Shine Bright

I covered a large time period in Personal Growth. From sometime in 2010 to 2018. During that time I struggled, I grew, and I changed. I wasn’t always grateful for the opportunity to receive a full time paycheck and tuition reimbursement that covered a portion of my higher education. I still struggled with depression, huge amounts of anxiety, imposter syndrome, and occasional bouts of sleeplessness and hypomania.

I first remember my anxiety as far back as kindergarten. I was only five years old. I didn’t know and maybe most of the world didn’t yet know how anxious feelings could paralyze our behavior.

I went to a public school where I was in the minority as one of less than 20% of the class with my skin color. The teacher was like the majority of the students in the class. She treated me differently than the kids who looked like her. She was either oblivious to or allowed and tolerated the girls picking on me endlessly. 

My classmates kicked my legs under the desks that were pushed together to make a little table of six. 

My mom would scold me for coming home from school so dirty. I never told her why. I always had bruises up and down my shins. I told my mom I got hurt at recess.

I was terrified of my teacher because she often made me stand in the corner for talking during class. I was always telling the other students to stop kicking me. She never corrected their behavior.

I often had a stomach ache and would convince my mom to keep me home from school. We visited the doctor to address my physical concerns, but he found no cause for my pain and persuaded my mom to send me back to school.

One day, the tip of my pencil broke off. For several days, I wrote with the lead that I picked up and saved after the break. I pinched the small lead between my thumb and forefinger until it got too small and I had to tell my mom I was afraid to go to school because I didn’t have a sharp, working pencil with a good writing tip. 

I was intimidated and terrified of asking my kindergarten teacher to sharpen my pencil. 

My mom marched right into that classroom and helped me sharpen my pencil.

Fast forward to first grade. My parents were able to move me to a private school to avoid the bullying. I thrived. 

However, this would be the year everything about life changed permanently for me in a way that I don’t think most young people frequently experience.

In the summer, our family would camp in the mountains. My pap went with us. Sometimes we slept in a tent and sometimes we rented a cabin in the woods. We always hiked, went crick walking through the shallow streams while we lifted rocks to look for crayfish and salamanders. Sometimes we floated in the canoe out on the lake surrounded by nature and towering trees. We very traditionally roasted marshmallows over the fire and made smores. These childhood memories are some of my most favorite and cherished.

Pap taught me to catch frogs and draw pictures on artist fungus with a stick. He was a hardworking army vet who spent much of his life working in steel mills while holding a second job to support his four children. My grandmother worked outside the home too. They had a dual income home way back in the day.

He joined the army during World War II before his eighteenth birthday because his older brother had been killed in Europe. He loved Trivia and was a great artist. He was mechanically inclined, a true do-it yourselfer who could fix or make just about anything!

He also smoked a delicious, sweet smelling pipe. When I was in first grade he was being treated for lung cancer. He was sick and my sister and I stopped being allowed to see him when we visited my grandparents on Saturday nights for our weekly big family gathering and dinner.

Then, one day my uncle picked me up from school early and I knew why.

Pap had died and my parents were managing the family responsibilities and funeral arrangements.

Shortly thereafter my mom’s stepfather also died. We called my grandfather on the other side of the family didi. I wasn’t as close to him. My sister and I were always a little bit afraid of that man who kept mostly to himself and didn’t spend as much time with us as our pap, my dad’s father.

And finally, the hardest and most life changing blow I was dealt in first grade happened a few weeks later when my mom’s oldest brother, and most significant father figure in her life died too. 

Three funerals of close family members I used to see every week of my young life in rapid succession. Back to back to back for me at six years old.

When my uncle died it was sudden and unexpected from a brain aneurysm. His two daughters were less than ten years older than my sister and I. 

From first grade on, I lived with a very real terror and realistic understanding that my parents and anyone I loved could suddenly die at any moment. 

The grief I was surrounded by and the fear I felt were very different from the joy and hope my friends’ lives were filled with as first graders.

Shortly thereafter, the trauma of losing a second husband and oldest son shattered my baba in a way that physically caused her to have a massive stroke. She needed to learn to walk again. She worked with a speech therapist to learn to speak again. She could not live independently and spent time living with us and my aunt’s family. 

As a young person I watched depression steal the life out of my baba and my mom. The joyous people I loved disappeared. More anger, sadness and exhaustion moved into its place. They struggled with grief. Despite depression medications, they didn’t really ever get much better. They survived life. Barely. 

My mom often talked of ending her own life.  She was frequently unhappy.

