A few months ago, I was working on a new mantra. (The word mantra also sounds fancy and psychologically complex, so it feels cool to think I am working on one). I’m a goober, I know.
With the constant bombardment of social media, news media, and print media – ok, ALL THE MEDIA – telling me the pains of the world, I decided my new mantra would be:
“it could be worse.”
AKA, my own problems and pains are pointless because, well, look at how terribly other people are suffering.
In an attempt to alleviate my personal struggles, I thought it would be helpful to give myself some perspective. For instance:
The list went on, and it could’ve gone on forever. I thought, “if I constantly remind myself of how good things are in other areas of my life, I will simply banish the bad things with my super-positive-mindset-mantra brain power.”
And it worked, for a little while.
I read books about positive thinking. I read articles online about letting go of unpleasant thoughts. I watched videos on how to stop being depressed. I exercised when I felt my depression coming on. I faked it until I would make it….except I wasn’t making it.
There was a gigantic flaw in my mantra.
I began to feel guilty for feeling upset or concerned about the “bad” in my own life. Or worse, I felt guilty for experiencing the physical symptoms of my own issues, like severe fatigue, for instance.
And so, my mantra began to crumble faster than an old crumb cake.
It occurred to me that while it was important to work towards having a positive perspective on my life, it was equally important not to disregard my own struggles and think of them as minuscule or paltry.
No, I do not have a brain-eating amoeba, but that shouldn’t make my struggle with my sensory processing disorder, or depression, or anxiety, or anything else less valid. It’s OK for me to be concerned about these issues and how they impact my life. They are not “first-world problems.” They are my problems, and they are real.
Yea I know, when I frame it like that, it does sound ridiculous.
Reasons the Mantra failed:
- Telling myself that other people have it worse did not make my problems go away. Rather, it made me feel worthless, weak and guilty for having them in the first place.
- It’s not about having a positive outlook, or different perspective on life. I am grateful for the life I was given, I appreciate the good (trust me, I really do). Thinking, “today I will not be anxious or upset by sound because there are people starving to death” did not – believe it or not – make me less anxious or upset by sound. It only made me feel selfish and powerless.
- It’s not about empathy, because I have cried for people I read about online in another country whom I’ve never met because they are suffering in ways I will probably never know. Did this change how I was able to face my own problems? Not really.
- In the beginning, my mantra sounded good. However, it would be the same as saying, “there are people who are happier than I am, so I cannot be happy.”
- I was attempting to control things which I’m literally unable to control most of the time.
What I’ve decided to do instead (and what YOU should do too):
- Recognize negative thinking patterns and focus my attention elsewhere. Similar to meditation, I am working on taking my negative thoughts or feelings, and letting them pass through me like water; in one side, and out the other. It’s OK for them to stop by, but they aren’t allowed to stay.
- Identify when my thinking patterns or inner dialogue is irrational – and make it rational.
- Not beat myself up with old school Catholic guilt for having problems in my life, even if other people technically have more serious problems.
- Stop stigmatizing my own mental health issues, because I deserve better than that.
- Try not to be super-duper jealous of the many people who have easier lives than I do (namely, people without neurological dysfunction on multiple levels). Also, continue to be appreciative of what I can do and all the good things my life has afforded me so far.
- Harry Potter movie binging