Shouting Match — Poem

My brain is yelling

“You’re sad

you’re sad, you’re sad!”

And I’m yelling back

“Why?”

over and over

until it becomes a shouting match

and soon I can’t

hear anything else

 


 

Photo by Ariel Lustre on Unsplash

How I Became Happier By Giving Up Positive Thinking

I used to think that positive thinking never worked for me because I just wasn’t fully committed to it. I thought it must just be one of those mind over matter things where if you could absolutely, completely, convince yourself you were happy, you would be. And maybe that’s true, but let me tell you, it’s definitely the hard way into positivity and I’ve only ever felt worse from attempting it.

So, if I gave up on even attempting positive thinking, how did I get happier? Well, I didn’t give up so much as I remodeled it. I stopped thinking of it as positive thinking and started thinking of it as productive thinking.

Before I elaborate, I just want to say that I didn’t come up with this reconstruction all on my own. I’ve started regularly using planners from The Happiness Planner and, while they didn’t call it productive thinking, it was their approach to negative things that led me to that title.

At the very beginning of the planner, there’s a section where you have to write in the things that make you feel bad. I fully expected myself to skip this part. I deal with quite a bit of anxiety and off and on depression, so I have a lot of negative thoughts floating around my mind for little to no reason to begin with. Actively trying to pull negativity with actual reasons behind it to the surface on top of that sends me into the Land of Nope Nopity Nope Nope Not Today Nope.

But, because I’m also a fairly motivated and determined person and I wanted to complete the entire planner, I filled it out anyway. To my surprise, instead of freaking out, I actually felt better. This I credit entirely to the format of the planner (I promise I’m not associated with it I just thought it was really good). It doesn’t just tell you to write down the things that make you feel bad and then focus on positive things instead. The exact process it guides you through is: “What makes you feel upset? Is it beyond your control? If not, how can you change it?”

It sounds so obvious whenever I repeat it to anyone, but after years of having things like “Happy thoughts only!” and “Focus on the good!” drilled into my mind under the guise of positive thinking, it didn’t even occur to me anymore to just acknowledge a bad situation, ask myself if I could do anything about it, and either let it go if I couldn’t or get to work if I could.

I took this line of thinking outside the planner and immediately felt a huge release. It wasn’t a magic cure-all solution, but it was light-years better than my old attempts at positive thinking.

See, this is what my head used to look like when I tried to “think positive”:

“Man, it’s been a really bad day. I feel awful.

Oh, wait  —  that’s a negative thought! Uhhh, okay, positive thought, positive thought . . .

I feel good. There, yeah, I feel good! The rest of today’s gonna be good. Just smile, be happy.

I’m lying. I feel awful. I’ve had a bad day and I feel awful.

No! I feel GOOD! Everything’s GREAT! Look, I’m SMILING!

Maybe I should just go audition for that muppet on Sesame Street who lives in the trash.”

The end result is that by trying to push out the “bad thoughts,” I end up dwelling on what made me feel bad way longer than I would have if I’d just acknowledged that I was having a bad day and moved on.

It’s like trying to teach yourself math just by saying “Think mathematically.” Where are the steps? Where are the formulas? Where are the practice sheets? It just doesn’t work. You’ll end up staring at the first problem all day trying to will your brainwaves into working like Einstein’s.

Not to mention, even if you succeed in warping a bad situation into a good one, you’ll start getting dependent on being able to happify everything, and there are some things in life that just aren’t happy and aren’t meant to be.

Productive thinking is about steps. It’s about making progress. It’s about keeping yourself moving forward no matter how you feel. It’s about letting go of the things you can’t change instead of trying to force them into the positivity mold.

This is my thought process now that my aim is to think productively:

“Wow, I feel really bad today. Well, sometimes going for a walk makes me feel better, so I’ll try that, but if it doesn’t work out, I’ll accept that I just feel bad today and keep going anyway because bad days are okay, too.”

