New Castle News

Lisa Madras

February 27, 2012

Lisa Madras: Always shout down negativity, but use your inside voice

NEW CASTLE — Are my thoughts hurting or healing?

Never in my life has this question been more important to me.

As I've mentioned before, I've spent the last several years trying to battle my way back to normalcy after a string of unfortunate events. I'm not even close to winning that war yet, but I have learned one very, mucho grande, super duper important piece of information along the way:

My greatest enemy also is my greatest ally — me.

To say that I'm the (not so) proud owner of a gaggle of mental health issues is putting it mildly, and it’s also putting it in a much lighter perspective than it deserves. I've gone the route of anti-depressants, anti-anxiety medications, and therapy. Only recently have I graduated from all three of these and moved into the self-therapy stage.

And oh my, what a wild ride it's been.

One of the hardest things to accept is that my heart, my spirit, and my mind will never again be the same as they were before. I will never be the person I was before. I mourn the loss of that woman every single day of my life. I have moments, every single day of my life, where I'm consumed by hatred for the people who stole me from myself. And each and every single day, I lift up my chin, batten down my hatches, and tell myself that while I have not yet overcome, I'm growing stronger and stronger with each passing day. Each passing hour. Each passing minute.

But the setbacks are frequent.

One moment I'm strolling along, happy as I can possibly be, and out of nowhere I see, or hear, or simply think of a trigger. (For those of you not familiar with psych lingo, a trigger is anything that reminds you of a past trauma.) And then suddenly, without ample warning, I'm like Alice down the hole ... falling, falling, falling.

And for me, the best thing to do is accept the inevitability of the fall, and understand that I may not be able to wake up from this frightening version of Wonderland for days. ("I wonder if I've been changed in the night? Let me think: was I the same when I got up this morning? I almost think I can remember feeling a little different,” says Alice. “ But if I'm not the same, the next question is, 'Who in the world am I?' Ah, that's the great puzzle!") Unlike Alice's Mad Hatter and Queen of Hearts version, though, there is nothing but darkness in mine.

My greatest enemy has put me here. My greatest ally must get me out. And there’s a great advantage to these being one and the same. No matter the external trigger, it’s my thoughts alone that send me pirouetting down this melancholy vacuum. I’ve allowed myself to entertain a thought, if even for just a brief moment, that tears my heart apart. While I may not be in control of the trigger, I also don’t have to let the trigger control me.

I’m certainly not saying it’s as easy as simply ignoring negative thoughts. They’re there, and for most of us they always will be. But that doesn’t mean we have to invite them to plop down on the sofa with us and crack open a bottle of wine over which to discuss our problems. On the contrary, we need to say, “Hello, I see you there! Now. Get. The. Heck. Out!”

I’ll share a very simple technique with you that my therapist taught me. Oddly, realizing you’re having a negative thought is the first step. I can sometimes have an hour-long pity party inside my head before I even comprehend that I’ve blown up a roomful of balloons, baked a cake, and sent out invitations to every single bad thing that’s happened in the last 20 years.

Once I realize what’s happening though, I can bring the shindig to a grinding halt with an ear-splitting “STOP!” (Now, understand that I mean a MENTAL shout. Bringing this one out into the civilized world can be cause for all kinds of chaos, or at the very least a roomful of stares indicating everyone’s wonderment at your non-incarcerated status. Let’s keep the crazy in Wonderland, shall we?)

I like to follow this with an equally loud (again, MENTAL) directive for the negative thought to vacate the premises and preferably with language that would be inappropriate in pretty much any situation. I figure if I’m going to assert myself, I may as well be forceful about it.

The fourth and final step is to shove that hateful musing right out the imaginary door by replacing the space it was taking up with some other thought. ANY thought. You can try to recite your favorite inspiration quote, Bible verse, or such. But something as simple as examining the pattern on the ceiling tile or wondering what you might like for dinner that evening is every bit as effective.

You’ll find that negativity often doesn’t get the hint right away. It will creep back in as soon as you let your guard down, waving the original invitation in your face and trying to shoulder its way past your new roomful of dinner plans and tile patterns. But grab that bugger by the scruff of its neck and show it the door again. And again. And again.

And the amazing thing is, believe it or not, much like any other uninvited guest who's been made to feel unwelcome, it will eventually stop coming around.

I said it was simple, not easy. But the more you practice it, the easier it becomes. Wherever you are, and whatever you do, choose thoughts that strengthen and mend your heart, not ones that toxify it. Choosing hope only takes a tiny bit more effort than succumbing to gloom.

Alice: “If one drinks much from a bottle marked 'Poison,' it's almost certain to disagree with one sooner or later.”

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