Emma Howell

Path to Happiness: My Story

Emma Howell
20 August, 2017

me in santorini

I wrote this post with quite a heavy heart. It talks about my experience with depression, anxiety and bereavement. I’m sharing quite personal information with you here, so if you’re sensitive to hearing about quite distressing life situations- I’d advise maybe to miss this post out. 

I was unhappy. I mean, extremely unhappy. I dreaded both waking up in the morning and going to bed at night. It was an endless cycle of depression. Waking up meant that a day of sadness, anxiety and emptiness was about to begin. Going to bed meant 3 hours of insomnia and then an anxious and sweaty sleep- the catalyst to the feared morning.

Before my recent transition into working as an artist, I had 8 months of unemployment. I couldn’t face the world outside my own home and had very little energy, so I physically and mentally couldn’t go back to work. I spent many days, too many days, pacing my living room floor trying to find things to do that would fill the time. There were only so many dishes I could wash, inches of carpet I could vacuum and images on Instagram I could swipe through- comparing my life to others. I was stuck in an unusually comfortable hole of grief, frustration and fear.

As many of you now know, my Dad passed away last September from advanced metastatic cancer. From the initial doctors appointment (for a slight cough) to dying, was 6 weeks. We didn’t even get his diagnosis until the day he died. So, this wasn’t just a shock, it just wasn’t happening- at all. My mind wouldn’t accept it. I’d never really lost anyone close to me before. What even was death? Where was he? Can he hear me? I hadn’t ever needed to think about it before. I couldn’t stop thinking that a person, any person, can have these awful things growing inside of them and be totally unaware, until it’s too late. It’s utterly terrifying.

After he passed, I can honestly say that I feared the mere act of existing. I kept thinking: who’s next? Is it me? I could be terminally ill and not know it, just like Dad. So many awful thoughts crossed my mind. My mind became so overactive, suspicious and obsessive, I began to lose all sense of reality. Everyday, I convinced myself a little more that I had cancer and that I had only a few months left to live. So much so, I developed severe pains in my chest, under my ribs and back. Most nights, it felt as though someone was sitting on my chest. I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t really even talk to anybody. It got to the point where I had a paramedic called out at 3am, hooking me up to an ECG machine and trying to calm me down. I also claimed on my medical insurance, saw private doctors and admitted myself to A&E, demanding a chest X-Ray and second opinions. On top of this, I’d also convinced myself that my mum and boyfriend were both terminally ill with cancer. I was ‘certain’ that they’d lost weight and looked unwell and focused on every last detail- their coughs, their diet, the colour of their eyes/skin, the shape of their legs- no joke. It was utter madness.

As I write this, I actually laugh. That might sound odd to you- but now, I honestly can’t understand or even access those thoughts. Ok, the laugh is actually more of a bouncing sigh of relief. Its just unreal what your mind can do.

Have you ever been there? Or are you there? I can thankfully say that I have escaped and scrambled out of the hole. You can too. Your mind is a powerful thing and it’s truly incredible what sh*t you can get through.

What did I do to escape that Salvador Dali painting of a life? Well, I did numerous things- counselling sessions, reading books, meditation and a few other things that did help a lot, but what helped me the most to change my way of thinking was to not only make art but to also write. By ‘write’, I don’t mean writing down negative thoughts and fears onto a piece of paper and throwing them in the bin. I mean writing down positive things. Things like: a daily schedule, what exercise to do today, what chores to do today, who I’m grateful for today, what I’m excited about today etc. I learned how to organise my days, my weeks, my life. As a result, I learned how to organise the mechanics in my head.

[Not an Ad, just a recommendation]

I did this with ‘The Happiness Planner ’, created by Mo Seetubtim. If your mind is not happy and you’re struggling with anxiety and/or depression or you just need to sort your life out, I urge you to get one.

The Happiness Planner is very well thought out. At the beginning, there are pages that you need to fill in that ask you about what makes you happy/unhappy, what your strengths/weaknesses are, what habits you’d like to improve on, what your dreams/goals are etc. These pages make you think. No more blankness is allowed, no more ‘I don’t know’ and no more ‘I don’t mind’. These questions enable you to realise that you are in charge of your own life and your own happiness- all you have to do is think, decide and write. Nothing is set in stone, things can change- but just write things down and get started. You got this.

happiness planner blog post 4

After the introductory pages, you then get started on filling in day-by-day (like a diary). For the first 6 months of using this planner, I would start filling out this page as soon as I woke up and then finish right before I went to bed (without fail). For the last two months, I’ve been on and off filling these pages in because I’ve been so busy. I see this as a really positive thing because I’ve obviously started to not need it everyday- which means improvement!

Happiness Planner Blog post 3

At the end and beginning of every month, you’re asked to reflect and plan. This was super important for me because it made me analyse and think really hard about what I’d physically and mentally done that month. Before using this planner, I’d let so many days just roll into the next, never knowing/caring what the date was, floating through life. So, filling these pages in forced me to assess how I’d done, eventually making me realise that I was getting better and enjoying life again. Planning for the next month was also great because it taught me to get excited about things and set goals for myself.

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So, to have a happy mind, write, plan and organise your life.

Has ‘The Happiness Planner’ helped you too? Or has something else helped you? Please let me know by sending me a message here.

Thank you for reading my story and also for supporting my practice as an artist- it really does mean a lot. Follow along with my journey on Instagram