Witnessing this transformation of two women I loved and spent a lot of time with helped direct my path toward seeking happiness, resilience, and a joy filled, peaceful life.

I am grateful my dad is still alive and very healthy. Over the years I have learned a lot from him. His steady approach and ability to be in the present moment without worrying about yesterday or carrying the burden of anxiety about tomorrow was and continues to be a dramatic shift from the way the women in my life handled their emotions.

After I finished my degree in 2018, I aggressively pursued learning about happiness. 

I thought, I may be bipolar and struggle with severe depression, but I want to research, learn, and apply every trick, technique, and scientifically proven method to be happy I can to find to help me in my mood disorder fight.

What makes humans happy? 

What keeps humans happy?

Can we impact or control our own happiness levels?

I read too many books to list here or even remember, but they all really did say the same things! 

Gratitude practices. Journaling, thinking grateful thoughts, expressing gratitude to others.

Savoring the moments in our lives. Being present and pause to appreciate the good.

Meditation. Even just 10 minutes a day. 

Forgiveness. Forgiving yourself and others.

Acceptance of our current emotional state and place in life. Emotions fluctuate. Bad feelings are normal, you don’t have to fight them.

Serving others. Volunteering our time, giving of ourselves.

Limiting or eliminating stress inducing media, TV, social media, the news.

Positive affirmations. We have the power to stop the negative dialog inside our heads.

Getting enough daily exercise.

Maintaining a healthy diet most of the time 🙂 

This list has stood the test of time to work in our bodies to give off chemicals in our brains that keep us happy! Each topic listed here has volumes of books and research to substantiate the benefits. I have started to explore them and know it will be a lifelong quest to continue this study.

I don’t do all of these things every day, but more and more frequently I do most of them on a very regular basis.

My life has radically shifted by applying these practices. I have less frequent suicidal thoughts. I have more energy to get out of bed in the morning. I am more calm. I have more joy. I am more confident and feel more in control of my days. Instead of reacting to the world around me, I am creating the world I want to live in!

By far, the practice of gratitude and being grateful has helped me the most.

I am now grateful for my childhood bullying experience. As a victim of racial discrimination I am more empathic and understanding.

I have learned to be grateful for my trauma and being surrounded by death and depression as a child. That experience taught me to bounce back and never to dwell on circumstances I cannot change. Even in death there is something to be grateful for.

A sudden death like my uncle’s can be celebrated because he never had to grow old. He never got sick, he never suffered.

A death from a cancer battle like my pap can be celebrated because the suffering is finally over and his caregivers can rest and recover.

I am grateful for the time I had with my mom and grateful she is no longer suffering even though she died before the age of 60 and never got to meet her own grandchildren. 

How you feel depends on what you focus on. I could focus on my mom never meeting my future children and produce sad feelings of lack and missing out.

Instead, I choose to be grateful she is no longer suffering. Grateful she no longer needs to have her diaper changed. Grateful she is no longer struggling to communicate without the ability to do so. 

I miss my mom. I love my mom.

I choose joy. I move forward with joy and gratitude. I refuse to live like Eeyore and wallow in my suffering.

I celebrate the good because my mom taught me the dark side of forgetting to do so.

Some may think I am cold and unfeeling. I choose to feel good and carry the good memories of my loved ones with me. I choose to leave behind the sad, empty, heavy burden of sadness and grief.

Healing is a choice. Feeling good is a decision. 

Therapy is a tool to help us walk forward in that process a little faster with support to make it easier. A therapist is someone to show us the path we may not see and the next step to take.

I watched my baba and my mom carry around too much painful grief for way too many years to ever allow that same heartbreak to consume me. They never got professional help, they never sought counseling.

My diagnosis in 2006 almost took all of my happiness and joy. Today, I am now grateful for my bipolar disorder because it led me down the path to learn how to be happy. It revealed who and what really matters in life and showed me who would stand by my side despite any obstacle.

Hunt, seek and find the good in everything. 

Find something to be grateful for in each day, in each moment, in each trial. In time, it will change your entire life.

There are two free resources I encourage you to pursue, if you are struggling to be happy, joyous, and content with your life. Both are by Yale University psychology professor, Dr. Laurie Santos.

It may also take professional talk therapy, physicians, and medication 

to help get you there.


Deep Study: Free Coursera 19 hour Program by Yale University Psychology Professor Dr. Laurie Santos

A Daily Dose: Podcast by Yale University Psychology Professor Dr. Laurie Santos

Read the next post, Mastering Misery.

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Diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 2006. Dayna thrives with mental health challenges. Shine bright. Do not let the darkness win.

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