Homecoping strategiesOn Gratitude and Positivity

As long time readers of this blog already know, my experience in the world of education wasn’t exactly stellar, though it could have been much worse.

After exiting school for the last time, I struggled with a lot of shame that I couldn’t talk about. I felt as if I were a failure and the only reason I didn’t go further was because I was being lazy. In addition to that, there were other serious difficulties related to family, amongst other things.

For a period of several years, I dealt with those feelings by internalizing them and switching to survival mode. So long as I could pay the bills and stay off the streets, why should I bother pursuing anything else? I hated the jobs I held, but so long as we weren’t in debt, who cares?

I didn’t see myself as worth anything extra. There were times I wondered why my now husband stayed with me. Every offer of help and act of generosity was seen with a combination of wonder, gratitude and embarrassment. Why would anyone want to help someone as pathetic as me?

At my lowest points, my warped perceptions saw necessary activities, like eating, as a waste. Why should food go to me when it could fill someone else’s belly? If I died, would it really matter?

Bear in mind, I never voiced these thoughts. I did my best to hide the true depth of my pain and hopelessness. Apparently, I did a pretty good job of it, since no one seemed to notice.

Years passed. Some bridges were burned, some were rebuilt, and somehow, I kept breathing.

Changes in Coping MechanismsAfter my husband got his bipolar diagnosis and we were leveling financially, I finally felt ready to address the chaos in my heart and head. At that point, I felt an odd combination of not being worth enough to warrant a medical professional’s time and the need to figure things out on my own.

I don’t know if going to a psychologist would have been easier, but I chose to read up on everything I could on the subject independently. Sure, I bettered my diet and tried things like meditation for a while, but those two things only did so much good.

As I read, I kept seeing the concepts of ‘gratitude’ and ‘positive thinking’ crop up again and again.

As the years passed, I made a conscious effort to pick out at least one thing that made me happy every day, focus on that for a while and feel grateful to be experiencing the moment when I started to feel down. At first, I felt like a huge fraud, but I did start feeling better, even if it was for just a couple of minutes.

Eventually, I learned how to spot negative thoughts and feelings as they happened. Instead of dismissing them straight off, I started making the effort to accept them as valid, but remind myself that they weren’t the only things in my life.

I think part of the problem with the whole “Power of Positive Thinking” thing is that it tends to completely discount the necessity of negativity in life. Even if they don’t talk about it, relatively happy people still suffer sometimes.

You need to feel that pain to fully appreciate the good things in life.

The problem I was having was that I was either shoving the pain away or dwelling on it and allowing it to grow. When the only things I saw in my life were sadness, hopelessness and struggle, those were the only things I experienced.

Once I started making an effort to calm myself through concentrating on something that made me feel a little better, even something as small as the lovely patterns on a leaf, I suddenly found room for other things.

Eventually, I was able to make those efforts into an almost unconscious part of my every day life.

Dyslexia’s Role
Around the time that basic changes in how I thought took root, I discovered The Dyslexic Advantage. That book is what launched me into researching dyslexia and exploring that part of myself more fully.

It’s amazing what school doesn’t teach you.

Of course, when I was growing up, there wasn’t half as much research done about dyslexia as there is today. So many of the problems I was having weren’t addressed. The idea that my non-reading struggles existed because I wasn’t smart enough to handle them was firmly in place.

Dyslexia had always been dismissed as strictly reading based, and my issues always felt minimized. Yet, when I admitted to having dyslexia, I was almost always treated as if I were less of a person.

I had no idea that there was an up-side to it. Perhaps because of my ongoing internal journey, the idea that I had similar gifts because of dyslexia really struck a cord with me.

Suddenly, I realized that hey, I’m not stupid. I’m not lazy. I don’t work hard to fail. I wasn’t destined for a life of mediocrity and failure. Best of all, I’m not alone.

I had worth. One of the things that people pitied me over, called me a liar over and told me I was overreacting to, was something that helped me be unique in some very good ways.

Suddenly, I could look at my weaknesses and turn them into strengths. This thing that I was taught to view as a disability actually had some extremely positive sides to it.

That point of view helped me accept that part of myself, both the good and the bad. I found even more things to be grateful for, and these are things that no one can take away from me.

My Take on Positivity
I learned that this hyped-up concept of ‘positivity’ isn’t about constantly smiling and being oblivious to sorrow. It’s more about training yourself to look for the good things already in your life.

The thing is, if this is the path you want to take, you must be the one who decides to do it. No amount of inspirational quotes, pictures or support from others will help if you can’t take the hard steps towards internal change.

Positivity isn’t about forcing yourself to repeat a phrase like “I’m worthy of love, luck and joy” to yourself until you believe it. As far as I’m concerned, it’s about consciously taking note of things that make you feel better, even if they’re just memories, a warm scarf or even just the ability to breath, and realizing there’s hope for better times to come.

It’s about using that tiny bit of sweetness and building upon it, so you can deal with the problems you’re faced with effectively.

And it’s not easy. We’re creatures of habit, and once we get stuck in the pattern of hurting ourselves in any shape or form, it’s extremely hard to break it.

Oddly, it’s also about accepting the negative parts of life. No one is perfect. I still have very hard days, but I handle them differently than I used to.

Pain, sorrow, grief and struggle never go away, regardless of how much we may want them to, but we’re the only ones who can change how we react to them.

Further, the path I decided to take won’t work for everyone.

My husband went with medication for his issues. A combination of counseling and medication works for many people I know and love. Yet others flourish from assorted alternative therapies or immersing themselves in religion. If a particular method works for you, there’s no shame in using it.

Despite what the story books tell us, there is no happily ever after. Life is an ongoing, evolving experience that each one of us needs to learn how to navigate in our own unique way.

Taking a little time to be thankful for the people and things that help keep us going doesn’t hurt, though.

So, thank you to everyone who has supported me and others like me. Thank you to everyone who reads this for living your life the best you can and for bettering anyone else’s lives in any way you do.

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