This week's topic is about the ways I stay positive when it feels like everything is going wrong, and this year has pretty much been the hardest test of that ever. This year, along with a child being murdered, we've lost my father-in-law, my uncle/godfather, and a few more relatives. I've had two accidents, resulting in lost time from work, loss of income (though fortunately I have disability insurance so it hasn't been a total loss), and lots of medical bills - by the end of 2016, I will have spent close to 30 percent of the year on crutches, and I will still be on them when 2017 starts. I've changed jobs to get away from a place where both illegal and legal bad behavior from the toxic new CEO and board of directors were making me (and many others) miserable. And those are just the big things - there have been the normal, day-to-day kinds of disappointments and bad situations as well. Yet people think of me as a positive and resilient person. How is that?
First, people may think that I'm a very positive person, but that doesn't mean everyone feels that way and it doesn't mean that I am that way 100% of the time. It's absolutely okay to react when things go wrong, but it's most helpful to react in ways that can move you forward in coping with the situation. So, it's not cool to lose your temper and take it out on someone else who doesn't deserve to be your punching bag. But it's more than okay to cry. In fact, it's biologically good for you to cry to relieve stress.
I also find it helpful to talk or write about the problem, even if I'm the only one who hears or reads my words. Sometimes naming it is a good way to really get precise about what exactly it is that is bothering you. It also helps to keep things real and be honest with yourself about the issue. I find that when I can articulate the problem clearly, it helps me formulate possible solutions more easily. Of course, I once worked for someone who absolutely hated it when I came to her and said, I found an issue with X, but the good news is that we have a few options to resolve it, and I think Y is the best one. Her usual response to me (no matter how I tried to word things differently to hide the fact that I was solving a real problem) was, "You are always so negative. Why do you always see problems? Why can't you find something positive?" Yeah, I had a job where I was supposed to solve problems but my boss didn't want me to do it. As Dita Von Teese said, "You can be the ripest, juiciest peach in the world, and there's still going to be someone who hates peaches." And that brings me to my next point.
Second, spend your time with people who will lift you up and support you. It's much easier to keep your outlook positive when you have people in your corner, whether they are cheering you on, holding your hand, or challenging you to get up and get going. Can't find people who support you as much as you want or need? Guess what? You can also be someone who cheers you on in life. I do that for myself. Right now, the process of taking a shower is long and laborious for me, and it needs to be done with precision so that I do not slip, fall, or further injure myself. Getting in and out of the shower is a noisy event, because I cheer myself on at each step. My family might wonder what's going on in the bathroom, but I do not care. I always get out of the shower feeling pumped that I got it done, and, quite frankly, no one in my family is going to cheer me on for taking a shower, so I have to do the cheering.
Third, put things in perspective. Usually, things could be a lot worse. Teddy Roosevelt said that comparison is the thief of joy, and, while I agree with that in a grass is greener kind of way, I also disagree with it. The other day, El Esposo broke a Corningware dish that I inherited from my grandmother. It was my official baked macaroni and cheese casserole dish and, though it wasn't valuable, it had a lot of sentimental value. And I let it go, for many reasons. He was trying to help me while I'm injured. He dropped the dish very near my feet, but I didn't get hurt. It's something that can be replaced. I have other ways to remember my grandmother. In the larger scheme of things, it wasn't an irrevocable loss, and it could have been worse.
I was surprised by my reaction to a recent murder in our area. The mutilated body of a teenaged boy was found, with his lower arms missing. He has been decapitated, but his head was near the body. He had been missing for about two weeks when his body was found. While I felt bad for this kid and his family, my overwhelming feeling was gratitude. I never thought that I would feel grateful about my stepson's murder, but I did. I'm so thankful that he was shot in front of other people, that someone called 911 and an ambulance came for him, and that we knew right away that he was dead and where his body was. Those are not normally the kinds of things that I would expect to grateful for, but the reality is, it could have been much worse, and some people are confronted with much more difficult situations.
Fourth, find something to do to move forward. Sometimes a disappointment can be easily fixed. Sometimes, there's nothing that can fix it, but that's not the point where you just stop. Dwelling on the negative only breeds more negativity. Acknowledge it, and find a way to move past it. You may fall flat on your face, but keep trying until you find something that feels right, something that makes you feel better.
Fifth, smile. Fake it until you make it is somewhat true here. Studies have shown that people who make an effort to smile will elevate their mood. Another helpful trick is to try to spend one day having only positive thoughts. If a negative thought pops into your head, reframe it positively. Can't manage a whole day? Start with an hour, and work up to a day or more. Once you get into the groove of reframing things positively, it gets easier to do. It doesn't mean you ignore problems, but it means that you look at them differently.
Sixth, drink a lot of water. I got this tip from a mental health professional who does a lot of work with gangs. Drinking enough water so that your urine is almost colorless is an excellent way to flush toxins out of your body. (Crying works in much the same way on a smaller scale.) When you feel angry or upset or threatened, your body produces stress hormones, and you can flush things like cortisol and adrenalin out faster by drinking water. It actually works, and, for me, the fun part is that I can feel like I am controlling myself and taking steps to feel better, and all people see is I'm drinking water. They have no idea what sort of powerful self-care activity I'm engaging in right under their noses.
Seventh, and last, take back your power. Don't worry about your power OVER people or things. Worry about the power you have within yourself to change things. This has been described many times, many ways, but I keep going back to a book called Dreaming the Dark by Starhawk, which I read in the 80's, and which touches me still. (Perhaps I should re-read it.) I leave you with a final quote from that book.
Transcend, create, stay positive!