Of course, I wasn’t disappointed, Kingdom Hearts created a world of its own (see what I did there?) and gives ‘good vs evil’ another dimension by layering it atop the ‘dark vs light’ battle. I started the game ready to give up, but was reminded that there are others fighting just as I am, and that helps me continue wanting to keep pushing through.Read More
About ten years ago, my sister sent me Martin Seligman’s TEDTalk. Dr. Seligman’s life’s work cannot be summarized in a paragraph, but I can tell you how it’s been distilled by pop culture because that was the reason I was seething when I saw the link.
Thank you, I thought, another schmuck telling me to look at the bright side of things when I want to die. Sure, I will just look for the positive in life and be cured.
I am still not the biggest fan of the theory, but at least I do not incorrectly oversimplify it to it’s headline anymore. After doing my research, I recognize there were nuances the doctor just couldn’t get to in 5 minutes, but those nuances unravel a simple “smile more” into an entire physiological philosophy that can actually help many people lead more productive lives.
This nuanced version is not how we understand Positive Psychology culturally. Armed with the pop-philosophy variant of it, I feel fashion and lifestyle bloggers have pushed the positivity concept to a limiting point, distilling it to extreme optimism:
“Focus on the good in life only, always look for the bright side, and be grateful for what you have instead of thinking about what you don’t. Remove anyone who does not agree with this, as they are negative.”
…or something very close to that.
Chances are you are following someone right now who is a great model of this attitude. However, you may also have noticed different results than those promised when you look at their pictures, depending on your day. Instead of joy, you may actually experience Facebook Depression. We may deeply admire this person, but slowly we begin to envy their lifestyle and then we usually end up feeling awful about ourselves because we are comparing our accomplishments to a seemingly constant stream of their incredible feats. You went to a museum this Saturday? Well they went on a hike and then a museum and saved a puppy. You know you do not live their exact life, yet you may end up hating yourself for that exact reason.
After ten years of Positive Psychology permeating our culture I can honestly say, it’s not the positivity that makes us cringe, it’s feeling forced to compare our mundane to someone else’s seemingly constant joy.
Our self-esteem feels threatened when we think we might be someone else’s downward comparison (when you compare yourself to someone doing worse than you). So you might double down and say, I just need to focus on being happy more, work harder, when, in the case of someone with depression, you’ve already overextended your ability for joy by working so hard to ignore your problem.
What will happen if you take a person who is largely devoid of emotion and positive internal dialogue, maybe even partly due to those aforementioned comparisons or perhaps full on clinical depression? Well, if someone is in a general cathartic state, positive is not something that can be comprehended. How can you not feel worse, if the pop version of positivity culturally tells us that humans are capable of being their happiest only if using this one-for-all solution? That focusing on chasing joy will lead you to your best life?
I cannot emphasize enough that this was not the original intention
The textbook version of positive psychology, however, is noticing those encounters that normally make us feel awful about ourselves and re-learning how to see them in another, brighter light. It’s not an objective rejection of reality or brushing things under the rug that truly should have been removed a while ago, but re-teaching our mind to assume the best instead of the worst in any situation.
Back to Dr. Seligman. Few people know that he came up with Positive Psychology as he was seeking to understand depression and other mental illnesses. He observed that people who experience the same event may end up describing it in a variety of ways depending on their general outlook of life, and those who were able to look at things in a positive light were less likely to be depressed. His goal wasn’t to create constant joy in people, but rather to make it a fundamental pillar (one of five, actually) of our well-being.
In terms of psychology as a science, he simply wanted to highlight the good emotions we feel as much as we had previously highlighted and focused on the bad ones up to that point. Right now, we take only the things wrong with us and study solutions for them. Instead, he proposed, we should study the things that we do that make us feel good and use them as an example of good mental health.
It’s not that Positive Psychology is unhelpful, it’s that for those dealing with Depression, imaging another thinking pattern or really having control over the chemicals in their brains is impossible. And the improper interpretation of Dr. Seligman’s idea created a social pressure to be nothing other than positive.
Every person has to overcome hurdles. Some appear smaller to others, others are bigger than someone might let on. It is exactly at this cross-section of objectivity and relativity that mental health understanding currently lies in the public eye. Sympathy is still an uncommon commodity in a world where we recognize 1 in 4 will experience depression in their lifetime. We need to stop measuring our positive experiences up against someone else’s negative ones and vice-versa. We need to walk in one another’s mental shoes.
Positive psychology is absolutely a must on the list of things that will help us manage the world us depressed folks see as gray all the time. Even if it’s just to help us view it as others do. It might be best to avoid comparing your gray day to someone’s rose colored glasses too. Be you, and be all of it.
