I’m often asked, “What is something that makes you happy?”
Sometimes it’s by a friend reaching out to support me during a difficult week, or it might be a therapist helping me through a period of depression. Whatever the context, I’ve always struggled to answer it.
When I thought about a response, my mind would always go to something tangible. I would name people, such as my nephew, members of my family, or perhaps friends. Or, I would mention places or events that make me happy, such as the beach, concerts, or a hockey rink. But the truth is that I could be surrounded by the best people in my life, at places that make me happy, and I would still struggle to feel content.
I felt like an imposter when I would repeat the items on my list with such confidence.
Last week, while on a plane returning from a work trip to Florida, I saw a candid picture of me. In it, I noticed a side of myself that had been missing: I was wearing a genuine smile. I instantly recognized that person in the photo who loves making other people laugh, and who cares less about what I look like on the outside than how I feel on the inside.
The degree of happiness I felt all week didn’t depend on things, but rather feelings. I had new experiences, surrounded myself with supportive people, discovered a newfound sense of purpose and direction, laughed with others, and more importantly, laughed at myself. For the first time in a long time, I felt comfortable with my awkward, witty, and slightly inappropriate self without trying to hide any of it.
Experiencing all that life has to offer is something I don’t take for granted. Just two years ago, I was unable to do much of anything. I had lost 20 pounds in just a few months as I waited for a life-changing thoracotomy to repair my heart. This period of my life was similar to being in a waiting room at the doctor’s office, listening for my name to be called so that life could restart.
After the surgery was over, it still felt like my life was on hold. So much recovery needed to happen, and I was growing impatient. I pushed myself to get back to “normal,” and learned the hard way that I was causing myself more damage. Eventually, I began to trust my body and understand that recovering and healing take time. My strength needed to be restored, both physically and mentally.
The time I spent restoring my strength eventually allowed me to get on a plane and fly without supplemental oxygen, for the first time in eight years. Surgery allowed me to try new foods like grits, which this New England girl had never heard of before.
I discovered a new appreciation for my body, which I had spent so much time denigrating. My lungs and heart allowed me to walk on the beach and spend time with a colleague and friend, marveling at the nearby houses instead of struggling for air. I walked wherever my legs could carry me, and I did so with a grateful heart.
Last week brought me back to myself. I found so much happiness and gratitude in laughter, and surrounded myself with people who make me feel loved and supported. These parts of life are the reasons I was able to look at a photo of myself and know that true happiness is found in feelings, not things.
Note: Pulmonary Hypertension News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Pulmonary Hypertension News or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to pulmonary hypertension.
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