I have decided to practice positive thinking, and it absolutely sucks. The first days were lovely. I looked at the sunshine and thought about all the things I have in my life, all the things that I have that others are so fortunate to have found. I thought about the Universe as a whole, the cosmic electricity that runs through not only the world as we know it but beyond; and how that same energy was coursing through me. I thought about the possibilities for the future, the things I would do and be able to handle. I thought about a life away from pain and misery. I thought about something new.
I was affirming my new future, I was breathing in my new existence, I was hugging my own power hoping against hope that somehow this would make everything better. And I won’t lie; for a very few days I did feel better. But there is one thing none of the self-help books will actually help you with – how to deal with reality when it invariably starts calling.
Positive thinking is hard and like I said, it sucks. It really sucks when you have a brain ravaged by a mental illness. Imagine that old scenario about a woman who is swimming upstream, against the current, against everything that man and nature can throw at her; try having positive thoughts at that moment. The books, the podcasts, the general advice is that positive thinking should be easy; you should be able to look around your life and see good. You should easily be able to find something that you are thankful for. When you have so many blessings in your life, you should be able to pick them out in a line-up without any shred of doubt. But positive thinking and mental illness isn’t exactly what one would call symbiotic partners.
For example, it is said that there is something good about every person. There is something inside of us or outside of us that is to be celebrated. But no matter how hard I try, I can’t find it. I can’t see it or feel it. There is a great big vacuum where my self-esteem or my-self confidence should be. It wasn’t always like this but after years and years of fighting bipolar and the world in which I live, something as essential as self-esteem isn’t there. Can’t be found even blindfolded and deaf. So how do you have positive thinking about yourself when you don’t like yourself? How do you find a person, a thing, a moment, that can show you something that you are simply incapable of seeing? I wish that I could look in the mirror, smile and not only be satisfied, but content. So no positive thinking about myself. And unfortunately for me, this isn’t the only arena where mental illness beats the positive thinking every time.
One might ask, after months of being silent on this blog, I might have come out of retirement and started to once again think about things beyond my own misery; and why did I start with positive thinking? The answer is both complex and simple. I will start with the simple and if you can stick with me I will try and get to the complex.
For the last six months I have lived in a misery that I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. It was a misery that was both physical, mental and emotional. It was a period in my life that I didn’t quite know how to handle – they certainly don’t have books about my situations. I lived the last six months in a quiet and desperate unworthiness. I lived with physical problems that stopped me in my tracks, no matter how many doctors I went to. I lived with problems that turned to emergencies; my body betraying me at a time when my mind could not compute what was happening. I lived in the darkness of my own home, my own bed, my own nightmare. And I told very few people the desperate straights I was truly in. I don’t know another time in my life that was so definable; I could see with clear eyes the position I was in and I had no desire to change any of it.
As with anything that has to do with mental illness, I don’t know what changed after months and months of misery. I know that I got a bill from a doctor’s appointment that was so high I was embarrassed that my husband was going to have to pay it – especially at Christmas. So that led me to a revelation that maybe going to doctor’s appointments that weren’t actually fixing things was the most likely problem. Maybe the learning that my own body, my own mind, has the answers it needs to fix some very real physical problems would actually help. Doing exercises instead of popping pills could work; theoretically. And when I learned that my body already knew the answer to what the problem was helped me to realize that I have a tendency to lean too much on medical advice rather than my own gut. I needed a reminder that sometimes, I have the answer, not my doctors. Learning to trust one’s own gut is a lesson we all need to learn; it saves a lot of money spent on doctors who can’t actually help. These revelations that I sometimes stumble upon can either be instantaneous, or come from months of misery. I have no idea where the idea of my own gut knowing more than some of my doctors came from – but it worked…this time.
Once I learned that I needed to fix my current problems, because there will be plenty I either can’t fix or ones that will crop up and bite me, it helped me to learn that there were other things I needed to start working on. Things I needed to focus on and learn about; not ignore in favor of the easier option of sitting on my ass and doing nothing. See, going from misery to being tolerable is a climb up Mt. Everest without the oxygen. You take each step slowly and carefully, and desperately hope that somehow you won’t slip down to a place you can’t actually rescue yourself from. In order to begin working on myself I turned to the tried and true. I began reading, researching, watching documentaries. I began to believe that there was something strong enough inside of me that could make myself better. And while I knew that it was feasible that I could work on parts of me and become better, I never, ever believed that I could cure myself of any of the horror that comes with an illness. Less you think this is going to be a story of happily ever after and a miraculous cure wrapped up in unbelievable joy – sorry. For every step I take on that mountain there is a sure knowledge that I will fall again; and I might not be able to catch myself in time. That is the power of mental illness; the sureness that no matter how hard you try you will fall down again.
In my reading, researching and watching of those documentaries, I came across many regarding learning to practice gratefulness, positive thinking, and working to define not only what you want but how you might actually acquire it. So I started the positive thinking. Don’t get me wrong – I am grateful for so many things that I have, but you can’t feel gratefulness to its fullest extent until you are mentally ready to acknowledge that you deserve it; and that takes positive thinking.
For the first couple of days, maybe even a week or two, it was rather easy. I got up every morning determined to be happy, determined to listen to what I needed, determined to try harder today than I did yesterday. And despite all the good things in my life, this was antithesis to everything my mental illness wanted me to believe. There was going to be no positive thinking about myself, so I put that away; in closed casket to be opened only upon some sort of enlightenment I don’t yet have. I made crafts stating that I was trying, that I was strong and worthy. It didn’t matter if I actually believed it – I needed to say it. And of course, as you can imagine I started feeling better. I started doing better.
But mental illness doesn’t give you easy outs. It expects that for everything you learn to grow from that another poison will be planted. For every moment of greatness you must accept a moment of doubt, hurt, destruction. For every second that you give to your own health, you have to learn to give up something you thought was easily a part of yourself. For every positive thought there is a horrible, dark, unsettling thought that will knock you on your bottom; and for all those who are reading this and think that you just get back up from these knocks let me explain that sometimes you absolutely do, and sometimes you might as well be on Mt. Everest, without the oxygen, falling to the bottom.
I wish there was one person out there who could help me find the positive; someone who could make this easier. I wish there was one person out there who had the power to give me the strength to continue on a path that might work. I wish there was one second that I could see in the future and know without any doubt that I can do this; that I was meant to be more than I have ever been. I wish there was one being on earth who could cry with me when this works, and hold me when I only see that long fall off the mountain. Songs and movies are written about this kind of love, relationship, whatever you want to call it. But I have learned that mental illness, especially mine, means that no one believes that I will actually make it this time, so learning to believe in myself is simply impossible.
I will try and continue with this positive thinking; I will even start a journal to look through when I need it. But the truth is, that it all kind of sucks, and that includes the person that I am, just wading through yet another promise that is bound to be broken. (Yes, that was not the positive thought I am supposed to believe; but it’s the reality I know).