I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the state of people and their presence in the world, and what I’ve come to realize (or maybe am just more aware of) is that there are a lot of miserable people out there.
People who hate their jobs… their family members… their spouses… or just their general “lot in life.” They see themselves as a victim who just keeps getting screwed by the universe over and over again. And this may actually be the case (if you believe in Karma).
But the thing that I think people don’t realize is that no matter what the world gives you, the one thing that determines whether or not you feel miserable or content, is how you respond to these things.
Granted, I realize that if a person is starving, homeless, has lost their family, or everything they know, it becomes pretty difficult to ward off the misery that those types of situations can bring.
However, I read a story recently that demonstrated to me, that no matter what you go through, it is still you who decides how a situation is going to affect you and your life. The story went like this:
There Once Were Two Women…
Both who had loved their husbands dearly. Both who had lost their husbands suddenly.
As a result of the loss of her husband, the first woman felt so distraught and overwhelmed that she could barely bring herself to leave the apartment. She felt afraid, ashamed, and lacking in any energy to deal with the world.
Since losing her husband, she’d lost her will to live. When she had decided to seek help, she realized that she didn’t really even want the help. She had become content and comfortable in her misery, and chose to remain living in the shadow of her husband’s death. She went on like this for more than 30 years.
The second woman spent some time grieving the loss of her husband, but did not focus all of her energy on his loss. Instead she became more active in her community, began exercising regularly, reached out to friends, started hosting regular parties and and began doing more for others. She finds joy in everything she does and seems to be truly happy despite the loss of her husband.
When she speaks of him, she speaks lovingly of his memory and smiles at the idea of what they once had, but not without feeling the pain of his loss. She had made a decision: just because his life had ended, it didn’t mean her life had to end as well.
This story is a direct illustration of how the way a person decides to respond to something can affect the outcome of his or her life, and how he or she feels on a day to day basis. It’s a powerful story, and it illustrates something that I believe every human being is capable of.
But What About Mental Illness?
I think it’s important to take mental illness into account. As someone who struggles with anxiety, I know very well how difficult it can be to decide how I react to certain things on certain days, and there are some days where I have no say at all.
Some people have it even worse than I do. I can’t speak for those people or anyone else with anxiety for that matter; and I can’t speak for people who suffer from depression or other mental illnesses. I can only speak for myself.
Most of the time, I get to decide how I respond to the situations I’m faced with. There are however a few days a month during which my anxiety filled brain takes over and tries to respond for me. I have tools for coping with days like that. Some days, it’s a losing battle, and I find it’s best for me to not make any decisions at all, and to interact with as few people as possible. Other days, I can swallow the anxiety and still make good decisions, even though I can feel the anxiety welling up inside my entire body.
The point is, I still have a choice. And maybe, If I’m feeling particularly anxious on a certain day, it’s as simple as choosing to just accept the anxiety, observe it, and give myself permission to feel it, without letting it take over (and cause me to run out the door screaming).
You are not your mental illness. It’s just something that sits in your brain like a cloudy layer of muck that makes it more difficult to see things clearly. In my experience, I think that if you become aware of it as something this simple, you can decide how to respond to it.
Whenever anxiety rears it’s ugly head, I think the best decisions I can make, are to just accept it, to be okay with the fact that some days are going to be hard, and to do my best, whatever that looks like.
I know, easier said than done. I’ve done it before though, and it’s very hard, but not impossible. For anyone reading this who struggles with anxiety or any other mental health disorder, I would encourage you to explore what you are capable of, despite mental illness, but also, to try and find peace with it in one way or another.
You Have The Power
If mental illness is not a part of your life, recognize this: you have the power to decide how you respond to the situations that life brings your way.
You have the power to decide whether or not you sit at work in a state of misery all day long.
You have the power to decide whether to smile or frown at another human being.
You have the power to decide whether or not you want to offer help to someone who is struggling.
You have the power to decide whether or not you’re going to stew in anger over something someone said.
You have the power to decide how you’re going to respond, and how that response is going to affect your life.
It’s your power, and it’s up to you how you use it.