“Don’t ask me why, I will not pretend
Just walk on by, ’cause today I’m no man’s friend!”
– Mike Ness, “No Man’s Friend”
I’ve never been one for optimism. I’m sure this comes as no surprise to those that know me. I’ve always had a particular disdain for the ever-optimistic, Pollyanna, life-is-fabulous people; life’s little cheerleaders who are always seemingly nearby with a too-large smile and a useless cliché, “Turn that frown upside-down,” or the ever-dreaded, “Well, it could be worse.” I have very little use for people who just mindlessly look to the upside of things without taking into consideration the depth of the pain of the person to whom they are speaking. When I am in the depths of depression, the last thing I want to hear is “Cheer up!” and see someone smiling mindlessly like the world is nothing but kittens shitting out rainbows.
I’ve always tended to expect the worst. I firmly believe in Murphy’s Law, whatever can go wrong, will. This is why when my therapist at Four Winds wanted to have a phone session with my wife, I didn’t think it would be either helpful or particularly useful. My wife and I hadn’t had any real communication in months. Sure, we spoke on the phone and the conversations were cordial, but they were also superficial. She had pretty much stopped speaking to me since I stopped going to therapy in early July. I can’t blame her for that. Who wants to try to discuss anything of importance with someone who can’t think rationally and consistently lies?
The conversation went the way I thought it would. I didn’t have much to say since I didn’t want to lie or make excuses. My wife was obviously angry, and again, she had every right to be. She brought up every terrible thing I had done in the almost twelve years we had been together; the lying and severity of my temper. I had never considered myself abusive, but hearing what my anger and temper had put her through; I had to reevaluate that view of myself. When the conversation ended, my therapist and I went over it and tried to pull out what I could get from this. I mentioned the obvious anger issues, the lying, as well as a few other things that I was already working on in therapy.
After the family session, I returned to the group just in time for wrap up, which involved the group manager asking us how our day was and what our plans were for the evening. He asked me about my day and my family session, and I told him that, in keeping with DBT, it was the epitome of the word dialectical. The call was good and bad; bad in the sense that by my wife’s tone, I felt dumped on, that she just unloaded upon me, but it was good in the sense that it confirmed a lot of the issues I was in the PHP to work on and it brought up issues I still needed to work on, such as my temper and fits of rage. What shocked me was when the group manager pointed out how positively I was thinking; that the call could have been a complete mess that I got nothing out of except that I got yelled at. He also pointed out that I couldn’t have done that before. I admit that I was sort of pleased with myself when he told me this. But was this really true? Was I on my way to being on of those dreaded life’s cheerleader? This might have gotten depressing.
Being positive never did become depressing, not even when, a couple of days later, I got a call from a good friend of mine as I was driving home from the program. Now my friend is not an emotional person, nor does he have any concept of mental illness. His view is “Snap out of it.” He is still a good person and a great friend, but his approach to everything in life is rational and logical. As soon as he started talking to me he began to list all the stressors in my life. “Dude, you have to get a job, pay your taxes, pay your mortgage, and get all the other stuff in line.” Now, two weeks earlier, I probably would have either driven off the road in despair or started screaming back over the Bluetooth. I did a little deep breathing and reminded myself that my friend was honestly trying to help. I was glad I didn’t hang up or scream, but instead, stayed on the phone. At the end of the call he offered his help for when it came time to do all those logical, rational things, like prioritize my problems and figure out a way to pay bills.
I shared with the group the next day, and again the therapist running the session praised my coping skills and ability to avoid giving an improper response. Was this some sign? Was I going to go into the world smiling and being upbeat and selling flowers at off-ramps? Was I going to become the type of person I despised? Hardly. I was looking at things in a positive way, but life was not rosy. I understood that those “positive” people I despised just didn’t know any better. I could be positive without thinking everything, everywhere, was going to be fabulous and sunny. Things would occasionally get bad. As a person with bipolar disorder, it was inevitable, but my positive thinking was not an effect or a mask, it was a coping skill, and a valuable one at that. I could cope by taking positive lessons from bad situations, but it didn’t mean I had to love kittens and rainbows all the time. For the record, I do like kittens; it’s when they become adult cats that I take issue with them.