If I could change only one thing about myself, it’d be how I view the world. Instead of focusing on the clouds, I’d look for the sun. On dreary days, I’d remember its warmth. Rain would be nourishing and necessary, not depressing.
I once heard someone say optimism is harder than pessimism. It’s easier to give in to despondency, to believe the voice in your head that insists things are bad.
As long as I can remember, this has been true for me. Not only is the glass half empty; it is dirty and cracked. My inner voice is negative and critical. Instead of looking for the solution, I get stuck on the problem. It is usually about someone else. Someone did something wrong, said something hurtful, ignored or dismissed me.
It reminds me of a line from an old country song: Hey, won’t you play another somebody done somebody wrong song. I care too much about what people think of me.
“Care” is a euphemism. “Obsess” is probably more accurate. My mind goes into hyper-analysis, trying to detect meaning from a person’s tone. If a friend doesn’t reply to my text, I wonder what is wrong. Doubt unfurls in my head. Did I do something wrong? Does the person not care?
Forget about phone calls, because people don’t call each other anymore. It’s an invitation for rejection.
Sometimes I try anyway because I miss the old days of hearing a friend’s voice and having an actual conversation. I also miss blind telephone calls, no caller ID. The phone rang and we simply answered. We didn’t have to know in advance who was calling. We waited to find out.
Now most cell phone calls are the equivalent of junk mail. They are screened and rejected. Even if it’s someone in our contacts, we don’t always pick up. We decide it’s inconvenient to talk now. We will call them later.
Or maybe we won’t call them at all. We’ll just text. Such an impersonal, sad decision. A friend calls and we can’t be bothered to call back. Instead we fire off a text, inserting limits and distance into our conversation.
It reminds me of seeing couples in restaurants on their phones ignoring each other. They’re sitting together but not speaking. Whatever is on the phone is better. It’s our new remote control. Keep clicking until you find something else, pausing only a few seconds before moving on.
See, this is what I mean about changing myself. I look back at my last few paragraphs and see criticism, pessimism. Why am I so hard on people? Why focus on what I cannot change about people? About the culture?
I think it’s because despite what (usually secular) therapists and self-help books spout, I can’t really change myself either. I can change my behavior and my reaction to things but not my personality. It has been set since I was five or six years old.
At some early point in my upbringing, a light within me dimmed. I began seeing shadows everywhere.
So even though the shallow side of me would like to be younger and prettier, it isn’t the most important thing to me now. Sure, it would be wonderful to look 25—to have no wrinkles, cellulite or gray hair. Even better? Looking like a millennial while remaining a baby boomer with years of experience and (hopefully) wisdom.
Ah, physical youth with emotional maturity. An enticing concept but also a fantasy. It isn’t worth entertaining for very long, because it won’t ever happen. It is better to focus on reality:
- I’m not going to miraculously start feeling good about myself. I’ve had years of conditioning, embedded messages and patterns of horrible self-talk.
- If I want to feel better, I must act. Prayer and action are the only ways to counter the destructive voice in my head. Otherwise it will play on a continuous loop and eventually wear me down to a nub.
- It doesn’t matter how I feel. It’s about how I react to my feelings. I must find the balance between acknowledging my feelings and stewing in them. So instead of a snail, I need to be a butterfly. I can rest there in the moment (anger, frustration, loneliness) for a little bit, but then it’s time to move on.
It sounds simple but acting is one of the most difficult things to do when I’m in the depths of despair. My mind and body are weighed down with resignation. Lethargy seeps from my pores. I don’t want to do anything, see anyone or go anywhere.
Do you know what I mean? Do you ever feel that way too? Is your brain saying get up and do something—get out of your funk—but your heart feels so overwhelmed and shattered? For me, sometimes it’s easier just to stay in sweatpants and curl up on the couch with the dogs.
It was especially easy to do so during the COVID shut down, because there was nowhere to go for months. Why put on make-up, style my hair or get dressed when I wasn’t leaving the house?
That was the beginning sorrow for me, the voice telling me it didn’t matter. There was nowhere to go, nothing to do, no end in sight. No hope. The entire world had shut down and I was alone.
Those were dark days. The objective was to endure, not enjoy. There was no anticipation, just hours to be gotten through. A means to an end. And then bedtime would come, and in the morning it would start all over again.
What will I do today? Who will I see? Where will I go?
Nothing. No one. Nowhere.
I should’ve prayed more, because only the Lord can help me when I get like this. But even praying was hard because I felt so discouraged and disconnected from everything, even from God. I know he was there, but I didn’t sense his presence.
I realize now I wasn’t connected to God because I wasn’t seeking him. He never left. I did. He was waiting for me to ask him for help, because when I’m at my lowest point is when I realize how much I need the Lord.
So, if I make the glass half full, maybe my inherent pessimism isn’t so bad. Sure, I would rather have a more upbeat outlook, but God did not make me that way. Instead of lamenting my brokenness, maybe I should embrace it.
Perhaps it is a gift, not a curse because it keeps me humble. It forces me to rely on the Lord Jesus Christ, not myself. It reminds me I am not in charge. I cannot get myself out of the hole, but he can.
The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit. Psalm 34:18