my own journey through the pitfalls of depression and anxiety has given me a perspective of my own, and each individual's struggle is completely unique. Nevertheless, I believe we all can benefit from learning about the experiences of others finding a route to their own happiness.
And now, in spite of the hardships I might face, I laugh louder than ever before.