I profess that I am not the type to belt out cheesy posts. I don’t put cheesy one-liners on Twitter, and I don’t post mushy paragraphs on Instagram. I don’t spend a lot of posts talking about the bad things about schizoaffective, or what kind of medications I’ve taken. It seems that a lot of people think that’s what advocacy is about, though: cheesy posts about staying positive, the struggles of living with a mental health condition, and stressing the importance of medication.
It gets boring.
And so I’d like to challenge everyone in the mental health community. I’d like to challenge this belief that in order to lift each other up, we must constantly mull on our struggles so that others can reach out and spurt lines of hope we won’t believe in. I’d like to challenge those advocates who don’t have any experience with having a mental health condition but still insist on belting out “you can do this” posts every five minutes.
The thing about negative thoughts is that pelting positive thoughts at them won’t change the negative thoughts’ status. They will still be louder, they will still be heavier, and they will still be more constant. It’s kind of like trying to tear down a brick wall by chucking oranges at it. It would take millions of years to make a dip.
Sometimes it’s just not enough to wake up in the morning and tell yourself the day will be good. Sometimes it’s not enough to remind yourself that life is grand, even when you feel the opposite. Sometimes it’s not about thoughts as much as it is action.
And so I wonder how many of us have given negative thoughts a chance? Have we tried observing the pain when we wake up in the morning and not placing judgement on the thoughts (or voices) that tell us we’re worthless or useless? When the pain runs deep, have we tried breathing it in?
The way to take power from negative thoughts isn’t to replace them with positive thoughts. It’s to show them that you are not submissive. That doesn’t mean arguing or fighting with yourself all day. Save some of that energy. It means accepting their negativity, accepting the struggle, and moving through it not with the intention of “reaching the other side”, just with the intention of braving the moment.
All we really have are moments. They’re brief, seconds long, maybe nanoseconds long, or maybe it’s physically impossible to quantify them. But they are all we really have. And so the pain in that single moment is very real, but beyond that there is nothing else. Before that, there was nothing else. We experience time in a linear fashion, which means existing second by second, moment by moment, feeling by feeling, and so although it seems like pain strings along for years, that’s really just an accumulation of painful moments.
We observe time passing like bullet points in an essay. The only difference is the document is read-only, and there’s nothing we can edit. And so we read each bullet point and we get a feeling from it, we experience that one bullet point, and we move on to the next one.
But in life we get caught up in one bullet point and suddenly every bullet point reads like that first one. We can’t edit, so we feel helpless, and we can’t stop reading because life doesn’t stop moving. We can’t change how we feel about the pain and we can’t change the nature of the pain. The only thing we can change is our reaction.
And so I encourage all of us to be compassionate to these passing moments. They’re stuck to you as much as you are stuck to them. The more time we spend hating these moments, or running from these moments, or arguing with these moments, is just more time not spent living the way we’d like.
There’s no easy answer for living with a mental health condition. There’s no magical pill, there’s no magical therapy, and there’s no magical, positive quote on Twitter that will cure you. Life has pain, life endures pain, and pain isn’t a disease you can cure. So that one account you follow with 30 thousand followers that spouts out ropes of sticky, cheesy, positive one-liners is disillusioned. It fills people with this false sense of hope that if they just think positively long enough, something will change.
That’s just not how life works. I suppose the internet is quite infamous for distorting reality.
We shouldn’t run from pain. We shouldn’t fight it or disregard it or try and shove it away in a corner to rot because it will never rot. It’s non-perishable. When we speak about our experiences, let us talk about the negative and positive equally. Let us share things in a way that inspires hope not because our story concludes with general well-being, but because we’ve learned something from it, because we’ve discovered this balance in life that’s required to exist. Let us inspire people through our bravery in embracing pain and not just through our ability to share what’s happened to us. Let us empower each other through our confidence in living life as everyone else, not just through our living life while diagnosed.
Many of us write about mental health. I encourage all of us to scrutinize how we present our material, who we follow, who we re-tweet, or re-post. I encourage us to evaluate what our goal is in our advocacy work.
There is no right or wrong way to share your life or to lift people up. But some ways are productive and some get dull after a thousand re-tweets.
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