As much of an optimist as I am, I still think the power of positive thinking is kind of bullshit. You can’t wish your brain chemistry to work better any more than you can wish arthritis or diabetes away. A lot of “power of positive thinking” writing is, frankly, obnoxiously vague pablum. Yes, sure, we create reality with our minds. But if your brain isn’t giving you the right chemicals at the right time, your reality is going to be at least a little warped.
At the same time, based on experience, I think positive thinking can be pretty powerful. Depression and anxiety are a combination (often a potent one, like a Long Island Iced Tea) of brain chemistry and psychological issues that have built up over your lifetime. Depression, anxiety, OCD, BPD, these frequently need some kind of medication to help adjust wonky brain chemistry, but I truly don’t think you can deal with mental health through medication alone. So I embrace the paradox of positive thinking being both a powerful tool and a big bottle of snake oil. Bottom line: use whatever tools work.
Driving home from work the other day, I got distracted for a few seconds by something on the side of the road (that something being the “Amusing Breeze” sculpture) (it’s fun and cute, right?) and when my eyes went back to the road, I saw the cars in front of me had slowed to a near stop, while I was still heading towards them at around 40 m.p.h. I slammed on my brakes and screeched to a stop with an inch or two between me and the car in front of me. All of the books and CDs in the passenger seat at my side went flying onto the floor. Traffic started moving again, and as I continued my drive home, my anxiety dial was turned up to at least a 9. I mentally berated myself, cursing my easily distracted ADHD brain, “Stupid, Neff! Really, really stupid!”
But wait a minute! Stop the presses! Yes, I should keep my eyes on the road at all times. Yes, I should give my full attention to the cars around me, ignoring the whimsical art on the side of the road. And yet, was anyone hurt by my sudden stop? Nope. Did I actually hit anything or anyone? Nuh uh. I thought about it some more (while also paying attention to my driving, because I can multitask when I need to) and decided that instead of following a narrative that tells what a fuck-up I am, the story should be about how my ADHD brain gives me quick wits and reflexes, allowing me to respond instantly to my situation, keeping me from getting into an accident.
My anxiety and depression are so tied up with my life with ADHD, it can be easy to turn my perspective over to them, seeing myself as a bundle of all the negative traits myself and others have pinned on me. And while it’s true that I’m not always perfect, I rarely make the kinds of catastrophic mistakes that cause serious harm, that can’t be rectified, that undo the world around me. Depression and anxiety are lying motherfuckers, and even if I need the help of medication to fight their lies, that doesn’t make me more broken, more rotten, more of a loser than anyone else. This is exactly where positive thinking, reframing my reality, rewriting my story is helpful.
To be continued…