About 3 years ago, I was formally diagnosed with mental illness after battling on my own for nearly 5 years. Where I come from, any form of psychiatric condition is highly stigmatized and deeply misunderstood. This was why I kept my troubling symptoms under wraps for so many years till I gave way in my senior college year.
Since seeking medical help I’ve been prescribed almost every possible drug in my doctor’s arsenal but nothing alleviated my woes. I experienced side effects of varying severity, some purely irritating like massive weight gain and others more troubling like splitting headaches and dullness of mind. Life which was already very difficult became a living nightmare. I echoed the words of the Psalmist that “darkness is my only companion”. I felt the force of Blake’s poetry that I was “born to endless night”.
I was in a major crisis with the odds stacked against me. Grace alone has preserved and kept me at the edge of sanity. For that I am grateful—thankful for a second lease of life though it will be fraught with more challenges than the average person.
This marked the start of my intentional and relentless pursuit of JOY. I was wretched and understood that a deep chasm within me needed to be filled. Having read Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search For Meaning many years ago, I am convinced that hope and meaning are what keep people clinging on to life even in the most trying circumstances. This was my starting point. I needed to re-define my hopes and ground my life in meaningful narratives. Borrowing the insight of C. S. Lewis, I decided to encapsulate my larger-than-life hopes and existential meaning in the term JOY. As a Christian, JOY to me is a person: God made flesh who came for the weak and the marginalized and who gives meaning to life.
Another reason why I chose the word Joy is that it is larger and more robust than happiness. Happiness is a feeling that is event specific and it is a function of our moods. It is short lived and induces desensitization. However, JOY is a mindset, a journey and most importantly, ontological. It transcends the limitations of ourselves and provides a stable ground on which to build our lives. A person may still experience JOY in the dearth of happiness, especially when circumstances are bleak and things aren’t going as hoped or planned. It is a state of well-being that is existentially grounded, robust, challenging and meaningful.
With this overarching framework, I dived into books across a wide range of subjects from psychology, philosophy, business, biography, spirituality and self-help for wisdom and strategies that I could test-drive in my own life. I started this blog to share my insights and to encourage people struggling with mental illness and other crisis that life is still beautiful and worth living despite the darkness. Topics covered in this blog will be broad, but it will always be centered around the idea of leading intentional and meaningful lives. Another category of articles is for people like me who want first hand tips on finding Joy in the midst of debilitating mental illness.
Whatever your religious persuasions or life’s aspirations, I would like to urge you to define your notion of JOY. It will make your life richer, more meaningful and impactful. It has enabled me to live victoriously with mental illness.