17 May Mental Health Awareness Week Series: My Journey With… Positive Thinking
I. Am. Obsessed. With escape rooms.
Ben and I did our first one last year and we’ve done about five since then (and have our next one next weekend, and I am too excited.)
And, I have to say, we absolutely smash them. We are an amazing team.
You get one hour to figure out the puzzles and get out of the room – and a lot of them are pretty cryptic and/or incomplete when you get them.
So, even though I know we’re amazing at it, when I first get in there I have a moment of panic because I think ‘How on earth are we going to figure all of this out? We’ve got hardly anything here, I don’t even know how this is going to get us anywhere.’
And it feels just a little bit overwhelming because I can’t see how we’re going to figure it out.
My least favourite thing about positive thinking…
Is the fact that it’s actually quite hard to do sometimes.
I think everyone realises that positive thinking is really easy to do when things are going great for you. Then there are people who find it easy just in general. Sometimes it’s because they’re just in a much better position to have a positive frame of mind, whether that’s because they’re in a good position genetically or situationally to have a better outlook on life.
Their version of having a down day might be ‘Boy, I’m kind of tired and not really in the mood for this today. I guess I’ll just get on with it.’ They don’t realise that it’s not always that easy for everyone – or even if some is getting on with it, that it’s much, much harder than other people think.
They’re the kind of people who might be more likely to think that mental health issues like depression and anxiety are just a case of mind over matter – because they’ve never come close to really experiencing it and they don’t really understand.
I don’t have anything against those people, and I probably was one of them once.
But it adds a stigma to mental health issues, that makes you feel like you’re doing something wrong if you’re struggling. You’re just not trying hard enough.
My second least favourite thing…
Is that (because of least favourite thing #1) there are times when it makes you feel worse. I know, that sounds counter-intuitive but it’s true.
If you’ve read every piece I’ve posted so far this week, you’d be forgiven for thinking that I sound a bit of a wreck.
The depression, the anxiety, the stress.
But this is all over a long period of time – we’re talking best part of a decade – and this was all pretty situational. I wasn’t coping well with things that happened to me, and I didn’t really get any support. The NHS has been under-resourced for a long time, and when a uni student shows up in tears on their first day of work, or a mid-20s woman says they’ve felt down for a while and ticks all the depression boxes, you go with the easiest option, right? ‘Here, have this, good luck, next please.’
Sometimes ‘positive thinking’ makes you feel more alone.
People who meant well said not-quite-the-right thing when I was in a bad place, or there were people who genuinely weren’t bothered who were just really dismissive. When you’re in a good place in life, you can let those things roll off your back. But when you’re struggling, those things only serve to make you feel lonelier, more isolated, and more anxious or down than ever.
That’s why Mental Health Awareness Week is so important – just raising awareness means you can get more help when you need it, and people know how to deal with things, even when it’s hard. You can get help to deal when you’re struggling, and other people know how to react when you’re finding it tough.
With my first little journey into thinking more positively, it got harder before it got easier.
You can read all kinds of books and watch videos on YouTube, listen to Tony Robbins and follow The Secret, but there’s a double-edged sword to the message of empowerment.
You can change your life! Anything is possible for you!
The good side is you feel pretty good when you start taking responsibility, taking charge, being in control of your thoughts, your life, your destiny. The flip side is blame. If things aren’t going well, it’s your fault. If you can’t get out of that abusive relationship, depressive state, or dead-end job, it’s because you’re not trying hard enough and you just need to pull your socks up, buster. If an automatic negative thought comes up and gets you down a little, you’ve failed. If you do all the right things and follow everything the gurus say and it still doesn’t work out, it’s because you must have done it wrong in some way.
Which is only partly true.
Yes, we’re all responsible for ourselves. You’re the only person in control of how you feel and I’m the only one in control of how I feel. And if it were that easy then just knowing would be half the battle. But I think it’s important to be realistic about this, because knowing it doesn’t do all the work for you, and that’s where I think the messages are getting mixed.
Everyone tells you that you can do it (and you can). But no one tells you it’ll be hard (it probably will).
You can only do as much as your resources allow you. And when you’re having a hard time, you can lose those resources pretty quickly. If you’re short on time, patience, money, sleep, everything gets that much harder to cope with.
Sometimes things take much, much longer to work out than you think and hope they will.
Sometimes you’ll still have automatic thoughts, and the simple fact that you have them sometimes feels like you’ve failed.
You’re going to keep having those thoughts, because that’s just what they do, they show up. It’s how you react to them that proves where you are in your journey.
When you find it hard, you might wonder if you’re doing it all wrong and you’re never going to feel better. You’ll think that you’re doing it wrong and maybe you just shouldn’t bother.
It’s not always going to be easy, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth doing.
It’s like eating a salad instead of a burger. Just because it’s the BETTER thing to do doesn’t mean it’s the easier or more fun thing to do.
Having a positive frame of mind, being optimistic, having a growth mindset is absolutely really important to your mental health and your overall wellbeing. I truly believe that. And I also want you to know that it’s okay to not always find it easy – because it’s not always easy.
It doesn’t mean you’re past help.
It’s got nothing to do with how much progress you’re making – and you can still keep going.
You’ll find it easy again soon
I’m just letting you know because I wish someone had told me that a long, long time ago, and if I’d heard that then I might not have been so hard on myself when I was finding things tough.
And when you have a good day – hold onto it. You’ll be on a roll and you’ll be able to build up more resources for when you’re not doing so great.
Because no matter how overwhelmed I feel by such a lack of clues whenever I walk into an escape room and I have no idea how we’re going to get out… we always do!