Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Dear Carolyn: I’m a 40-year-old woman and I realized I don’t remember being actually happy for any moment in my life. I wasn’t upset at my happy times, just kind of numb. And I have three kids and a husband.
That’s not normal, right? Something’s holding me back from experiencing joy. The things I do enjoy are superficial, like a TV show or a good piece of chocolate. On the other hand, I don’t cry much.
I told my husband I wanted to get therapy for myself, and while he thought that was fine, he didn’t seem to think I really needed it. But, I’m tired of not being happy.
Never miss a local story.
No Happiest Moments?
Then therapy is an excellent idea — and don’t get discouraged if you don’t get results with the first person you see.
You ask, “That’s not normal, right?” and that’s a hard question to answer. I won’t say “you’re depressed” because I’m just a layman here, but for the sake of argument, let’s say you do have depression —that’s actually normal, given how common depression is. (Nearly a quarter of women and 1 in 10 men will have major depression in their lifetimes.)
It’s also possible you have felt joy but your current mental state is not permitting you to remember how that felt. That’s certainly a normal byproduct of mental illness.
And, I think it’s perfectly normal for many pleasures to be “superficial,” though I would choose the rosier “simple pleasures” or “indulgences.” Nothing wrong with those.
In fact, those pleasures — and the capacity to feel them — can buoy you as you take on the tougher issue of why you feel numb.
It’s also normal, I think, that your husband failed to see past your surface contentment. We might want or expect a spouse to notice, sure, but if you’re working to keep up the appearance of happiness, often you’ll succeed.
So let’s leave normalcy out of it as too problematic, and try these questions instead: “Am I content with the status quo?” And if no: “Are there treatments that can improve my quality of life?”
That’s a yes, so do find yourself a skilled and reputable therapist. I expect it’ll be a disorienting process at times, but, having been through a similar one myself, I also expect it’ll be worth it.
Re: Moments: I found that when I have been depressed it tends to stain backward so I have difficulty remembering happy moments; even when I logically know I was happy on my wedding day, I sure can’t remember it that way. It went the other way too; when I come out of depression, my newfound joy tends to stain backward too.
I like the way you say this. It’s hard to explain or believe, I think, if you haven’t lived a full cycle of it — as in, having had happy moments, remembering them as happy, getting depressed, having those memories stripped of their happy feelings when seen through depressed eyes, recovering from the depression and having the happiness restored to the memories.
Re: Moments: Also, get a physical and blood work. When I felt like this I had a severe vitamin deficiency, easily solved with supplements.
Email Carolyn at firstname.lastname@example.org, follow her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/carolyn.hax or chat with her online at 10 a.m. each Friday at www.washingtonpost.com.