I always thought I was an optimist, a glass-half-full kind of gal. I was Tigger, never Eeyore. I was Belle, never the Beast.
It turns out that my optimism was partly a learned behavior since adolescence to handle depression. Instead of responding to bad things in healthy ways, I would pretend they were better than they were…or pretend they didn’t exist at all. I would look for ways to fix things, smooth the rough road, build a bridge. The very idea that I couldn’t make things better all by myself just wasn’t acceptable.
I could outrun, outwork or outsmart anyone, including myself.
I mean really, who wants to accept a depressed personality? It’s not fun. It’s not popular. It’s not a banner to wave at a parade and say, “Hey, look! I can’t handle life!”
In fact, I was still posing as an optimist until last Christmas when my depression got bad enough that I thought, “No, you really can’t handle life and it’s not fun.”
By finally accepting my depression, I’ve moved into a healthier space of treatment with bright light therapy, exercise, good food and relaxation. In the process, I’ve learned that looking for the good in bad can be used in healthy ways even as I acknowledge the bad.
Bonus: It’s also a great teaching tool for kids.
Bad things happen, either through our own choices or through circumstances. When bad things happen through circumstance, we can look for opportunities to be supportive and helpful. We can join others to make improvements. We can express gratitude for the good things. In just the last few months, bad circumstances have resulted in good leadership opportunities for kids I coach as well as the opportunity to introduce myself to neighbors I didn’t know before.
When bad things happen through our choices, owning up to them is the first step to creating good from bad. We learn to change our behaviors, work on better coping tools, improve our relationships and increase our compassion.
Kids will experience and make mistakes. We need to help them either make good or do good after the bad.
It’s not easy, which is why kids need guidance. We’re often taught to hide flaws and deny or soften wrongdoing in the interests of keeping up appearances and avoiding pain. We also sometimes yell at the messenger who points out the bad. If instead we can acknowledge the bad and teach kids how to learn and lead through it, they’ll have more strength to deal with bad things than if we just punish them, tell them it’s not so bad or sweep their mistakes under the rug.
There is an ironic strength that comes from admitting wrongs and flaws and even from experiencing humiliation and shame from our mistakes. After days, months or years of loss and learning and recovering, the honest life is sweeter than denial. It’s sweeter than pretend optimism. It’s real.
In that space and freedom, we can tell kids they will survive their mistakes and the bad in the world. They can find ways to make good and do good. We can show them how to do it…because we do it.
"At present you may be temporarily harassed by all kinds of trials. This is no accident. It happens to prove your faith which is infinitely more valuable than gold." 1 Peter 1:6-7
“For his anger lasts only a moment, but his favor lasts a lifetime;
weeping may stay for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.” Psalm 30:5
“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.”
1 Corinthians 9:24-27