Happy Happy Joy Joy

My daughter will by five years old in September…and there hasn’t been one single solitary day where she hasn’t woke up with a smile on her face.  Not one.  Can you imagine living with that type of happiness?  Sometimes I capture that pure childlike Joy…but it’s always snatched away by grown-up stuff.  I read something recently that said your God-given Joy never leaves you…it simply becomes clouded by worry, stress, anxiety and depression.

I’m fairly certain that childlike Joy is a direct result of being authentic and knowing your true self.  For the past four years, I’ve spent the majority of my time searching for and getting to know my Authentic Self.

Brene Brown says:

“Wholehearted living is about engaging in our lives from a place of worthiness. It means cultivating the courage, compassion, and connection to wake up in the morning and think, No matter what gets done and how much is left undone; I am enough.

It’s going to bed at night thinking, Yes, I am imperfect and vulnerable and sometimes afraid, but that doesn’t change the truth that I am worthy of love and belonging.”

Sounds like a cakewalk…but when the rubber meets the road, self-acceptance and self-love become elusive and misunderstood.  There was a point in my early adult years when I viewed serenity and affirmation like a joke.  And the people who actually believed in those things were obviously void of intelligence.  Now I look back and see those same people as kindred spirits.  People of like-mind.

When my cognitive behavior therapist brought up affirmations as a coping tool and mandatory life skill, I flicked a paper-clip at him, followed by, “Oh please.”  But it turns out, he knew what he was talking about.  He suggested that every single time I had a negative thought….I should stop myself dead in my tracks…and began to repeat this affirmation over and over and over.  Obviously you can do this in your head.  You don’t have to verify your craziness by talking out loud to yourself.

I allow myself to see the true magnitude of my stressors as small & insignificant.

One of the most poignant and obvious examples of affirmations was this one that I said to myself regularly…and still do for that matter:

I attract positive-minded people to me; I draw all things positive to myself.

It wasn’t too long before I began to notice people and circumstances of worth floating into my life on a regular basis.  You know those people you hear about who kicked cancer’s butt or overcame a terminal illness of some type?  In every single one of those cases, it was positive thinking that played a dominant role in their recovery.

When MSNBC’s Your Total Health interviewed me a few months ago about how I managed to live a successful and abundant life with Bipolar, I was quick to passionately point out the effectiveness of cognitive behavioral therapy.  So many people suffering from any type of mental illness want a quick fix.  A pill to fix the pain.  A pill to numb the past.  A passing grade without doing the work.  I’d be lying if I said that I hadn’t wanted those things for myself.

CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) is 100% effective…if you do the work.  One of the main things that used to trigger a depressive down-spin was my own self-loathing.  Telling myself I was nothing.  Unworthy.  Unfit.  It didn’t help that people were verifying these thoughts by pointing out that I was, indeed, unworthy, unfit, less-than.

So when I sat down for the first time with my CBT therapist, I was shocked when he asked, “So what is it that you wish to accomplish by coming here?”  What?!  Where’s my pill?  Who do I make the check out to?  I didn’t actually want to DO anything.  I had homework after the first appointment!  What kind of crackpot nonsense was THIS?!

But as I began to do the work, I began to feel a shift.  It was almost as if I was actively re-programming myself.  I guess in essence, I actually WAS.  It seems ludicrous to tell a severely depressed person, “Chin up!  Life is good!  Happy thoughts!”  It’s a wonder these therapists aren’t beaten with a stethoscope by their agitated patients.

Breathing techniques?  Really?  You can’t be serious.  I highly doubt that THOUGHTS cause our feelings and behaviors, not external things, like people, situations and events.  I demand to see credentials!

CBT forces you to dig to the nasty core of who you are and start dredging up your entire past…looking it square in the face…acknowledging it…taking responsibility for it…then letting it go.  You’re asked questions…forcing you to be in complete control of your well-being.  Then you’re encouraged to ask questions of yourself.

Let’s say you’re at work…and just as you are passing the water cooler, your co-workers bust out laughing.  You spend the rest of the day fretting that they were laughing at YOU.  What had YOU done that deserved to be mocked openly?  These thoughts quickly pick up steam and leave you exhausted, angry, paranoid and depressed by the end of the work-day.

Instead of these negative reactions, CBT teaches you to look at things from a different perspective.  How do I really know those people were laughing at me? Could they be laughing at something else?  I had a hard time with this technique initially…and it’s still one that requires brow sweat.  But I’ve learned that when I remove emotions from the equation, I’m able to rationally problem solve without the drama.

If you happened to saunter into a CBT session in progress, you’d probably think that there were just two people shooting the bull.  Sometimes I assumed the same thing.  Then I’d get halfway down the road and be like, “OOOHHH….I got therapatized!  That dirty rat!”

In that first CBT session, I set a final goal for myself.  When I reached that goal and heard my therapist say, “You’re ready”….I felt exactly that.  Ready.  CBT is constant work.  Constant.  If you want to be symptom-free…then you HAVE to commit to the work. And you HAVE to maintain a maintenance schedule with your therapist.

The wallpaper on my cellphone has a retro housewife cheerfully declaring, “I used to care, but now I take a pill for that.”  Not a true statement…just looking at things with a warped sense of humor.  Your sense of humor is your secret weapon that can be used to guide you in a positive direction or set others at ease about your disease.

So many people feel that mental illness should be talking about in hushed tones. And if you actually ARE mentally ill, you sure as snot don’t admit to it! What..are you sick or something?  You can’t sub at the school anymore, you crazy nut-job!  But I do talk about it.  I’m open like a can ‘o worms at a fishing hole. I want Cali to know that being open and positive about most everything is highly beneficial.

Research has shown that a mother’s depression and negative attitude has a direct and profound impact on their child.  These children often have trouble sustaining healthy relationships.  They struggle with appropriate bonding.  They tend to be temperamental and unable to control and regulate their own behavior.  As these children grow, they begin to show signs of their mother’s illness….which usually ends with a diagnosis of mental instability.  Lather, rinse, repeat.  It becomes a cycle.

Depression is overpowering on both sides of my birth parent’s families.  I pretty much got tag-teamed by the crazy gene.  It used to make me angry…like I got ripped off by the gods.  A life-sentence of insanity.  But I don’t see it like that any more.  I see myself in complete and total control of my own situation…hell bent on breaking the cycle.

So on those days when I’m flogging myself and doubting my maternal abilities…I look at my daughter.  A child who wakes up smiling every single day and doesn’t stop.  Even when things are yucky.  A child who reeks of self-confidence and self-assurance.  In short…an extraordinarily well-adjusted kid with a stellar sense of humor.  I’d like to think all of my hard work to stay “well” has something to do with that.

Now excuse me while I try to convince her that eating Popsicles for breakfast while naked is probably something that should wait until college.

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3 Responses

  1. Did you know you were writing this just for me?

  2. Thank you for this post. I have a daughter who is trying to deal with bipolar and I know what you are talking about. I think the hardest part is LETTING GO. Be especially thankful for that beautiful daughter. Our children are our treasure on earth.

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