Carolyn Hax: After dark time, happiness comes with fear it will fade

Adapted from an online discussion.

Dear Carolyn: Like many people, I had a rough year during 2020-2021. I struggled with many things for the first time — depression, insomnia — and some more normal things that became crippling — anxiety, self-esteem issues, etc.

Anyway, I made a few moves and choices, I saw a therapist weekly for a few months, and I FEEL AMAZING. Like it might not be an exaggeration to say I have never been this happy in my life. Part of me thinks it is from going through what I went through, and proving to myself my resilience and fortitude that’s making me so happy. I had a lot of realizations, found out what I valued most, found new coping skills, impressed myself with my strength, made changes in my life that align more with the things I love.

I do have this creeping feeling of “this is only temporary.” Like, “Something bad is going to happen because life can’t be this good.”

I don’t want that devil on my shoulder. Tell me it isn’t going to end! (Or some other wisdom that will help me fully enjoy this time without those creeping doubts.)

Turning a Corner: I love this question so much.

Yay for you. There are so many hard things in here and you did them, when you felt tired and terrible and when even the easy things were hard for all of us to do. Enjoy this buoyant “after” because you so clearly earned it.

And enjoy it because it will end, yes. Somewhat. I’m not saying this to be a downer, but to make a realistic point: The [Poo] Fairy will keep making her rounds, because that’s what she does. And while it’s a good idea not to make choices that basically invite her to show up, she mostly decides when and how long she’ll stay, so you don’t really protect yourself from anything by assuming a defensive mind-set. Your happiness is not tempting fate.

You can use your happiness, however — and your recent unhappiness and all the things you did to turn the latter to the former — to your advantage. When the bad stuff does come back, you are now prepared. You know all the things you did to get better before, and you know you can turn to them again, as appropriate. You also know you can experience the worst struggle of your life and feel joyful an unimaginably short time later. You also know you were key to that turnaround, so you understand you have agency. You know that external conditions change, too, even if it’s just that winter will yield to spring.

All of these things change you, and that new you then greets each upswing and downturn in your life. The person you are now will be able to recognize bad feelings like anxiety or depression sooner, as they creep in, and be able to address them knowledgeably and see past them to a possible “after.” This robs them of so much of their power.

The person you are now — if you internalize life as cyclical and yourself as a competent self-manager — will be able to ride an upswing just for the joy of it while it lasts. Because you know it won’t and you know you’ll be able to handle it when it’s over.

So there it is: “This upswing will end, but I now know I can handle whatever downturn comes next, and expect another upswing in time.”

Thanks for sharing this with us.

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