A piece of advice that I come across fairly often is “you decide how you feel about things, whether to be sad or happy, whether to look on the bright side or to see the worst. Life is too short to be miserable. Choose to be happy.”
This advice, like many pieces of advice, is useful… to an extent.
You can, to a certain extent, decide how to feel about things.
You can, through forming new habits, learn to see the world in a different light.
A positive attitude can help a lot.
Imagine it as if life is a hot-dog and emotions are the sauces you put on it. You can choose to add mustard, or ketchup, or sweet chilli sauce, or… I don’t actually know what people put on hot-dogs… something else.
But the problem with this as a catch-all solution is that is assumes that people are like this:
And they’re not. People have so much variety. What works for one might not work for another, or might work, but not change their life as profoundly.
In reality, people look a lot more like THIS:
No two people are the same, and no problem is simple. Especially not a mental health problem. What works a charm for one peson may be a struggle for another. Some people just don’t have much ketchup. Their ketchup bottle is tiny. They can choose to put ketchup on their hot-dog right now, but that means that later they may not have ketchup. Some people have ketchup with a wonky nozzle, so sometimes when they try to pour it out it just won’t come. Some people have those annoying bottles that you can’t see what’s inside, so maybe it’s empty and they just don’t realise yet, or maybe some prankster filled the brown sauce bottle up with mustard so as to catch people by surprise.
I suffer from depression, and anxiety, and probably more stuff to one extent or another. This is what *my* condiment shelf looks like:
Some of those are very close together aren’t they? That’s because a lot of my emotions are intertwined. Sadness and joy are very near to each other in my life, and sometimes when I reach for one I get the other. Sometimes when I’ve had the best day I can imagine I feel sad that my mother wasn’t there to experience it with me. Sometimes when I skin my knee I feel happy that I’m still alive to feel pain.
See the way the some of them are tucked away at the back there? That makes them hard to get to. I have to work my way past the worry and the excitement and the uncertainty before I can reach them.
As well as that the nozzles on my bottles are a bit wonky. The one on my happiness is smaller than it should be, so sometimes I have to squeeze it extra hard to get any out. The lid on my sadness doesn’t fit properly, so sometimes it falls off and the tears get everywhere. My anger tends to glob up and come out as huge lumps or not at all.
And that ketchup. It’s fine. There’s nothing wrong with the bottle. But some people have Chef ketchup instead of Heinz ketchup. They seem to like it better. I don’t know if I’d like it better, or if it’s just the same really, or if Heinz is actually more my thing. I’ll never know. I don’t get to have Chef ketchup. This is all I’ve got.
Choosing the right condiment for your hot-dog is a good and important step, but it’s not the only one.
The first, and most important, step is to make sure that you have a hot-dog in the first place. Take care of yourself. Take care of your head and your health and your support networks. In time you can work out how you like your life seasoned, but you don’t have to do it right away.
After that, pay attention to what happens when you season your life. Notice what emotions get confused, and which ones are linked to others. Learn how to handle them to get the best results. Maybe a tap on the bottom is all it takes to get the calm flowing. Maybe not. But you won’t know if you don’t try.
Treatments such as Cognitive Behaviour Therapy can help. They can teach you to organise your shelf space. They can teach you ways of figuring out when you need to buy more soy sauce before you run out in the middle of cooking.
Medication can help. It’s the only way I’ve found of testing out Chef ketchup. It changes things at a chemical level, and that can be scary, but it doesn’t change you. It just gives things a different flavour.
And finally, you need variety in your life. Trying to live your life only being happy can rob you of the moments of fear and excitement and achievment and bittersweet tears. Too much of anything can be as bad as none at all.
Like this metaphor… which has been going on far too long.
So goodbye for now, and remember: You are not alone!