I am pretty sure I actually teared up when I streamed one day back in October 2017 and not one person came for forty minutes. I was talking to myself while researching a mental health topic, but no one was there to care that I was doing so. I think I actually said out loud: “who cares if I’m here, I should just give up.” Then, quietly, I resolved to keep researching, because I knew I would be doing the same thing if offline otherwise.
At that exact moment someone popped into my chat and asked me what I was doing. I talked about my research topic and how happy I was to see this person chat with me because without interaction, I was just talking to myself about medical diagnosis, which I found to be ironic to say the least. We both laughed a bit. That was just about a year ago as of this writing.
I’ve learned more about my self-worth and image over the past year than in the preceding twenty-seven. I have learned to see myself as a person before I see myself as a streamer or a writer, where before I thought that what you do must define you. I’ve learned that you can be more than you can ever define yourself to be, because while public perception is close to what you put out, it is also completely nuanced. I did not start streaming thinking this would be something I learn.
I’ve also found out that people interact with each other based on their personal emotions and assumptions. Every struggle, every day for each person, is theirs and theirs alone. Every comment, every word we speak has little to do with the person we are speaking to and everything to do with the ongoing battle in our consciousness (and subconscious selves, if you’re into psychoanalytics).
Keeping all of that in mind, the one word that comes when I think of how to summarize it all, streaming, writing and discussing mental health online is: Community.
This has also been discussed ad nauseum as it is the cornerstone of Twitch, but from October to October, it’s the one thing that connects it all. Who reads my writing? My community. Who understands what my dysphoria truly feel like? My community. I started the project telling my husband: “If I cannot help just one person during every episode and with every piece of my writing, I will quit. But all I need to keep this up is one person.” That count’s a bit higher than one today, and I am grateful beyond words.
I frequently say that Mxiety is an idea of hope, which is bigger than the person who started it or any one person who supports it. It’s the belief that since we live in a time when the world doesn’t know how to feel about mental illness, it’s up to us to show them and take care of each other when no one else knows how. It what created Be The Light as our sign off.
Just over twelve months ago, I felt alone and scared, like no one was listening even though I was surrounded by all the love my incredible husband and friends could offer. I felt stupid, yet angry, and most of all, I felt like I needed some kind of purpose. Maybe if I let others know what I knew, I could make them feel like this less often. And, I just wanted to stop seeing people with mental illness misunderstood and mistreated because of things they had little control over.
Never in my wildest dreams, when I sat sobbing three years ago on the floor of my bathroom, wishing I could die, did I ever realize that I could incubate a whole community. When I was driving and talking myself into not ending my life, I could not fathom the number of people who had done exactly the same and were looking for someone to tell them they are not alone. I thought of making something like Mxiety, but in that moment all of those people I could be helping were faceless and nameless, just me working behind the scenes to help someone.
I know I found some version of a calling, when I noticed that I would not shut up when someone asked me what I could do if I could start anything. I would launch into detail about my plans for a website, a live-stream, and finally getting myself to write consistently.
It took a community of like-minded people to confirm to me, beyond a doubt, that there is a friend out there on the internet for all of us. That people want to help each other, especially those who’s hardship was invisible. Seeing others like them made them finally feel as special as every one of us wants to feel in our lives.
These are no longer just “people out there with mental illness,” but friends and kind humans who are willing to help others after knowing for years what being alone feels like. It became a group of people who work everyday just to be a functioning version of themselves. They all have names, they all just want to be loved like anyone else and many of them (50+) have given me the honor of appearing to share their story live on air.
Those who come back to read and see more inspire me to keep learning, keep pushing and keep trying, even though some days I am painfully reminded that I need more knowledge, more experience, more time and more ...everything else.
After listening to over 50 stories, I can conclude that while each of us lives a different life, which informs how we handle our hardships, the hardships themselves –the human experience—it's the same.
So, if you haven’t yet, come share your story, because every single one of them matters, each one makes at least one person feel less alone. Doesn’t matter if you have thousands of people following you online, or you work as an accountant, you too can be the light for others.
If you do currently follow me and are reading this because that’s a thing you do, thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for taking the dream of a girl crying in her car and making me feel better than I ever thought I could. You have made my dream a purpose.
If you are struggling today, please don’t end your journey on this earth with us. I know how bad it can hurt, but amidst that I found my passion. I believe you can get up and find yours. Or tell me to F**k off, what do I know?