You’ll probably still hear me use the term “positive thinking” just because it’s what I and most other people are used to, but in my opinion it tends to lead people in the wrong direction. It’s okay to focus on the good. It’s okay to do everything you can to try to make yourself and others feel good. What’s not okay is trying to force everything into the Box of Goodness.

Consider positivity your pet cat. If you try to pick it up and put it where you want it, it’ll keep getting up and walking away. But if you leave it be and get to work, you’ll turn around to find it sprawled across all your belongings.

 


 

Photo by Sylwia Bartyzel on Unsplash

8 New Year’s Resolutions For People With Depression

1. Aim to accomplish one thing a day.

It can be big or small, depending on how you’re feeling; anything from adding an extra mile to your run to taking a shower and putting on real clothes. No accomplishment is better or worse than another. On bad days, getting dressed and feeding yourself can take just as much effort as your biggest accomplishment on a good day. Your depression may not go away entirely, but you will have good days where you feel like you again, and until then you just need to keep moving.

At the end of the day, write down what you’ve done.

2. Listen to yourself and your body.

If your muscles feel so weak you can barely hold a glass of water, but you have no explanation for it, cancel anyway. It’s good to push through things sometimes, but there are also times when pushing through just makes it worse. Stop pushing through everything just to say you did, and save your energy for the things you can’t cancel. Just because you don’t have an explanation doesn’t mean what you’re going through isn’t real.

3. Get outside.

I don’t care if you go stand outside the front door for ten minutes and then come right back in. Get outside every day.

4. Nourish your body.

Your body is doing its best to be healthy and functional for you. Help it out  —  give it water and feed it good things, even if they take a little longer to make.

5. Stop trying to fight your emotions.

Stop clinging to happiness, stop fighting sadness, stop trying to convince yourself that your heart doesn’t feel like it’s beating out of your chest. Keep reminding yourself to let yourself feel what you’re feeling. (Note: if you don’t have practice doing this, it can be hard! A couple of good mindfulness apps to get you started are Calm and Headspace.)

6. Read more, and read whatever you want.

If “grown-up” novels bring the weight of the world crashing down on you, that’s fine. Go read Winnie-the-Pooh.

7. Exercise often.

It can be three squats or an hour long run. Whatever you can do, do it. This is especially important on days where you almost feel good, but not quite. Exercising might give you that extra boost you need to get going, even if it’s just for a couple minutes.

Aim for 5–6 days a week.

8. Ask for help.

A trick of depression is making you feel like you can’t ask for help. Fight this. Fight it and fight it again. Even if you feel too tired, or you feel like you’re bothering them, or asking for help just doesn’t seem worth it, ask anyway. Ask for help over and over again until you get it. Your health and happiness are worth it.

I was starting to think about my New Years resolutions for 2017 and I realized quite a few of them related to depression. Most of these are all things I’ve been doing off and on in 2016 and have found to be helpful, so I’m resolving to make them a habit in 2017. I thought I’d share them in case they could help anyone else, too. ❤

Inside Out & Mental Health

As someone with mental disorders, I have to say I was a little nervous to see Inside Out.  The way the movie delved into the human mind in such a peppy, caricatured way both worried and interested me.  Would it stay in the realm of humor and light-heartedness, or would it maybe explore what might happen when all someone’s emotions aren’t quite in check? Could this movie, perhaps, provide people with a comprehensible metaphor for disorders?

Half of me went into the theater hoping for the latter, wishing for a movie aimed at kids to finally tackle mental disorders — and the other half of me hoped they’d stay well away from the area, lest they should just make mental disorders even more misunderstood.  I tried not to invest myself too much in the film, so I wouldn’t be too disappointed if it took a turn for the worse, but by the end of the movie, I could finally breathe a sigh of relief.

Disney/Pixar did choose to tackle one mental disorder, and in my opinion they did it pretty well.

