(Please don't) call me crazy, but in many ways, I'm grateful for my mental illness. I'm grateful that it got to the point where I had to ask for help. I'm grateful that the resources and treatments I needed were so readily available to me. I'm grateful that 'hitting rock bottom' compelled me to work on my self-awareness, my behaviour, and my worldview, to the point where I feel like I've become a relatively happy person.
Staying mentally well is an ongoing effort for me, but as a happy result of the hard yards I've already done, I've gathered many skills and frameworks that can make life a whole lot easier. Sometimes I wish I could impart these lessons to my younger self. I'd go, "Hey, eight-year-old munchkin. Step away from your piano practice for like, fifteen minutes while I give you some words of wisdom that will help you for the rest of your adorable life."
And then I'd tell her this:
1. There are invisible contexts behind people's behaviour. Not everything is your fault.
Imagine your best eight-year-old friend, Patricia, doesn't say hello to you when she walks into the playground one morning. How does that make you feel? Hurt, perhaps. Confused, definitely. You start thinking that you've done something wrong, and she hates you now.
Well, that might not be true. You might be a clever little girl, but one thing you can't do is read minds. Maybe Patricia had a bad morning. Maybe she had a fight with her parents, or maybe she spilt her chocolate milk all over herself in the car, or maybe a bird did a poo on her head, or maybe she was thinking of so many things that she forgot about saying hello to you for just a moment.
The point is, you don't know. But it's important to remember that other people's worlds don't revolve around you. Their actions are influenced by so many factors that you don't know about. If you assume positive intent, you can be more empathetic to other people, and a lot kinder to yourself.
2. Most negative events have a positive flip-side to them. Look for the silver lining.
I notice you have an engagement ring made out of daisies on your finger. You're incredibly young, but hey, I don't judge. Your eight-year-old fiancé, Jimbo, is a great kid. Now, imagine he's going on a very long holiday to Germany with his parents. How does that make you feel? Sad, perhaps. Scared, because you don't know whether this young love will last.
Before you start to cry, let me ask you: Why are you feeling sad and scared?
It's because you like Jimbo a lot. You like how he's nice to everyone in the class. You like how he buys chips for you from the school canteen. You like his ridiculously long eyelashes. And now, when you think of all these wonderful things, you're starting to feel neither sad nor scared, but grateful and optimistic.
This gratitude is an awesome tool that you can put in the toolbox that you carry around in your brain. Whenever anything bad happens, look for a way that you can flip it around and see the positive side.
3. Want a secret superpower? Try accumulating positive emotions.
Here's a big, juicy secret that's way better than what your sassy eight-year-old friend Britney told you last Friday. If you want to be as strong as Superwoman, and I mean mentally and emotionally resilient, then the trick is in accumulating positive emotions.
Let me put it this way. If you have an incredibly happy and balanced life, with many things going on that make you feel good, then one bully being mean to you isn't going to make you feel hurt for very long. Because deep down, you'll know that the good times make the bad times worthwhile. Your positive emotions are like a shield, protecting you against negative events.
But what does accumulating positive emotions actually mean in daily practice? Well, I've got to admit that some of it is boring. Listen to your parents when it comes to eating healthy. And exercise! Do your best in class sports. Get a good amount of sleep. Take showers, brush your teeth, and drink plenty of water. Self-care goes a long way.
That's enough of the boring stuff — here comes the fun part. Do what makes you happy long-term. If you like to draw, and sing, and dance, and read, and hang out with your friends, then go ahead! These creative and social pursuits will only make your life feel richer. And if you do all these things, next time when Bruce calls you a wuss, I bet you a million bucks you won't be stewing over it for a week.
I'm not going to lie, kiddo. These skills aren't always easy. They take hard work, perseverance, and belief. But I promise you, if you work as hard on this as you do on your spelling homework, you're going to have a damn great time on this Earth. Don't tell mum I just said a bad word.
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