Happiness, what a marvelous word. Yet, for some people, that word seems so surreal, so distant.
The truth is, I was one of those people. For the longest time, I believed I was living a happy life, especially since I had everything I needed to be happy. I was in good health, had a beautiful family, a nice paying job, and incredible financial stability. I was doing everything I always dreamed of. I was traveling to exotic places, and my children went to prestigious schools around the world all thanks to my husband’s military career. But, as much as I wanted to tell myself that I was happy, there was something inside me that kept me from believing it.
Around the time I turned 40, and right after my husband retired from the military and we moved back to the United States from Africa, I was diagnosed with general anxiety disorder, a condition that, according to my doctor, was not new in my body. After some psychological testing, it was discovered that I had been, in fact, dealing with chronic anxiety, depression, and PTSD for quite some time. After my diagnosis, it all started to make sense to me. I had finally uncovered the reason behind my “unhappiness.”
Soon after that, I started seeing a mental health counselor, who made me go through numerous hours of self-reflecting so that I could start getting better. I also began taking medication for my anxiety which, to be honest, took exactly one year to have any type of effect on me. With the passing of days, I started feeling better, not only mentally and emotionally, but also physically. However, when I thought I was finally getting better, my oldest daughter left for college and my unhappiness came crawling back.
The day my daughter left for college is a day I will never forget. On that day, I not only had to learn that I needed to let go of her so that she could follow her dreams, but I also learned that a mother will never stop worrying about her kids, regardless of how close or how far they are. Believe me when I say that if hell was a person, on that day, I learned who hell was.
The first year of my daughter’s college experience was one that was personally full of anxiety. During the day, I was a wreck because I missed her, and during the night, I was an even bigger wreck because I worried about her safety and well-being. Not a day passed in which I wouldn’t cry, worry, or even lose my shit due to the stress I was enduring. I was a mess, an immense and sorry mess. As the days passed, I realized how bad my situation was getting, and against my own will, I decided that it was time to seek help. I eventually did, and now looking back on it, it has been the best decision I have ever made in my life. A decision that was probably the reason I didn’t lose my mind during those tumultuous days.
Once I started seeing a mental health counselor, things started to get better for me. I could see myself moving forward and life started to make sense again. But, when I thought I was finally in control of my life again, my son graduated from high school and also went to college. Don’t get me wrong; I was extremely happy that my son was going to college. I just wasn’t prepared for it. I was, basically, trying to recover from my daughter’s departure and now I was facing another “loss,” the “loss” of not having my son home anymore.
My son’s departure didn’t hit me as hard as I thought it would, or at least in the same way my daughter’s had. Maybe, because I had already experienced the same thing with my daughter, this time I was more prepared. However, it still had a massive emotional impact on me, and it got to the point where I no longer wanted to live. My life had gone through numerous changes and my mind was not prepared or capable of dealing with it. The pain of missing my children was so intense that I seriously thought of giving up so I could stop feeling the pain I was experiencing. My therapist worked really hard to help me feel better, which I will always be thankful for, but there was one tiny person who, with his unconditional love, brought me back to life, and practically, saved my life.
I met Sway on a nice summer day. When he came into my home, all I could see was this tiny little thing with huge eyes. The moment he saw me, those eyes got fixed on mine and he wouldn’t look away. Those eyes stared at me for the longest time and, without warning, I fell completely in love with him.
When Sway came into my life, I had zero space for love in my heart. My heart was full of sadness, regret, anger, and unimaginable pain. A pain that, as much as I tried to get rid of, nothing seemed to help…not my therapist, not my anxiety medication, and not my family. That pain was an enormous giant, and that giant was basically controlling my life.
However, one thing my pain wasn’t counting on was that a much larger force had just arrived at my doorsteps, and it came with all the necessary tools to help me fight that pain. And he did. That little guy came into my life full of so much love. His impact was so great that, after a week of Sway coming into my life, the pain that had been haunting me for such a long time started to make its way out of my heart. The pain left a large empty space that Sway immediately began to fill. That empty space today is full of love, happiness, and an immense desire to live, a feeling that, at first, I didn’t know how to handle, but that today I get to genuinely enjoy.
No, I am not going to sit here and praise my anxiety medication, or my therapist for my recovery because, to be honest with you, the love and hate relationship I have with them won’t allow me to. Not so much with my therapist because I do love her, but the medication is a different story. However, what I am going to do is to thank God for bringing Sway into my life because Sway, my beautiful emotional support animal, did save my life.
To you Sway, today I want to say, thank you. Thank you for the way you look at me with those big, brown eyes, thank you for the unconditional love you give me every day, thank you for brightening my world, but most of all, thank you for bringing joy and happiness into my life. You are the reason I am living a happy life again. I love you, my baby boy.
Marielys Camacho-Reyes, MS is a military spouse, a U.S. Army Veteran, and the author of the newly released book Cleaning Out My Closet: My Road from Self-Discovery to Emotional Healing, currently available on Amazon.