Life sucks sometimes, and I am grateful

“I am going to die today,” I thought to myself, “and I don’t really care.”

a heart comprised of fallen leaves

For many people happiness stands on a pedestal, while other emotions fall far below.

But danger lies in thinking this way. It leads to the idea that feeling other emotions indicates a lower quality of life.

That’s not true.

A full and vibrant life requires the full spectrum of emotions – pleasant and unpleasant.

I know, because I have lived through feeling nothing at all – even when surrounded by those who love me.

A few weeks after my diagnosis with anorexia nervosa, my parents debated whether we should go on our previously scheduled Florida vacation.

I fought recovery tooth and nail. I refused every morsel of food my parents tried to feed me. I exercised compulsively. I promised I would eat if we went.

I lied. We went.

My mom, dad, sister, and I decided to swim at Blue Springs State Park in Orange City.

We started at the headspring, which pumps 104 million gallons of water into the St. John’s River each day. We floated effortlessly downstream, but when we turned around to swim back to the beginning the current was against us.

My parents and younger sister succeeded. They cut easily through the clear water, laughing and talking along the way.

I failed. My arms grew heavy. My heart fluttered. My vision blurred.

Mom saw me struggle. She pulled me to the nearest exit ladder. She helped me up the steps. I couldn’t stand.

My weakness terrified my parents – their panicked voices, their wide and worried eyes.

“I am going to die today,” I thought to myself, “and I don’t really care.”

I didn’t care about dying.

I cared only about the calories I had eaten. I cared only about the number on the scale. Death would have meant freedom.

But I didn’t die that day. I am glad.

You might think the gratitude of surviving a near-death experience would mean each day after would be spent kissing the earth, counting blessings, exuding happiness.

That’s not how it works.

Even now I have crappy days. Stress. Anger. Sadness.

Life sucks sometimes – to embrace that does not indicate ingratitude for the life you live. To embrace that does not mean your life isn’t a good one.

Why force happiness to replace a less desirable emotion?

Instead, look at the roots of these emotions.

Why are you stressed? Are you working on earning your college degree?

Why are you angry? Was something or someone you love threatened?

Why are you sad? Did you go through a break-up?

You feel whatever way you do for good reason: You are alive and have things in your life precious to you.

Our emotions carry a richness with them, a richness that transcends the temporary unpleasant feelings associated with them. Emotions allow us to seek joy.

That richness is what it means to be alive.

Michael Nelson, a survivor of anorexia nervosa, is a journalism student at St. Bonaventure University. She writes at Your Mind Comes Too. Photograph by the author.