“Avoiding fear, sadness or anger is not the same thing as being happy” – Zelda Williams
I recently read an article on the Huffington post with this line from the late, great, Robin Williams daughter, Zelda. Both her and her father have done a lot of advocacy for mental illness in the past. And now with Robin’s suicide, her prominence in the community is even greater.
She understands depression in a way that most non-sufferers don’t. And that is plainly obvious with this quote. She is specifically talking about her mourning of her father, but it is profound and impacted me in a way that few quotes on this subject have.
I have generally felt, from a pretty young age, that I didn’t really understand happiness. Not that I never experienced it, but that it was confusing when I did. I sometimes have a complex relationship with the feeling, and still to this day find it hard to recognize until after it has passed.
That might seem weird to you, it feels weird just writing it out, but it is the truth.
Sometimes I feel happy but alone or distant at the same time. Uncertain, anxious, contemplative, worried all have a way of sneaking in when I am happy. Sometimes happy gets bumped up into elated, overjoyed, and even manic. It isn’t out of the question for me to be happy and suicidal at the same time. Sometimes I feel like I am in my best moods at a funeral. I have been happy after terrible news has been delivered to me. I have been happy for no reason and every reason I can think of.
So I don’t really know what to make of it.
When I am depressed, I sometimes look back at days here and there when I was not depressed and think I was happy. Sometimes those are the only days I can count as happy for months on end. In fact, for most of my life I have simply tried to define happy as ‘not sad or upset’, since I have always been so confused by it. And thereby, pursuing happiness simply meant avoiding things that made me sad or upset.
But I wonder now why I chose that way of thinking instead of the reverse? Why is depression simply when I’m not happy? Why did I take the negative stance on it? I would never assume that sadness is the lack of happiness. I know the depths of sadness, I know it is more than that.
And that is basically what Zelda Williams is saying, to me at least.
I still find that when I am striving for happiness I’m basically trying to swerve around potholes, but I should probably be on a better paved road, or at the very least drive that road with abandon and just say ‘fuck it’. I know that with my illness there will always eventually be an obstruction waiting to knock out one of my tires, and in some cases those will be unavoidable.
But happiness not the lack of sadness, it is much more than that. It is its own thing that needs to be cultivated and manicured and attempted. This passive way to back into it has not been working for me, and I imagine for many others as well.