Someone emailed me something to read recently. My understanding was that it was originally posted on Facebook. It took me an hour to read because I kept having to take “rage fit” breaks to collect myself. I can’t remember the last time I read something that made me feel so incredibly angry.
The general gist was this: Things didn’t go the way this person wanted them to go, and as a result, this person essentially made an uncomfortable and massive public display of “Here’s everything that’s gone wrong in my life.” The overall tone was, “Do you feel bad for me yet? How about now? Please feel bad for me. Please tell me how bad you feel. Let me tell you some more so you can get started on my pity party. Don’t you agree that I have it worse than everyone else?”
Furthermore, it came just shy of overtly saying, “I’m not actually happy for people who get what I want.” And I mean just shy. It was pretty clear that this person resented everyone who had anything that this person wanted (“I’m happy for my friends, BUT…”). Even if, you know, people worked really hard and made sacrifices in order to better their own situations.
It was grossly selfish, insensitive, and, I’m sure, alienating.
Everyone I know who read this felt similarly. People talked about it in a not-good way.
Reading it felt uncomfortably familiar. Like growing back into your fat jeans after you’d worked so hard to get out of them.
See, I was a miserable person for a long time. There’s evidence of that in some of the posts on this blog. There was evidence of that on social media. I’ve never been much of a Susie Sunshine anyway — I’m not bubbly. I’m more of a realist than an optimist. I’m shy, so not the most outgoing person, and I’m a textbook introvert, so if we’re having a conversation, I’ll think of my reply about 6 hours later after I’ve mulled it over for a bit. That’s just who I am. INFJ, if you ask Myers-Briggs.
In 2004 I was diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder and Generalized Anxiety. I have never viewed this as an excuse for me to not do something. It’s a chemical flaw; not a character one. I never used it as an excuse to get me out of class or obligations. One math class with a terrible professor caused me more anxiety than it was worth. With the dean’s guidance, I opted to take an F and try again in the spring. I knew this would then mean summer classes if I wanted to graduate on time (student teaching meant that I had to essentially finish my major and two minors in 3.5 semesters). So I just did what I had to do.
The thing about MDD is that it can come and go. There have been times where it’s been an exhausting struggle, and times when I’ve not noticed its presence. In 10 years, I’ve learned and continue to learn how to better manage it.
Why am I telling you this? Because I’ve been where this person is. I know how easy it is to go online and rant and complain when it feels like everything’s gone wrong in your life. I did this when I had no job (for about 3 years), no direction, and no idea what I wanted to do anymore. And when many of my friends were getting married, having families, and buying houses, I was moving back in with my parents at age 25, feeling like a failure in my first go at being an adult in the real world. My dad got really sick and was in and out of the hospital for months and almost died. Some relationship dynamics changed drastically with really close friends in the middle of all of that. It all seemed really unfair and it certainly wasn’t easy. So I know how it’s comforting when people are there for you. But it’s like a drug. The more you do it, the more you want to do it, and before you know it, you’re out of control. You become the “something’s always wrong” person.
Someone I’d barely spoken to in 10 years finally had to virtually smack me in the face and be like, “This isn’t you.” At first I was angry. But then I got to thinking… that wasn’t me. And if someone I’d barely spoken to in 10 years could see it, then clearly it was apparent to those who were close to me and likely frustrated with coddling me just because they didn’t want to have to tell me to stop being a self-absorbed asshole.
I had to choose to change. Sure, there were things that were out of my control, but the more I stewed in my bell jar, the more I realized that outside factors were constants. Something would always be wrong. The problem was stemming from my negativity, which was rooted in unhappiness. I could only see the bad stuff. I only knew how to be angry most of the time. I had to learn to see things differently.
In addition to some other efforts I made for positive change, every night before bed, I opened a notebook and drew a line down the middle of the page. In one column, I listed all of the bad things about the day. In the other column, I listed all the good things and things for which I was grateful. Gratitude became the name of the game. I kept doing this every night until the “good” column consistently had more content than the “bad” one.
The result? I felt better in general. I was happier and didn’t feel the need to complain about everything constantly because I saw that there was more for which to be grateful. I stopped making excuses for why I failed to do things. I stopped feeling sorry for myself all the time. People have real problems. Big problems. Life-altering problems. Life-or-death problems. My life is not that bad. I have so much respect for people who can hold it together and stay positive and gracious when times get tough. It’s admirable.
This isn’t at all to imply that I believe I’ve got all the answers or that I’m perfect now. There are still things with which I still struggle. I’m a constant work in progress. But I know it’s working for me because if someone is in an awful, mean, negative mood, instead of sharing that misery, I now find that I need to get away from it. When I see people who complain constantly on Facebook, I become annoyed. They say what bothers you most about other people is what bothers you most about yourself. For me, it’s absolutely true. As I do with the person who wrote the rant that prompted this post, I understand how it feels. And yes, sometimes it is difficult to put on a smile and be happy for people when something good happens to them and not you. But if they haven’t done anything to you, suck it up. Do what you can. (If they have done something personal to you, that might be something else entirely.)
People will be far more supportive of your positive changes than they will be of your petty complaints (provided you’re not always obnoxiously announcing “HEY! LOOK HOW HAPPY I AM!” in a really forced and loud way, which still screams “HEY! PAY ATTENTION TO ME!” … just in a different way. No one likes an attention whore, positive or negative). Not a single one of my friendships suffered over getting happier and more positive. They pretty much all got better. Pick yourself up and do something about it. That sounds self-righteous and preachy, but it’s true. The world isn’t responsible for your problems. The world is going to keep on spinning whether you’re miserable or content.
This isn’t to say that nothing should ever bother you. Of course things are going to bother us. Some things more than others. Pick and choose what matters in the big picture. That cold or stomachache you’ve been posting status updates about for three days…. doesn’t really matter. Three or four years ago, I could have given you a whole laundry list of things that were wrong and things that weighed on my mind on a regular basis. Sure, little things happen here and there, but today I could give you one. Just one single thing. All things considered, I feel pretty good about that.