Happiness as a Number

By CHelsea ricchio

Originally posted on tumblr here on October 31, 2013.

I love math.

Just kidding, I actually hate math. (Also I’m terrible at it, which is probably why I hate it.)

But there’s something about attributing numbers to feelings that just makes so much more sense to me. Because you can tell a friend you’re sad, but what does that really mean? I get sad when I have a lot of work to do at school, or my job is weighing me down, or my parents are annoying me. But that is different than the sad I feel when your hopes and dreams explode in front of your face and you lose the people you love the most.

That’s the kind of sad I am right now, which is also called depression when it lasts for a prolonged period of time.

Sometimes I’m cool with telling people that. Sometimes all I need to say is that, and they understand, because they’ve been where I am. But that is rare. Most people don’t get it, and they especially don’t get it when I explain the reason(s) why, because yes I have reasons and I’m not one of those people who experience depression for no reason at all (though I empathize with that too). I tell them the reason and they think they can fix it, with things like this:

“You shouldn’t define your worth by another person!”

“You just need to get out more!”

“You just need to forget about so and so! They’re not worth your time!”

“Talk to your parents!”

“But think about all the good things you have! And some people have it so much worse!”

And they mean well, which is lovely, and sometimes they’re right. But just hearing something doesn’t make it better.

Sad like this isn’t fixable. Sad that comes from a loss will always be a part of you, but it does fade over time. I say this more as a reminder to myself than anything else. I don’t want to live with a part of me missing for the rest of my life but if I have to, I can do that. I can survive. In the meantime, I need those around me to understand how I’m feeling in the best way that they can, and I think that numbers are great for this.

Yesterday I attended an event at school, and at the entrance, they had a whiteboard that asked “How happy are you today, on a scale of 1-10?” I watched as the board filled up, and from where I was standing, I couldn’t see any number lower than a 6. I decided that I was a 2. I would have said 1, but there are still things here and there that bring me some joy, like my friends, family, and cat. Of course, it figures that I would be the saddest person in the room, I thought. But as I was leaving I noticed that someone had written a 2 in the corner of the board in small writing.

And at first I thought, yay, someone like me! And then, that poor person. But things will get better for them. I believe that things will get better for everyone (except for me, obviously). And then I started thinking – maybe all those people who were writing ridiculous numbers like “11 000” had been a 2 once. Maybe last year, or maybe last week. And maybe things got that much better for them. I could be wrong. I always assumed that if things ever got better for me it would be mediocre at best, like a comfortable 5. Which doesn’t sound all that appealing when I remember what it was like to be a 9. But maybe it is possible to get up there again. And somehow it makes me feel better to know that others are suffering just as much as I am. I don’t want anyone to feel the pain that I feel. But maybe they were 100% convinced like I am that they lost the great love of their life. And maybe that turned out to be okay for them, for whatever reason. Maybe it will turn out to be okay for me too, someday.

Aside from being thought provoking however, I realized that I could use a scale with anybody. When they ask me how I’m feeling, I can explain to them that a bad day for most people is like a 5 or a 6, but a bad day for me is a 2 or even lower than that. Numbers that someone without depression wouldn’t even think of. And if they really care, I can use that scale every day to keep track of how I’m doing. So, I don’t know. Something to think about if you ever find yourself in the same position as me and are looking to explain yourself to people. Maybe this will work.


CHelsea ricchio

Chelsea Ricchio is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of the SPEAK OUT blog. She is also the Communications Manager for Healthy Minds Canada. She graduated from the University of Toronto in 2015 with a BA in English Literature and Book & Media Studies. She was the former president of the student group Active Minds at UofT, which hosts SPEAK OUT events on campus (from which this blog takes its name). She was diagnosed with Dysthymia and Social Anxiety. She is 22 and lives in Toronto with her cat Genie and her roommate. 

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