The Case for Optimism

I think optimism gets a bad rap sometimes. Optimists are said to be blind, naive, pollyannas who don’t see things as they are.

For me, optimism is hope. The two are intertwined. I don’t engage in optimism all the time. Sometimes it feels naive. Sometimes it just feels like too much damn work. Really, there’s nothing easy about optimism. To be really optimistic, you have to accept that there are things going on that suck big, and still believe that everything will be okay. That takes a lot of guts. Sometimes it’s easier to wallow in your coffee.

(At least there’s coffee!)

My point is that if it’s a process, then after the wallowing, optimism can be a woolly blanket on a cold day. The wallowing, grieving, and general lousiness are necessary in order to work through the things that suck, take a stand, take action, take charge (take something!) and keep going. Even getting up and getting through the day is optimistic. It proves that somewhere inside, you feel that there’s a point.

I read an article yesterday about one author’s experience with depression while doing her Ph.D. She said that the more she tried to just get through and deal with it herself (by not dealing with it), the more she would beat herself up when she didn’t succeed in solving it. She finally realized that getting help was more efficient and made her feel better and she should have done it ages ago.

That was really powerful! Would you try to heal a cavity by powering through? Would you trade in your glasses for positive thinking?

No. You go to the dentist. You see the eye doctor.

My daughter has been “powering through,” for a long time. She’s very hard on herself and thinks she should be able to just deal. She doesn’t want help. Help is for “freaks” (her words). But it’s getting harder and harder, and she feels more and more chaotic when her efforts aren’t rewarding her with glowing mental health. She can’t make decisions, and beats herself up for any course of action because it’s not ideal. We’ve had the conversations where I’ve suggested, as I said, that counsellors help with brains the way that coaches help with sports, dentists help with teeth, etc. She’s resisted.

I don’t know what the switch was, but now she’s agreed to try again. She will see a counsellor.

This is huge!! This has me wanting to shout from the rooftops!

Of course, I’m filled with apprehension. What if it doesn’t help? What if it gets better and then comes back again? What if? What if she doesn’t click with the person we choose, and then refuses to go to anyone ever again?

On some level, she must feel some measure of optimism that she can feel better. I know I do.

One Step Behind

I wish I could fix it. I wish SHE could fix it.

I wish I could get inside her mind and rearrange it. If I could only pop in for a minute and plant some joy, maybe throw in some self-confidence and contentment. If I could toss around some happiness, that would be great, too. I would also plant the seed of knowing that anger passes, that hurt feelings can be temporary. I’d plant another seed, too: the seed of resilience, so that she would let the hundred good things overshadow the one downer.

I wish I could for once and for all just understand. She doesn’t need me to fix it. She doesn’t need me to take control and make it all better. Nor does she need my advice, sappy happy platitudes, frustration, or attempts at distraction. She doesn’t need the Facebook inboxed links to the self-help articles. She doesn’t need my wishes, either. She doesn’t need me to make it about me, and how I feel about her illness.

She needs me to hold her hand, sometimes. She needs quiet acceptance. Sometimes she needs spoken acceptance, me telling her that I like her as much as I love her. She needs to know, with my words and my actions, that I have her back no matter what, that even if I do get frustrated, if she needs me, I’m here. She needs me to put aside those frustrations. She needs me to keep pushing her to do and be better, because that shows her that I have faith in her and her ability to be well. She needs me to respect her privacy, but also be alert and aware in case it’s going sideways on her. She needs me to let her be a regular teen with regular teen issues.

Far too often, I think she’s having a good day, only to find out that something, somewhere, has made it disastrous for her. I feel like I’m always a step behind, and that if only I was keeping up, I’d be able to prevent the spiral. I can’t. I can’t keep up, AND I can’t prevent it. So how do I give her what she needs, if I feel like I’m always just trying to catch up?

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Being unable to keep up makes me feel like I can’t keep her from sinking.

I once had a dream that our family was on a ferry. We weren’t even too far from shore when an earthquake struck, and within minutes, a tsunami. My husband had our younger daughter safe, and I grabbed our older daughter by the hand. The wave, this massive, crushing wave, washed over us. She yelled at me to follow her, hang on tight! follow her and go down, try to save ourselves by going underneath where it wasn’t as turbulent. We tried. Oh, how we tried. But she slipped out of my hands, and I lost her.

Seriously, some days I feel like I’m losing her. On the surface she’s “fine.” But … but. There’s always that but. Always I can hear the rumbling off in the distance, the earthquake imminent. She’s walking around it, sometimes towards it, sometimes away from it. She chooses to walk alone, and doesn’t want my hand. I offer it anyway. I keep hoping that she’ll take it one day, before it’s too late.

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