You drive into the parking lot at Walmart, but someone cuts you off and slides into your parking spot right before you do. You dig in your purse for five minutes until realize you forgot your grocery list at home. So, you walk down the aisles one at a time, crossing your fingers that you will remember everything on your list.
You encounter a sea of frowning faces—brows furrowed as they mumble under their breath about the shoppers ambling down the aisles like Sunday drivers.
And then you see her. The women with the beautiful smile on her face. She looks like there is no place she would rather be than at Walmart during the Saturday afternoon rush.
You wonder what in the world does she have to smile about on a hectic Saturday afternoon. Is her life better than yours?
No, it isn’t. Everyone has obstacles in their lives. Everyone must complete mundane tasks and deal with everyday annoyances. The difference between the smiling lady and everyone else is simple. She woke up that morning and decided to have a positive attitude.
Plan to Be Positive
Since I launched my blog, my readers have expressed their respect for my strength because I have survived so much. I have a confession to make. I didn’t know how much I had survived until I started writing about it.
Does that sound a little crazy? Yes, it sounds crazy to me too.
I have never thought of living with bipolar disorder as suffering. I have had horrific seasons over the years, but mostly I just live my life without waking up every morning saying, “Woe is me.”
Living with bipolar disorder is my reality, but it is only part of it. My world is like a huge puzzle made up of pieces with different sizes and shapes. Some of those pieces are symptoms and suffering, but other pieces are beautiful and redemptive.
Life will always be challenging—whether or not you have a mental illness. But mental illness adds a dimension of distress that can’t be denied. Having a positive attitude is a choice, but when you live with mental illness, it doesn’t always feel that way. If you are mentally ill, you must have a plan to stay positive.
Here are four strategies to help maintain a positive attitude while managing mental illness:
1. Change the conversation in your head.
“Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect” (Romans 12:2 NLT).
When you live with mental illness, there are times your entire life feels like one big negative. You are surrounded by a sea of symptoms everywhere you turn. The voice in your head constantly reminds you of all your shortcomings. You hear a never-ending litany of “You will always” and “You will never.”
It is easy to get caught up in all the things that are wrong. It is hard to see any redeeming qualities in yourself or your life when symptoms weigh you down. You begin to view the world through a cloud of negativity that is as gray as your mood.
You can believe the negative voice in your head that reminds you of everything that is wrong, or you can change the conversation. It takes a conscious decision to replace the ugliness in your head with God’s truth. You are enough. You are not broken. You have value.
It is not a decision you make once. It is a series of decisions you must make every time that pessimistic voice in your head opens its mouth.
2. Find the happy in today.
There are days you feel your world is crumbling all around you. Your symptoms are unrelenting. There is only darkness. It feels like the enormity of your anguish has blocked the sun. Happiness feels like an emotion reserved for other people—certainly not people navigating mental illness. Certainly not you.
Once again, you have a choice to make. You can get bogged down by your difficulties, or you can look at life through the lens of hope. There is joy and happiness to be found in every day. It may be something as simple as the perfect cup of coffee or a hug from someone you love.
Find that sliver of happiness each day and hold on to it. Remind yourself happiness isn’t one tangible thing. It is a series of moments strung together over time.
3. Focus on what is right instead of what is wrong.
“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things” (Philippians 4:8 NIV).
Focusing on the good in life is all about perspective. You don’t deny the heartache and pain. Rather, you acknowledge your situation is bad—maybe even horrific—but your life still has good moments.
Sometimes, you must look outside yourself to find what’s right in your life. Your life may fall apart, but the sun is still shining. You can still enjoy a delicious meal and listen to music that soothes your soul. You have a warm bed to sleep in and a roof over your head.
It is about remembering that your life is not just one thing. It is the sum of its parts. And even if many of the parts are in disarray, there are still parts that are wonderful. Find that wonderful in your life and place your focus there.
4. Adopt an attitude of gratitude.
“This is the day the Lord has made; we will rejoice and be glad in it” (Psalm 118:24 NKJV).
Every day is filled with reasons to be grateful. If nothing else, be grateful you woke up this morning. It is a privilege not afforded to everyone.
Adopting an attitude of gratitude is a summation of the three other strategies I mentioned. It is making a choice to shoot down the voices in your head screaming that your mental illness is too much, and you are not enough. It is claiming your sliver of happiness in every single day. It is about looking at your life through the lens of what is right instead of what is wrong.
Let’s Be Real
When mental illness is closing in all around you, you have a choice. You can allow the negativity to infiltrate your mind and consume you. You can believe the lies your fear and symptoms repeat like a broken record.
Or you can make another choice and pivot. You can see the opportunities instead of the obstacles. You can be like that imaginary woman in Walmart—smiling as you see possibilities instead of potholes.
But let’s be real. When you are mentally ill, sometimes the choice to be positive is out of your hands. In the middle of an episode, your mind is not always your own. It’s okay to not be okay for a season. Be gentle with yourself, but don’t allow a bad season to become a bad life.
A positive attitude won’t cure your mental illness, but it can make it more bearable. It can mean the difference between actually living your life or just enduring it.
The choice is yours. Choose wisely.
Do you struggle with maintaining a positive attitude while you manage your mental illness? What strategies do you use to stay positive when negativity surrounds you?