I am living my best life. At least that’s what I keep hearing. I suppose it’s true. My life is full of great things. I have a nice house on the lake. I have found an oasis in my screened in porch. It overlooks the water and is the perfect place to watch the sunset. It is also an ideal setting to simply be still.
I have family and friends who love and support me. I have a job I love.
I have the most amazing best friend. We have the type of friendship that many people envy and few people have. We understand each other and support each other. We are continuously adventuring together.
I have had countless exciting experiences in my life. I’ve seen several of my favorite musicians live. More than I can count at the moment. I’ve traveled in and out of the country for both leisure and missions. I went on my first cruise this year— and my second.
I am living my best life. But I am also living my worst life.
I am in no way ungrateful for the beauty and excitement in my life. I thank God for every bit of it. Yet whenever someone utters the words, “You’re living your best life,” I immediately connect it to its counterpart. I’ve even blurted it out in response at times: “I’m also living my worst life.” It’s easy to look at my life from the outside and feel envious. It’s easy to assume I’m living my best life. And I am. What’s harder to see is I push myself to “live my best life” in order to counteract what I feel to be my worst life.
You see, my life has been full of joy, excitement, adventure and love. But it’s also been full of trauma, tragedy, heartbreak and utter despair. It’s as if I’m constantly fighting against the other side of the seesaw.
Take this year for example. I brought in the new year surrounded by friends. I started a new job. I’ve made multiple trips to the beach. I’ve been to amusement parks and fairs. I’ve been to at least four thrilling concerts. I’ve been on a cruise to the Bahamas twice. That is a lot of exhilaration for a year that isn’t even finished yet. I’m truly thankful for each of those encounters, but that’s only part of the story.
This year I also started taking antidepressant medication (again) due to overwhelming thoughts of suicide. This year I’ve cried more days than not. I’ve felt depression at its core. I’ve fought against anxiety at every corner. I’ve felt chronic physical pain in addition to the war waging inside my mind. I’ve felt betrayed and abandoned by loved ones. My own brother told me to kill myself.
This year I also experienced the death of the most influential person in my life. Before I could properly grieve that loss, I felt pressure from every direction pushing me further and further into the depths of depression. This year I’ve felt an array of emotions that only feed the never-ending war inside my head. This year, I’ve hurt. I’ve cried. I’ve screamed. I’ve prayed. I’ve fought to catch my breath. I’ve struggled to find strength to live.
The two paragraphs above show a variety of experiences divided into good times and bad. However, they are not separated that way in life. Depression doesn’t stay back and housesit while you go on vacation. It doesn’t stand at the door exclaiming “Bon Voyage!” No. It packs itself into your carry-on and makes the trip with you.
Depression is like a toddler without the rewarding parts. You can’t run. You can’t hide. It finds you in your bed late at night. It finds you in the bathroom just when you think you’ve found a moment of peace. It calls for you, not caring how busy you may be. It is demanding and needy. Anxiety is the same. As I presume much of mental illness is. It follows you everywhere. There is no real break.
When I’m living my best life, depression and anxiety are almost always right there with me. The battlefield in your mind doesn’t go silent just because you are on a cruise ship. Depression has the ability to wage war inside your head when you are sitting on a beach listening to the waves, just as it does when you are sitting alone in a dark room. Pain is pain. It doesn’t go away because you’re on vacation. The pain is still there, but there may be moments where you don’t feel it as deeply.
Living my best life is somewhat of a survival strategy. The war inside my head is constant and scary. Maybe if I force enough excitement and beauty into my life, it won’t hurt as bad. And maybe, just maybe I’ll find myself in a moment of happiness. That happiness is fleeting though. The hostility always resumes, but at least I had that moment. That moment may have been the jolt I needed to keep going until the next one.
You see, mental illness and pain aren’t always found between the bindings of an obviously tattered book cover. Sometimes they are hidden behind the smiles in the most beautiful scrapbook. A scrapbook that shows the highlight reel of someone’s best life. It is important to know that’s not the whole story. You may be surprised to find that the person out there “living their best life” is actually in a constant state of reaching. Reaching for moments of escape. Moments of clarity. Moments of anything but their normal. Moments they can put in a pretty scrapbook in hopes of convincing themselves that life is worth living. Because it is. Sometimes we just need something to hold onto while waiting for hope to return.