I remember at that moment thinking: “That’s so unkind.” Followed by an epiphany as I considered how I wasn’t allowed to go to a college four hours away because I “wouldn’t make it there.” Or how after looking at me for a minute I was once asked: “I don’t know how you’ll get anyone to love you if you keep gaining weight and have acne.”Read More
The most difficult thing to commit to, believe it or not, is failure. It’s hard on you mentally—it pulls on you, convincing you that you should commit to giving up. It feels easy at first because it’s all you know, but eventually, the weight of knowing you could have tried harder is too much to bear.Read More
It’s ostensibly been established that women apologize too much. I am a woman, and yet, I am of the firm opinion that gender has little to do with apologizing. And neither does the word sorry. Indeed, I’ve found a more innovative way to let people know I am less than them and don’t deserve to take up space: I’ve been saying Thank You instead. And I don’t mean when someone holds the door or lets me know about a spelling mistake I have made that could have gotten me in trouble with my boss. I mean when anyone does anything that ends up influencing me in any shape or form. Thank you for reading my resume (that I sent in for your job posting). Thank you for taking the time to chat with me today (when they were the one who asked me for advice). Thank you for remembering my birthday. I might as well have said “Your time spent on something as useless as me, is much appreciated and I need you to know that.”
It took me a second, but I realized that this was just a new way for me to continue apologizing for everything. After numerous corrections by people who explained to me that apologizing for everything is a sign of low self-esteem, I had to stop that annoying habit. Still, my opinion of myself had not changed. So, I thought, hey it would be sure nice to show ‘em, but I think I’ll just keep to myself and find another way to put myself down.
So Let’s Thank Everyone!
I am not sure how conscious this was originally. I believe it started naturally after many years of being ignored, told I am speaking too much, or when my parents would remind me that I was a nuisance. I was always at fault so I needed to apologize for everything I did before anyone got mad or thought worse of me.
In recent months I have felt so proud because I thought that I had finally given up this self-loathing. I would often remind others after they apologized for silly occurrences, smugly, that they didn’t need to feel like they take up precious space around me. “No reason to be sorry,” I would say. But ladies and gentlemen, I was a damn hypocrite. Because all I did was replace the term while keeping the meaning the same.
I recall the moment when someone pressed the button to hold an elevator for me. I slipped in and then said: “Thank you so much for letting me on.” It wasn’t just thank you, or thanks, it was “I am grateful you chose to spend a moment and not slam the doors in my face, which may seem benign to you, but to me, it feels like that’s all I deserve, so it’s nice to see someone give me validation of the opposite.” As I heard the tone of my voice and the implication it had in my mind (never mind that the person I spoke to was very likely to have moved on with their thoughts), I understood that I may as well had been apologizing.
How is it that some people aren’t overly grateful that they receive decent kindness from others? They weren’t ungrateful either. They just… are.
I wanted to stop feeling the guilt that came along with having someone genuinely be interested when I spent time with them. I felt like anyone who claimed to enjoy being around me was not telling the truth or just doing their due diligence when they read over my resume for a position I was great for. I am not worthy of your time, so please know I am grateful for it, so that you don’t regret it.
Now, there is nothing wrong with expressing extra gratitude and letting people know you appreciate their efforts. That’s actually why I started doing it. Thinking, hey not enough people let others know how appreciated their caring actions are. But ultimately, I realized I was also going out of my way to thank some people because I was projecting my need to be heard and appreciated onto them. Many people gave me odd looks. At first, I mistook their surprise to mean: wow, how amazing am I to offer this kind of gratitude to people. They are so starved for it in our cruel world. Never realizing that I was the one starved for it. The world is cruel, yes, but I wasn’t exactly taking away its cruelty.
A few mental health advocates have made the change of term along with me. Read this viral post from the internet and think of what I said:
With either regard, the issue isn’t language at all: it’s our need for validation after being told at some point in our lives that everything we do is a burden to others. Saying sorry is only negative because of how we are saying it. I.E. there is nothing negative about saying “Sorry I stepped on your foot.” But there is a lot of negativity to saying “Sorry I put my foot there,” or “Thank you, it’s quite alright.”
The solution isn’t to start using another word at all. It’s to work on finding out why your self-esteem has taken such a crack and learn what to do to improve it. That way you save your thank you or sorry for when you are grateful or apologetic for things that are not closely tied to your self-worth.
Thank you for taking the time to read this. I’m sorry if I upset you.
I never fancied myself a doctor, not without earning it through years of intense schooling. I never pretended to know more than I do. I was ready to discount everything I knew from experience. How could it matter if an accredited university hadn’t double checked all of my work at some point?
Cover Photo by: by Annie Spratt on Unsplash