There Is No Prerequisite for Joy

By Ashley McNielApril 7, 2020

This piece discusses the topics of suicide and sexual assault. Please use your discretion.

There is no prerequisite for joy.

I wish someone would have told me that sooner. I wish they would have told me that you are not required to suffer x amount of times in order to earn happiness. That is not true. Happiness is not dependent upon trial, tribulation, or tragedy. It is not earned. It is something you create within yourself.

It bears repeating: There is no prerequisite for joy.

I spent years searching for myself. Under every rock, between coffee cup stained book pages and empty sidewalk cracks where little green weeds would still bloom. I took the time to learn and figure out who I am. What is it that makes me relevant? Important? Special?

What could I contribute to the world? Myself.

This is what I know now: If I am anything, I am a logophile. Words have found me even when I could not bring myself to speak them. Words found me when I hid from the world, and from myself. They became a coping mechanism in times when I did not have the courage to speak the truth, to tell my story, to say what had happened, or even determine that it was real. My mouth could not form a word without my teeth clenching and my tongue attempting to swallow my pride.

But while I could not speak it, I found I was able to write it down. Despite shaking hands that made my normally precise letters slip and slide into one another. Until eventually, it became easier. Until eventually, I could raise my eyes from the ground, and open my mouth to speak.

“My brother died by suicide.” I can say those words out loud now. It took two years, seven months, and eighteen days before I could. Even then it wasn’t without an ache in my stomach or a choking gasp caught in my throat. Fourteen years, six months, and twenty-one days later, I don’t flinch when someone gives me an apologetic glance or cringes when I speak it. Instead, I tell them something great I remember about him.

Tragedy made me think, it taught me how to stop holding my breath.

“I was raped.” Another confession that left me scarred and scared. “I was raped by my boyfriend.” Blink, stare, the brow furrows causing a crumple of wrinkles to form across the forehead. It’s the look of confusion. How does this happen? That’s not possible. It is possible. I know it is. I am proof. And if you end up anything, be a walking testimony of your collective truths.

Violence made me gentle, it gave me grace, a gift for the unkindness.

“I wanted to die.” Those are the words I said that broke my best friend. “I wanted to so desperately. I tried to kill myself so many times. I still live with the ideation every single day.”

She held me closer, tighter, and told me the one thing I always needed to hear: “I am so glad you didn’t. I am so glad you are here. I am so thankful that you stayed.”

Failing made me wiser, it made me choose, it became my greatest teacher.

I have the word “stay;” tattooed on my wrist. A reminder to myself that is exactly what I should do. I’m not finished. I still have more to say, more words to write. I have more purpose.

As do you.

And if no one has told you: stay. I know hope is not the easy choice. Hope demands courage, persistence, and perseverance. It demands that you wake up every day and choose it.

Rebecca Solnit wrote: “Despair demands less of us, it’s more predictable, and in a sad way safer. Authentic hope requires clarity…”

Hope won’t be easy, and it doesn’t have to be. It only has to be worth it. Be intentional with what you want and who you want to be. You are the determining factor of your happiness.

So, decide. Wake up each day and decide: Today, I am going to be happy. And if you’re not? That’s okay. The important part is that you woke up again and had another go at it. Tomorrow is another, and the day after…

You have as many chances as it takes.

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Comments (6)

  1. Jamie Murphy

    I love you sister. I’m so fucking proud of you. And so glad you stayed.

    Reply  |  
  2. Cyndy

    Yes, always my head is full of words that I can’t get out, so no one really knows me. Am I worried about judgement, or just guarded about my innermost feelings.

    Reply  |  

    Wow. Very powerful. Thank you for sharing this.

    Reply  |  
  4. Shaun Redfern

    Appreciate your transparency and open dialogue of honesty. Writing is such an encouraging form of communication, yet often it can be difficult, because believe it or not a stranger is welcomed into our life by the things we share.

    – Hope in Your Story (Shaun)

    Reply  |  
  5. Paige

    Very very inspirational.

    Reply  |  
  6. Ciara

    I shared with with one of my students who is struggling with mental illness. Thank you for writing this because it made such an impact on them. It also made an impact on me. Thank you for your kind and raw words.

    Reply  |  
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