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When People Ask How I Stay Optimistic in the Face of Mental Illness

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Many people have told me they admire my penchant for positivity, that they wish they could have my sunny-side-up approach to life. They say if they’d gone through the hell I’ve been sludging through for the past few years, they probably would have succumbed to it, and they certainly wouldn’t be cracking jokes and wearing a bright, genuine smile.

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Strangers would never guess I have touched madness. The cashier I’m chatting up at the grocery store wouldn’t peg me as the type who almost ended it while I heard the voices of demons and fought to convince myself God doesn’t want me to die at my own hand.

The librarian wouldn’t believe me if I told him I’d spent the last night warding off panic attacks for four straight hours because I didn’t know if I’d be able to turn my books in on time or not.

Even most of my friends couldn’t guess the spirited glow in my eyes has burnished to a quenched black hole thanks to none other than depression on many occasions. They find it hard to picture these things because I laugh exponentially more often than I cry. I never fail to see the bright side in my situation and am quick to point out the bright side in the circumstances of everyone I know.

So what is my secret? Simple: I fire back optimism at every curveball life hurls my way. I choose optimism always and everywhere. Choosing optimism is not the same as choosing happiness. It is acknowledging that I’m not going to have good
days every day, and it’s OK to feel sad, but I need to latch onto the hope that tomorrow might be better, and if not the next day, then maybe the one after that.

Don’t be mistaken — it isn’t plugging my ears and trilling “lalala the
house is burning down but lalala nothing’s going wrong.” It is seeing all aspects of an event — good and bad — and accepting I cannot change them and might as well go the high road. Even when things seem bleak, I decide not to despair, and sift out the positive sediments. Even if they’re just minuscule flecks of fool’s gold at the bottom of the pan, they still glitter and add beauty to my life.

When I roll out of bed later than I mean to and feel anxiety build in my chest, I choose optimism and feel thankful for being more wide awake. When I realize the remission spell I was so certain to have reached was just hypomania, I choose optimism and remind myself it could have been worse. When everything is crumbling to the ground, I choose optimism and cling to the belief that this falling apart is just a way to make room for reconstruction and improvement. Every second of every day I hold fast to optimism because the only other choice is giving up. I am determined that if I’m going to survive, I will thrive while I’m at it. And the only way I can do that is to simply pick optimism to be my team captain and refuse to let any other viewpoint claim me. There is no other option for me, and I firmly believe my ride-or-die commitment to seeing the grass is just as green on this side as it is over the hill is the main thing that has kept me alive through the past nine months of chronic mental illness. It keeps my life vibrant even on the darkest hours, and most of all, it keeps me going day in, day out, no matter what.

It’s my secret weapon. But I’m glad to share it with you, too. Look at the bright side, and if you can’t see it right away, dig a tunnel to it with your own bare hands if you have to. It’s there. I promise. It always is.

If you or someone you know needs help, please visit the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. You can also reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741. Head here for a list of crisis centers around the world.

The Crisis Text Line is looking for volunteers! If you’re interesting in becoming a Crisis Counselor, you can learn more information here.

Originally published: May 24, 2016
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