Inside Out is centered around the idea that people operate on five main emotions — Joy, Sadness, Disgust, Anger, and Fear — that work together in the “headquarters” of their person to make sure they stay content and functioning.  In the beginning of the movie, Joy is clearly Riley’s primary emotion.  Despite being downcast about having to move to a new state, leaving all her friends back in Minnesota, she manages to maintain an honestly upbeat outlook on things, and her parents thank her for remaining their “happy girl.”  A little ways into the film, however, Riley loses access to two of her emotions: Joy and Sadness, leaving her with only Anger, Disgust, and Fear.

My hope for the movie was that Joy would go missing, and we would then see what happened to Riley as she tried to go on without one of her vital emotions, but having her lose Sadness, too, was an even better move.  Although depression takes on different forms for different people, I think it’s safe to say that for most, depression isn’t actually being depressed in the sense of being sad.  Quite often, depression is having to force emotions that you don’t actually feel (which are usually the ones that make sense in whatever situation you’re in), and having to try to control the emotions you feel too much (the ones that don’t make sense).

This is exactly the nonsensical, frustrated behavior Riley exhibits when she tries to talk to her parents with only Anger, Fear, and Disgust at hand.  Her attention isn’t focused; she hardly looks at her parents as she snaps back irritable responses without understanding why she’s doing it (“What was that? I though you said we were going to act casual!” Fear narrates).

In the following scene, Riley’s father comes up to her room and tries to raise her spirits with a joke the two used to enjoy.  Riley merely stares at him, unable to find it funny.

We watch her judgment cloud, her relationships with her friends and family crumble, and her interests fade away.  We watch her shut down (displayed literally as Anger, Fear, and Disgust grasp hopelessly at a control panel that won’t respond to any of their commands as it begins to break down), and we see that no one, not even Riley herself, can help because the problem was caused by an imbalance in Riley’s mind that she has no control over.  She literally cannot change her outlook on things, because her brain has not given her the proper tools to.

Although it was a heartbreaking moment, it felt absolutely amazing to finally see that happen in a movie — especially a kids’ movie.  Far too many children go without help simply because they don’t understand what’s happening to them and don’t see why they need to ask for help, or because their parents don’t want to label them and end up mistaking a serious disorder for “just a part of growing up.”  I hope Inside Out will help children understand what they’re going through and how to explain it to others, and that it will help friends and family understand how to help (and why “think positive!” does far more harm than good in some situations).

I believe Inside Out will also be a help to children without disorders.  For the majority of the movie, we watch Joy shoving Sadness aside, trying to keep her out of Riley’s life entirely, and we see the disaster that ensues because of it.  In real life, we’re often told to “cheer up” or to “look on the bright side” because “life is good,” even if it’s a perfectly reasonable moment to not feel happy.

It’s never a good feeling to try and stuff an emotion away and tell yourself you’re feeling a different one, and at the end of this movie, the very obvious message is that having a plethora of emotions is okay.  It’s okay to feel.  Riley’s memories (represented as little orbs that glow the color of the emotion that accompanied them) — which were previously policed by Joy, who made sure all the other emotions kept well away from them — turn from all-yellow to a beautiful mix of colors as her emotions finally learn to work together.

I can’t count the number of times I’ve tried to convince myself that I had a good day, when I really didn’t feel so good at the time.  Then, one day, I remember writing in my journal, “parts of the day were good, and parts of the day weren’t, and that’s the way it’s supposed to be.”  It may seem like a simple thought, but it was the most liberating feeling in the world to finally accept it and stop trying to make everything all good all the time.

Inside Out may not have touched on many (still highly misunderstood) disorders — and it may not have been its intention to feature any — but in my opinion, what it did, it did well.

…Oh, and one more thing.  Everyone’s emotions were personified as either all female or all male, except for Riley’s, which were a mix of both.  Could we, perhaps, have our first non-binary Pixar character?