A while ago, I read a book called “Learned Optimism.” It was recommended to me by my psychologist, primarily for my husband (as I had recently introduced her to his tendencies towards occasional voracious negativity) but also for me. But why? I asked myself. I am the eternal optimist. Always have been. I am the “silver lining,” “everything for a reason,” “look on the bright side” kind of person. I have been engaging in CBT to try to modify some of my core beliefs because “people should be happy all the time” is not really realistic as a life goal.
Turns out, when defined psychologically, I am a terrible pessimist. I put my husband to shame. In the “normal world,” though, optimism is pretty strongly linked with trying to be positive about things. In psych terms, the perfect optimist sees everything as temporary, limited in scope, and not their fault.
Everything is my fault.
Restaurant got my order wrong? Husband seems grumpy? Mom’s feeling guilty? Coworker snaps at me? Awkward silence? Given inappropriate medication? Not past the depression yet? Must be me, at least partly. I am vividly aware that I am at least partially responsible for almost all of the bad things around me.
Global warming? I’m pretty sure I had a hand in that.
I recognize clearly that other people or circumstances may have a hand in these as well, but that isn’t where my focus goes. I am immediately reflecting on what I could have done differently or better to prevent whatever it is that was undesirable. Even now that I’m aware of it and sometimes try to deliberately think about another person’s role in things, my mind is constantly interrupting with the “yeahbut.” Yeah, but if I had been articulating more clearly I’m sure they would have heard me correctly. Yeah, but if I had said the right things at our appointment, then I’m sure he would have known what to prescribe.
And as much as I hate to admit it, and can see rationally that it’s just not true, at my heart I do have a hard time recognizing that unpleasant situations are just a transient blip on my emotional radar and not the signal that something permanent and dire is going on.
I am feeling generally tired today. The last few have actually been pretty good for that. I’ve had a pretty predictable “high” around two hours after I take my morning Ritalin. I had tentative visions in my head of what I would do with that high today. And I waited. And I waited. And I waited. And it never came. First instinct? THE RITALIN IS NOT WORKING. There is no particular panic to the statement, just an intense dawning realization. I was mistaken. I thought it was helping, but it must have been some other set of circumstances that was making it seem like it was. Maybe just the timing of my morning coffee (which I can drink again now that the Prozac and its coffee-hangovers are gone!). The Ritalin does nothing for me.
See, this is the way it almost always works for me. Unless I focus really, really hard on it (and even sometimes then), my mind immediately decides that I’ve been mistaken in my perceptions of all good things previous, and that this one piece of negative information is what’s real. Twenty pieces of evidence that I’m doing well and then one that I’m not? I’m not. Hours of great conversation with someone and then a stray comment that leaves me feeling misunderstood? Maybe I can’t really trust them. Maybe they don’t really get me at all. Fifty pieces of really positive feedback in a job evaluation and one thing needing improvement will send me scurrying out of the room to work my ass off.
So today, maybe Ritalin is useless. Sigh.
I will point out that I just finished editing a big list of tips on weathering antidepressant withdrawal symptoms in which I mention the importance of keeping one’s blood sugar stable. And that I’ve eaten barely anything today. Except milk. Which my husband keeps telling me doesn’t count as a meal.
What does he know anyway?
(which helps a lot when we play as a team in Trivial Pursuit)