Positivity is not the same as happiness. And I smile because I choose to.

When I first started talking about depression, I heard a lot of but you’re always smiling or you’re always so positive. Comments like these immediately signal two things to me:

1) the person speaking most likely doesn’t experience depression. It’s like saying to an addict, Well why don’t you just stop using? Or asking malignant cancer, Hey could you maybe not spread anywhere vital please? The question itself gives away a fundamental misunderstanding of the disease, which in turn suggests the asker doesn’t experience the disease (and probably doesn’t have a close family member or friend with it who has spoken to them about it either).

2) the person speaking associates positivity with happiness. And maybe most people associate the two. I’m a positive person: I’m optimistic, hopeful, I believe in best possible outcomes, and I seek to do good in my work and in my life. But, again, if we’re being honest (and I don’t see the point in writing this otherwise), I don’t necessarily see myself as a “happy person.” In fact, moody, mercurial, and temperamental are all words that probably describe me more accurately than “happy.” For a long time, I felt a bit (and sometimes more than “a bit”) phony as someone who didn’t think of himself as “happy” but behaved so positively and tried to do good. With time, maturity, and heaps of therapy, I can now distinguish the vital difference between happiness and positivity.

Both of these observations have an obvious common denominator: the remarks say more about who is delivering them than who they are about. I’ve been rattled by people saying this kind of stuff to me before. I’ve gone “in the tank” Oh no, did I mislead this person? Do they feel lied to? Betrayed? Am I faking it? Am I a phony? Ugh, why did I even say anything. I don’t think they like me anymore. Maybe they never did. Why should they anyway. I’m such a jerk. Maybe I….. Typing this out in the context of a blog, it’s clearly a distorted line of thinking. But that’s part of the problem. When you have depression, you have distorted lines of thinking, and those distorted thoughts result in distorted feelings. Those distorted feelings lead to intensified and additional distorted thoughts, and the viciousness of depression is already in full-swing.

I can’t control what people say about me or to me, and I certainly cannot control what they think of me. The most I can do is remind myself that it doesn’t matter what other people think or say about me. My responsibility is to my truth, and my health. And for me, that includes choosing positivity and smiling, sometimes even when I don’t want to.

Milestones, Depressive Spells, and Far Too Much Cycling.

Before last year, I don't think I ever went to a group exercise class.

Natalie would try to drag me now and again, but my firm "No thank you" never really left room for negotiation. Eventually she sold me on Flywheel. "It's indoor cycling, the lights are down, they're blasting hip-hop or EDM, the instructor's pumping you up, there's a scoreboard with numbers and you compete; there's an app with all these metrics-"

Honestly it was a really good pitch given her audience. Plus it was downstairs from our apartment so eventually I caved. That was last spring.

This year, I've attended over 150 classes, cycling more than 3,400 miles. I'm in the best shape of my life, and I got to compete in some fun promotional contests that satisfied a competitive itch in me that's gone ignored for too long. The commitment to exercise has also helped my thinking become more energized and clear, my focus and ideas are sharper, and I'm just generally more confident and feeling whole. It's become my single best outlet and tool for helping me manage my emotional and mental health, and it's doing wonders for my body!

Hemo sidebar: Plus, I don't think I've had a single bleed related to all this. I chalk that up to a combination of committing to my regimen, being mindful of my nutrition, hydration, and recovery; and choosing a no-impact, high-intensity activity with all these extrinsic motivators that feed an action junkie like me without comprising my body.

That said, last week I experienced some of the toughest days in a while, which felt particularly jarring as I had actually been feeling quite good. Fortunately I could feel myself slipping into a recognizable, depressive place, so I had my best defense team ready for the occasion.

I immediately called up Mister First Do No Harm, then quickly rang Doctor Throw Yourself Into Your Work before employing Captain Make Sure To Exercise.  This trio leading the way does not always necessary amount to an ideal outcome, but I've found that if I stick to these principles, I can generally get through the class with at least a "C."

That depressive place is a scary place too though. In part because the "go to's" that typically give me some energy (listening to stand-up comedy, watching NBA stuff, putting on a great film) are completely uninteresting to me. Unwelcome even. That's destabilizing, which is a hard thing to experience when already slipping into a scary, depressive place.

It was a long few days, filled with obstacles and setbacks, but I stuck to my principles, kept breathing, and kept just doing the next thing. I did eventually make it home (I was on the road during this experience, which is a whole other management challenge). That immediately brought me great calm, and brought to an end this particular "tough time."

August has been interesting. I've hit some milestones with my exercising and overall health, but I've also been humbled by these though spells. Both times managed. Both times effectively. But not without a serious fight. I'm reminded not to get cocky, or complacent, even if things are generally going quite well. It's important to stay sharp when it comes to managing personal health.

I’ve spent a lot of time fighting feelings and avoiding thoughts about things I wasn’t done processing. I've realized that this year. Living in a constant state of fight-or-flight is exhausting, damaging, and limiting. Now I’m spending more time with the thoughts and feelings. It’s a process, and I’m not a patient person. But I’ve been reminded of the value of process, and the value of incremental change. I’ve broken some habits and behaviors that weren’t serving me, done some deep introspective work, set healthy goals, and committed to the process. It's working, but it's not magic either. There will be more storms, and they too will need weathering. It's helpful for me to have been reminded of that. I'll choose to feel grateful for it.