Many people assume that those who are suffering from depression are just caught in the wrong mindset, that we’re being Debbie Downers and Negative Nancys, wandering through life with a Trelawney*-sized penchant for doom and gloom. They assume a great deal, if not all, of our mental illness could be solved simply by trying a little harder and adopting a more positive mindset. I can tell you firsthand that is not the case.
I have been told by multiple people over the years that I am the most positive, cheerful, upbeat little depressed person that they have ever met. I refuse to be a victim. I am a fighter. A Survivor. Even in the roughest of circumstances, I still search for something positive to cling to like a life preserver in rough waters after being thrown overboard during a raging storm. I am a firm believer that there is always something positive to be found if you look hard enough. Even on the worst days, I am that one person you can count on to offer an encouraging smile and to point out something good to be grateful for in life.
I do not intentionally surround myself with negativity. Over the years, I have systematically removed many so-called friends and family from my life who found more pleasure in knocking others down rather than helping each other up. I’ve chosen instead to surround myself with people who believe in kindness and compassion, those who prefer to cheer openly for the success of others rather than privately snickering over their defeat.
I don’t carry within myself an undue amount of anger, hurt or resentment. If someone has grievously injured me, I have learned to just remove them from my life as a doctor might amputate a gangrenous limb. I do not allow their cruelty to continue to fester and grow but rather I accept that they do not deserve a place in my life and I continue onward without them. I have accepted that not everyone belongs in my life and that some people were merely meant to play the passing role of a teacher of harsh realities. I refuse to waste undue amounts of energy dwelling on the cruelty of anyone who would not give me a second thought. I choose to focus the majority of my energy on improving myself and my future rather than dwelling on other people or a past I cannot change.
I have trained myself to consciously focus on happiness and positivity every single day. Every day I strive to accomplish three goals.
- Every day, no matter how rough the day might feel, I look for at least one reason to smile, one thing to be grateful for in my life.
- Every day, I try to reach out and do something kind for someone else without expecting anything in return. This could be as simple as holding open a door or reaching out to someone else to see how they are doing.
- Every day, I make sure to tell at least one person in my life that I love and appreciate them.
At my core, I have a very positive mindset. I have a fundamental belief in the strength and resilience of the human spirit, that we as a species are stronger than we realize and are survivors at heart. I carry within myself a genuine hope that one day things will get better and I am proactive in working towards that goal. I encourage not only myself to power through and not give up on a daily basis, but I reach out to others, as well, through my writing.
I also have friends and family that I have opened up to about my illness. I do my best to be honest with where I am at mentally and emotionally at all times. I have constructed a support network of people I can reach out to if I need help so I am not facing everything alone.
I have not given up on myself. I not only see my doctors regularly, but I push myself as much as possible to attend wellness activities such as yoga, tai chi, meditation and art classes. I take my treatment seriously. My wellness and emotional toolbox is chock full of useful techniques to use when I am struggling.
I make sure to eat regularly even if I am not feeling particularly hungry so that my body receives the nutrients it needs. I do not smoke or use drugs and very, very rarely do I drink any alcohol, let alone have more than one drink. I practice self-care and engage in hobbies such as writing, sketching and painting so I have positive outlets to focus my attention upon so I do not lose myself along the way. Over the years, I have learned to love myself and to treat myself gently, with the same kindness and compassion I would show others.
I have not surrendered to my mental illness or turned a blind eye to it, pretending it is not there. I read up on the latest studies on a regular basis. I belong to multiple online support groups that share not only encouragement but share information, as well. I want to remain knowledgeable about my illness so I can make educated decisions about my ongoing and future treatment.
My mindset is not an issue.
I am fighting every single day. I am like the cancer patient who pushes herself to eat even though her chemotherapy has left her feeling nauseous because she knows it is what her body needs or to go for a short jog because she is determined to not let her illness defeat her. I am like the woman with rheumatoid arthritis so bad that every step wracks her body with pain who still goes out to work in her garden because she doesn’t want to lose herself to her illness. I am no different than many other people with hundreds of different debilitating diseases, illnesses and ailments who are fighting the good fight every single day not only to survive but to find some way to truly live despite their diagnosis.
