Joy is a ubiquitous human experience, almost an innate function of the human brain.
Joy is a bit like vision for the soul.
Writing an entire months worth of blog posts on joy, then, is a little writing series of blog posts on art appreciation. The readers of a blog on art appreciation will be able to see the art, the blog helping them to better understand the art. The vast majority of people who will be reading these blogs on joy will be able to experience joy and (hopefully) the posts will help them better understand joy.
But what happens if you can’t experience joy in the first place? What about those people who have ‘joy blindness’, so to speak?
As I’ve been writing this blog every day, I’ve been mindful of those people who struggle to experience joy. For the most part, growing joy in our life is related to our actions or decisions, such as learning acceptance, aligning our direction in life with our values, forgiving ourselves and others etc. Hence why I have been exploring these concepts in my blogs thus far. But there are some people who will read these blogs and say, “But I’ve tried to do all these things, and nothing has worked. I want to experience joy like everyone else but all I have is sadness, anger, loneliness, mourning … I must be doing something wrong … it’s all my fault that I can’t experience joy … I don’t deserve to be happy.”
Remember yesterday when I talked about the work of Sonja Lyubomirsky and her colleagues who estimated that that intentional actions can contribute as much as 40% to a person’s feeling of happiness, where as circumstances could only contribute 10%? In their estimates, our genetics contributed to the other 50% of our overall happiness. Yesterday I made the comment that, even allowing for the generous estimations that were used to come to those final numbers, our actions were of much greater importance in our overall level of happiness than our circumstances.
But there was a second point to come out of the work of Lyubomirsky et al, that our happiness is related to factors beyond our control more than it is related to factors within our control.
For the vast majority of people, our genes, the biggest contributing factor to our joy, work fine. But there are some people whose genes do not work the same way, which makes them much more vulnerable to the effects of circumstances or personal actions. These are the people with major depression, who do not feel joy like the everyday person. There may be sources of joy all around them, but try as they might, they can not perceive it. They have ‘joy blindness’.
Depression is an abnormally low mood for an abnormally long time. Major depression sucks. Major depression is not just letting yourself feel miserable. So often, those without depression think that those with depression are weak, malingering, or wallowing in child-like self-pity. Despite the enormous strides in mental health education and awareness that have been made in the last couple of decades, there’s still a strong current of stigma that flows through our society, adding an additional barrier to improvement for anyone living with or recovering from depression.
Depression affects a lot of people too. About one in ten people will suffer from an episode of major depression in their lifetime.
There’s a lot of good and easily accessible information already available about depression, from organisations like Black Dog Institute or Beyond Blue. I’ve also written about depression and Christianity (Part 1 and Part 2). I don’t want to try and repeat all of that information here.
Rather, I wanted to say just a couple of things. Firstly, if you’re suffering from ‘joy blindness’ – if you long to experience joy in your life but all you feel is sadness, please don’t blame yourself or beat yourself up. It’s not your fault.
And you’re not alone. The depth of despair is so lonely, so isolating. But there are others out there who have gone what you’re going through and have come out the other side. And there are people around you to help you through – whether they’re friends, family, or professionals who can help, like your GP or a psychologist. Those suffering from depression benefit from specific counselling, or talking therapies, and occasionally those suffering from depression might need medication to assist them in their recovery.
For most people who suffer it, ’joy blindness’ isn’t permanent. It’s more like walking through a long dark tunnel rather than being trapped in a cave. If you can keep moving forward, you will eventually get through the other side. I know it’s hard, because I’ve been there myself. I know that in the middle of the tunnel, it feels like there is no end, that you’ll never experience joy again.
The key is hope. Hope keeps us moving forward. If you can keep moving forward, you will overcome the joy blindness of major depression and you will experience joy again.
Don’t lose hope, and you will experience joy again.
If you are struggling with mental illness and you need urgent assistance, please talk to someone straight away:
Lifeline ~ 13 11 14
BeyondBlue ~ 1300 22 4636 or https://www.beyondblue.org.au/about-us/contact-us
Suicide Callback Service ~ 1300 659 467 or https://www.suicidecallbackservice.org.au
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline ~ 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
Lifeline Aotearoa 24/7 Helpline ~ 0800 543 354
Samaritans ~ 116 123
For other countries: Your Life Counts maintains a list of crisis services across a number of countries: http://www.yourlifecounts.org/need-help/crisis-lines.
I enjoy your blog very much. How and when will this decades long depression and suicidal thoughts end? I do all the doctors and therapists recommend, am an educated and dedicated to God and so desiring to get well yet I write this as I just pulled myself from a dark room after a night and day of crying, pleading to God, reciting scripture and while I do not lack for creature comforts I am starving for God to be with me and help me. I feel time is running out.
I’m so sorry to hear of the torment you’re enduring. I’ve been there myself, and it’s really tough. I wish I had an easy answer.
Professionally speaking I can’t tell you much in a public forum like this, other than to keep seeing your doctor or psychologist, and stay engaged with your pastor.
Personally, something that helped me was when I understood that we don’t have to fight our thoughts, or even pay attention to them necessarily, but focus on those things that make up our values. The dark thoughts and feelings still come, and it is a real struggle at times, but they don’t control you. The other thing I’ve learnt is that God is still there, even though we don’t feel him. I know that in the darkness, it feels like you’re all alone, but God is always there, carrying you through. Remember Romans 8, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? … No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” We may not feel his love, but it is always there. You will experience it again. Don’t give up.