Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Living Positively through the Bleak Days of Winter

Winter always hits me hard - I've come to realise that on top of my normally depressive personality, I also suffer from SAD. I am seriously thinking about getting one of those special lights before next winter.

This winter has thrown some particularly unpleasant things at us: first, as I wrote about in June, the death of my last uncle. Then the progressive decline of my mother-in-law and her death in early July. And over all of this, the anxiety surrounding the restructure of my husband's work place, in which his job was restructured out of existence, and the two month wait to find out if he had been appointed to one of the new jobs. We are glad that he has indeed still got a job, but we had to wait to find out until just one week before his old job finished. It has been a very stressful time.

Along with both of us becoming the older generation, our aged status is even more emphasized by our youngest son's plan to go flatting in Hamilton just as soon as he, his brother and his brother's partner have found a suitable flat. As a parent, you want your kids to grow up to be independent and comfortable going out into the world, but damn it's hard when they do!

Of course, when there are these big bad wolf things happening in your life, you tend to notice all the medium size, and little, bad things that happen, more than in the good times.

However I have survived this winter amazingly well. I really am learning, slowly, very slowly, to focus on the good stuff.

All my life I have been driven nuts by people who talked blithely about Positive Thinking, insisting that you can turn anything into a positive if you just have the right attitude. I remember a friend being particularly incensed on being told this when her son was in hospital with leukemia, possibly dying. I know a number of born-again Amway-dealing Positive Thinkers who refuse to acknowledge negatives in their personal lives, determinedly denying sadness, anger, grief and who come across, to me anyway, as ridiculously and artificially Positive. What is so wrong about grieving for my uncle? For my mother-in-law? For worrying about the threat of redundancy?

The problem lies not in the negative events and the feelings that go with them, it lies in getting stuck there. The Positive Thinkers get stuck in denial. As a Negative Thinker I get stuck in grief / worry / depression / anger - especially depression. Neither is productive. Neither leads to growth as a whole person. I stay stuck in the past, constantly churning over what happened yesterday or five decades ago, that means that I am who and where I am now.

What I have finally come to realise is that real positive thinking isn't about pretending the bad things don't happen: it is about feeling the bad feelings and then moving on. It doesn't even have to mean that I let go of the feelings, just that I don't immerse myself in them forever, and today.

So this winter I have felt grief and loss and depression - but I have looked for small pleasures to sprinkle over them like chocolate to mitigate the taste of bitter medicine.

I cannot believe that life will ever be as satisfying as it was when I was a full time mother - but I am trying not to dwell on that. That children grow to independence is the proper way of things, I accept that, and now I am trying to find new things to enjoy even if they do not bring the overwhelming, love-filled satisfaction that my life with my children has been. (And for those who are still enjoying that time of their lives, no, I have not forgotten the exhaustion and frustration!)

Thoughts of suicide have haunted me for decades: when I was a teenager, I thought of my parents and knew I couldn't bring such misery to them (feeling that they did not deserve unhappiness, while I did.) When the desire for oblivion next descended, I had children, and similarly I felt that I did not deserve release at the expense of their wellbeing. I still feel that. For decades I have felt resentment at the thought that others' feelings mattered more than my life, resentment almost that I loved my children so much that I didn't feel my life was my own.

I'd happily die for them
but there's been no call for that.

It's the living that's hard;
and loving them more
than death itself.

I think that the real difference between the negative thinker and the positive thinker is acceptance. The negative thinker can be the ultimate optimist - if I just sit around fermenting in my misery for long enough, a fairy godmother with a magic wand will appear and change everything to the way it should have been. The Positive Thinker imagines that every bad thing that happens is a a goodie if only they look at it the right way: God (or The Universe) moves is mysterious ways. The positive thinkers are such pessimists - they take the attitude that there is no magic except that which is inside themselves so they have to make things happen.

This is what I am trying to do (which is probably what 99% of other people do already): I am trying hard to move on, to make life as good as it can be in the context of the past that I can't change and decisions I have made, instead of sitting miserable and disappointed. Still, I am happy to accept little bit of the magic that I know is out there somewhere!