Again, my mindset is not the issue.
All the positivity in the world will not negate my illness. A wellness toolbox full of handy tricks will not fix it. It is a medical condition that needs medical treatment. As good as things like having a support system, a positive attitude, eating well, exercise and engaging in healthy hobbies might be for someone’s emotional well-being, they will not cure mental illness any more than they would cure cancer or arthritis. I have learned to cope with my illness to the best of my ability but I still need ongoing treatment.
The main difference between other more widely accepted ailments and mental illness is that my condition stems not in my body but in my brain. That, and the stigma attached to mental illness that prevents others from viewing it as a legitimate, treatment-worthy condition. Because it cannot readily be seen by the naked eye, it is often doubted, minimized and trivialized, treated largely as a joke. Though it may be considered an invisible illness, I am fighting it every single day.
From the time I wake up every day, I am fighting my own mind. As much as I struggle to stay positive and focused, a very real part of me is trying to convince me that the world is hopeless. Whenever I attempt to reach out to friends and loved ones, it tells me that I am a burden to them, that I shouldn’t bother, that I should leave them in peace. It pushes for me to isolate, to hide my pain, to succumb and surrender to it.
There are days I am overwhelmed with emotions. I feel everything so deeply and there appears to be no way to turn it off. I have this intense need to cry, to weep not only for myself but for everyone else struggling, for everyone who’s lives have been made harder by my illness and for everyone else who has lost their battles along the way. On those days, my world is overflowing with so much pain that it is overwhelming.
On other days, I feel nothing at all. I find myself trapped in a dark void where nothing feels like it matters, least of all me. There is no joy in that darkness, no light, no hope. I struggle to even move because I feel swallowed up within its depths. Everything on those days feels like an insurmountable obstacle. Even simple tasks like eating make no sense because everything tastes bland, like nothingness. That voice within my head echos through the darkness, asking what’s the point.
No mater how much the sun is shining, my world always feels dark, cold, hopeless and full of despair. No matter how many times I tell myself that it isn’t truly the case, it still feels that way. It is like my mind has constructed its own alternate reality and has taken me hostage within its walls. I feel helpless like I have no control over my own life, let alone my body or my mind.
Every single day, I have to fight myself to even get out of bed. It isn’t a case of laziness or just not wanting to get up. The weight of everything I want to do and need to do rests so heavily on my shoulders that I often find myself immobile, incapable of action. Every single day I am beating myself up for everything I know I should be doing but cannot manage to bring myself to do. I desperately want to get up, do things and be productive, but the weight of my illness pins me down. It then uses my inability to function against me as evidence that I am worthless and a waste of space.
Every single day, my mental illness presents itself in very real and physical ways as well. My body is always as exhausted as my mind. I ache all over. My anxiety frequently has my head spinning and my heart pounding. When confronted with stress, my chest tightens and my thoughts race. My stomach is always in knots. I regularly experience nausea and vomiting and have a recurring bleeding ulcer. I have absolutely no desire to eat most days or to even do anything at all for that matter. Every night, I struggle to get to sleep and to stay asleep. I am plagued by horrible nightmares on a regular basis. No matter how much rest I might get, I always feel sluggish, like I am running on empty. It is like my own body has betrayed me.
My world feels hopeless. I feel helpless. I feel lost and alone. I feel broken beyond repair. There is not a single day that I do not have to remind myself multiple times that this is not reality. This is my mental illness. There is not a single day that I am not fighting with myself, pushing myself to do something, anything, even if it is just to pull myself out of bed and eat something.
I am not consumed by negativity, nor am I lazy or weak. I have not given up on myself or the world. I have hope for my future and a strong will to fight. I am doing my best. I refuse to let my mental illness beat me.
My mindset is not the issue.
My mental illness is.
I struggle every single day not because I am not trying hard enough to have a positive mindset but because I am ill.
*For those unacquainted with Sybill Trelawney, she is one of many wondrous creations from J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter universe, the Divination professor who at one time or another had foreseen the death of every student at Hogwart’s. Whenever I imagine anyone embracing hopelessness and envisioning a world full of nothing but doom and gloom, I think of Trelawney.