On Choosing Optimism

It’s a fact that when you’re suffering from depression, you can’t just choose to be happy. It is a physical impossibility. Telling me to smile and just be happy only makes me feel worse about myself.

I’ve been assuming the same thing about optimism for these past months. I felt like I had no optimism left and so I didn’t think that there was any way to choose optimism. It made as much sense to me as choosing to be a pony. I mean, yeah sure, I could go through the motions, canter about and neigh a bunch, but in the end I wouldn’t be any more a pony than I was before.

But maybe that was a disingenuous analogy. Optimism isn’t quite the same as happiness, although I see the two conflated all the time. Happiness is a feeling, a bounce to your step, an energy and irrefutable rainbow of positivity that depression leeches away. Optimism is a state of mind and a pattern of thought. We might not be able to control our emotions that well, but we can control our thoughts. Or at least, we can practice control.

So I’m going to try something. I’m going to see if I can practice choosing to be optimistic. I’m going to see if taking the time to focus on my negative thoughts and try turning them around can create a pattern that won’t just disappear when my depression flares again.

Honestly, I’m a little scared. When we started TTC I had an overabundance of optimism. But with each successive negative cycle, it was another punch in the gut until I was no longer uncurling from each blow. Instead, I stayed curled up to protect myself. But that didn’t diminish the pain that still came with the end of each cycle. If anything, it made it worse because I was already tense for two full weeks, waiting for the punch.

I don’t want to open myself up by being falsely optimistic, but I also don’t want to be waiting for the punch the entire time. It’s a fine line to tread, and I’m not sure how I’m going to quite do it, but I’m going to try. Focusing on the eventual end result instead of the end of each cycle should help. Because at the end of the day, no matter how long this takes, I do firmly believe we’ll have a kid.

The negative aspects of all this aren’t going to disappear if I just ignore them, but maybe I can hype up the positives a bit more. Maybe I can reframe the question to get a more optimistic answer.

Like: Instead of focusing on the fact that I haven’t gotten pregnant yet, I need to focus on the fact that we are getting answers. And that no matter what, those answers will lead to a healthier me.

Like: Instead of focusing on how badly I did on the test for a promotion yesterday, I need to focus on how it would be okay if I didn’t get that job because it would be more responsibility and brain power, which can be better used in my writing. (I’m still working on reframing this one, honestly.)

Like: Instead of focusing on the possibility that even “fixed” I may never be pregnant, I need to focus on the fact that we are in the unique position of having two uteruses in this relationship and Lady may have the opportunity to try herself in another six months. (More on this later. Maybe.)

Like: Instead of focusing on how poorly the query process has gone for me in the past, I need to focus on the fact that I am a better writer now, that I have a commercially viable novel, and that past performance is not an indicator of future results.

Like: Instead of focusing on how bad I feel and how hopeless, I need to be active in cultivating my own hope and optimism.

It will be hard. It should be hard. And maybe it won’t even work. But I need to at least try.

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4 Comments

Filed under depression, goals, n steps, TTC

4 responses to “On Choosing Optimism

  1. This is such a great way to look at things if you can manage it. I totally agree that you can choose optimism but not happy, but it can be so, so hard. Especially when you’re fighting body chemistry. (Not to mention TTC.) It’s a much, much healthier way to look at the world, though. If you master this one, it would make a great self-help book! LOL

  2. I work with kids in a therapeutic capacity one-on-one and optimism is often a really hard concept for them to grasp (particularly when they’ve been burned very early in their young lives). Instead of working on optimism, we work on “realism” which I teach as simply being able to recognize both positive and negative evidence in any given situation and not jump to any big conclusions (worst case scenario or fantasy land). This is a lot more comfortable for a lot of kids because they don’t want to feel falsely optimistic and get burned, but they also don’t like living in constant negativity. I like to tell them to weigh their evidence like they’re presenting it at court, would a jury or a judge come to the conclusion they are coming to? Is there enough evidence to come to such a dramatic conclusion? I find myself using this strategy for myself all the time, because I’m pretty pessimistic and my wife is chronically optimistic! Somewhere in between the two (leaning more toward optimism) is where I find the most comfort.

  3. Depression is very hard to manage. When I was depressed in high school and college there really was no reasoning with me at all.

  4. gina

    I needed this reminder on many levels, and this has been weighing on me too, in my life. Thank you for this post.

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