Gratitude and Optimism. Fear and Depression: Convincing our Brain it can change
Recently I lost a friend. Not in the end-of-life kind of way, but in the you’re-too-optimistic kind of way. At least I think that’s the reason. I’m not entirely sure because this person hasn’t shared an actual reason, so this assumption is based solely on the few words I interpreted to mean as such. My obsessive nature to know the actual reason is currently being challenged, so perfect opportunity to do a little self-coaching… My knowing doesn’t make a difference….. Closure is a load of crap.
Knowing doesn’t make a difference…. Closure is a load of crap
First, I have to understand that my actually knowing the reason doesn’t really make a difference. If I were to know, I would want to explain and negotiate and convince, right? We call this ‘Closure’ and it’s a load of crap. Here’s the thing, our brain needs to answer the questions it asks, so knowing the reason will create more questions. Not knowing allows us the opportunity to tell ourselves whatever we want. It’s a truth I’ve recently learned and a skill I am currently developing. How? Well, because the brain wants – needs – answers, we change the question. My friend won’t talk to me long enough to tell me what the reason is, so instead of asking why the silence, I ask myself can I control this? The answer is no. I can only control myself. I may have to ask myself this question 100 times before I stop trying to get to the ‘real reason’ and that’s ok. My desire to let go of what I can’t control is greater than my desire to know.
I can choose to obsess, or I can do what it takes to move on, which one is better?
Second, once I accept that I only have control over me, I control the narrative. You might want to stop me and say something along the lines of ‘but what if it’s not right? What if the reason is completely different than what you think?!’ To which I respond with ‘it does not matter!’ It doesn’t matter because the likelihood of knowing the ‘real’ reason is slim to none and I can choose to continue to obsess, or I can do what it takes to move on. Which one is better for me in the long run?
If you said obsess, send me a message and let’s have a more personal conversation about your brain….
Now that I’ve moved on from the need to know and am controlling my brain, let’s talk about optimism, gratitude, anger and depression.
Now, my level optimism, and optimism in general, is not for everyone. Some personalities are not equipped to accept the level of happy the rest of us operate on, whatever level that is. It’s difficult for people like me (fixers) to willingly walk away from a person for this reason though. Even in this case, I didn’t really walk away, but continuing to reach out would probably boarder on harassment and I do have and respect boundaries…. Sometimes….
Back to optimism and gratitude.
My friend didn’t realize that I don’t live in the world of rainbows and Skittles. And if that’s where I lived, how could I possibly understand the realities of life? How could I comprehend that sometimes people can’t possibly be expected to people and that the world just sucks and everything in it sucks and other people suck and, and, and…. My constant questions of “What good things happened today?” and “What’s the positive in this?” and even my sharing of only the good in my life were too much to handle. I also mistakenly auto-piloted into coach over friend every time we talked…. Epic fail. Note to self: When friends ask for advice, give it. When friends are sharing their problems, shut up and listen.
You might be wondering how depression fits into this. My friend is dealing with it, whether realized or not, I’m not sure. I deal with it every day, weekends especially. And millions of people in the world deal with it every day, both realized and not. It’s a thing we don’t discuss because it’s considered a mental illness and some how that is considerably worse than any other kind of illness. The shame surrounding our inability to “snap out of it,” or our desire to ignore the thoughts by bingeing all the TV and/or drinking all the alcohol and/or lifting all the weights… you get the point. We stop participating in the things that bring us joy – or we focus only on the things that bring us joy – in order to try to cover up what’s really happening inside us. It is such a difficult thing to navigate and even our closest friends can’t seem to help us through. We first have to be aware and decide to make a change. As an aware person, seeing it in others and not being able to help is excruciating. Well, not knowing how to help and not being able to help in the only way I do know how, that’s excruciating. My only hope at this point is that the awareness comes and help is sought in other places.
Here’s where we can make the brain believe things again. No, seriously.
Awareness is always the first step. We can’t ‘snap out of it’ because we are unaware. Once that changes we can start actively doing something about it and that’s when the snapping starts.
We choose how to filter information and if we aren’t happy, then we need to look at the filter with which we see and interact in the world. If we aren’t happy, we are filtering through anger or fear. This is the most difficult part of awareness, the self-reflection and responsibility part.
The common denominator is us, from birth to death
Let’s break this down a little. In our life, from birth to death, the common denominator in every situation is us. We learn early on a response mechanism that works for a period of time. As our environment changes, so does our response mechanism. We learn to be negative. We learn to be afraid. We learn to survive. When this happens, we lose the auto-response of forgiveness, love, acceptance, and service. We lose how to take risks. Most importantly we lose how to live in the moment and be grateful for what we do have. Some are lucky to learn an auto-response of a more positive nature, the rest of us have to learn to be positive.
So how do we learn positivity?
We’ve already become aware, so now we start taking the steps to make changes. My recommendation is gratitude first, foremost and forever. This is how we start to rewire our brains; by actively seeking the good things in life. By looking at a situation and asking yourself what lesson, or what small piece can I focus on aside from the crappy hurt I’m currently feeling.
Some days, when we just get started in our gratitude practice, the best we can come up with is that we woke up or had a hot shower or we caught all green lights on our way into the office. Sometimes it’s one thing in the entire day and that’s ok, because we’re starting. As with any new skill we’re teaching ourselves, there’s a curve and if your only gratitude for a day is that you made it through, run with it!
If you or a loved one is navigating depression….. you never know who might help
If you want to know more about starting a gratitude practice or to start teaching yourself not to obsess over not having closure, please let me know. And if you, or a loved one, is navigating the world of depression and/or anxiety, do not be afraid to seek help and share your story, you never know who you might help along the way.