Document Joy

In Anticipate the Good I shared my experience and change from being mostly a pessimist to a perpetual optimist looking forward to the future joy. Another way to feed your happiness and the positivity in your life is to document joy.

In ninth grade my English literature teacher made us keep a journal all year. That year I fell in teenage love with a junior and those journal pages captured every step of my journey from infatuation and romance to heartbreak and pain over a seven month period. I no longer have the journals, but I did keep them for a long time. Writing and reading the entries over the years helped me look back on that time fondly with vivid recollections that would not be possible had I not described my dates, secret long late night phone calls, exhilarating feelings, and new experiences in a detailed manner using the written word. That year-long homework assignment was the first time I was made to understand the importance of journaling.

Modern day journaling for me looks more like sharing my life on social media. I have personal accounts with friends and family and then more public accounts for Daylight and Darkness on Facebook and Instagram. Scrolling through my personal accounts, reading the posts, and seeing the pictures I chose to document my life lets me see my personal growth. I can see how my mindset has shifted over the years.

I can also see how very, very often I have been happy.

There is documented evidence social media is terrible for our mental health. I know for me personally it depends how I use it. I only connect with positive, uplifting people. I keep my friends and family circles close and do not connect with random strangers on my personal accounts. I only engage with those if I can say something helpful or bright. I follow authors, speakers, professors, other inspiring individuals and thought leaders. I unfollow friends who are toxic. I do not connect with celebrities as idols to worship.

Another way I document my joy is to take a ton of pictures. My photography practice annoys most in my family.

I believe it is so important to my mental health to have the right collection of imagery to memorialize my life.

When I get dark depression and I make myself look back at those photographs, the day gets a little bit easier. I remember two things:

  1. I have been in a dark depression with suicidal ideation before and survived.
  2. I have been happy after dark, depressive episodes and I will be again.

I buy nice frames and fill my living space with happy pictures of me with my loved ones and animals. Sometimes I smile back filled with fond memories at the girl smiling at me from the shelf or wall. I wonder – where did you go – when I am depressed. I look forward to seeing her cheerful face again.

That smiling girl is the real, true me. The depressed, broken, dark, and miserable being is the sickness. 

My journaling, using social media carefully, taking fabulous photos, displaying them around the house, and scrolling back through them on my phone or computer fuel my recovery. I fight for the light filled, joyous, happy person I was born to me. 

After remembering the good times in my darkness, I begin to eat a little healthier. I walk a little more. I take a shower and groom myself. Seeing myself happy reminds me I have something to fight for when the darkness comes.

Another way journaling and photography help me in depressive times or just on a bad day is the ability they create to help me mentally replay my experiences and use meditation to transport myself to a better place. When I am anxious and waiting in the emergency room or living another stress filled situation,  I can close my eyes and visualize a happy time. 

I use this frequently when I cannot sleep. I close my eyes with my head resting on the pillow in a comfortable position and I relax my entire body while taking deep breaths. One of my favorite memories to replay is walking along a large lake in Maryland with my sister, Tony, and Butters, my dog. I took a lot of pictures that day and I posted them on social media. Those images and memories form the meditation. The sky was bright blue with white clouds decorating the heavens. The water looked cool and was choppy in the spring breeze. There were boats on the lake and families having picnics on the shoreline. We took pictures under big trees next to the water, walked on the jetty out into the deep water, and rested on a bench surrounded by a bright green grass beach. There were mountains surrounding the lake with a canopy of trees. It was peaceful there. I was happy. It was an easy day. No chores, no cooking, no cleaning, no work of any type. We listened to music and talked all day about nothing.

Reliving that experience in my mind returns that sense of peace to me and it frequently helps me slip into a restful sleep. I use the same visualization practice to imagine myself happy and calm with other memories I documented using journaling, photography, and savoring. When life is difficult and unpleasant a 10-minute mental escape where I can see myself joy filled and relaxed helps reframe my current situation. 

I first learned about this form of meditative visualization from my Aunt about fourteen years ago. My mom’s sister always told me about her anxiety and described in detail how she would picture herself sitting by a stream watching a little rabbit nibbling on the grass in the field. That mental picture continues to bring her the peace she needs to relax and fall asleep. This incredible woman now lives with cancer throughout her body, receives dialysis three times a week, hardly has any teeth left and yet continues to thrive in her mid seventies. She cooks, she cleans, she goes to the grocery store, eats at restaurants and loves to sip a frozen strawberry margarita against doctor’s orders. I feel fortunate to have her as an example of how to age gracefully and live a good life despite health complications. She is a shining example of how powerful our mindset is!

Using our minds to reminisce about the past and visualize a pleasant future reminds us our current stress is temporary. My pictures, journal entries, and social media posts provide the documented proof. 

I have survived hard times before and endured to once again live contently.

The article, How Photography Can be used to Heal and Manage Mental Health, by Darshel Diaz has a few excellent points. My favorite are:

“…You are the most important project of your life”

Bryce Evans, The One Project

Photography can be harnessed as a meditative and mindfulness tool for further introspection by allowing you to look through a new lens. “Your mental health often shifts you towards negative thought patterns. But photography opens you up to positive perspectives and healing.”

Bryce Evans, The One Project

If you are still not convinced to snap those photos and scroll through them regularly, 6 Ways to Use Photography for Mental Health Stability by Dan Ginn gives you a few more.

Finally, New York-Presbyterian knows as one of the nation’s most comprehensive, integrated academic health care delivery systems has a program with photography for mental health patients. In Helping Patients See the World in a New Light we learn how the Art of Seeing photography program inspires and encourages those coping with mental illness. One participant explains, 

“Mental illness has a way of making your world very small, and for many people, it’s associated with isolation, and shame, and hiding, and not seeing things…The Art of Seeing is about being present, putting yourself into things and not holding back. The title really encompasses so many important things about recovery and living in general. It’s really helped me build confidence to get out and do things.”

Get out your camera and snap a few pictures of your day. Scroll through your happy memories while you lay in bed dark and depressed and see if it helps you get strong enough to take a shower and walk outside for some fresh air. If you’re new to this practice, send me an email or tell me on Instagram how it impacts your mood and thoughts.

Read the next post, Lucky 13.

Published by DaylightandDarkness.com

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

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