Positively Exhausting

I am currently making a concious effort at being a more positive and kind person. It is a daily struggle. Making this difficult for me is the constant battle against the war in my brain that happens, thanks to the fun Bipolar roller-coaster I am perpetually riding. Let me tell you … when your coaster car hits that low dip after the giant hill … being happy about anything seems nearly impossible. So to add to the chorus of voices in my head, I try to tell myself that kindness is the best way and negativity only makes things worse for me. And for the world as a whole.

As I go about my day, I am faced with choices. Every person I interact with, it seems, challenges me to temper my response or reaction.

The co-worker who starts the day with a complaint about the weather or the job or life in general. Whatever it is that has put them in a negative space right off the bat.

Me: “Good morning co-worker person”

Them: ” Morning. God traffic was horrible today. People are so stupid!”

Me: “Um … sorry to hear that. At least the sun is out today.”

The friend who you check in with every day or so, who is always tired or sick or some combination thereof.

Me: “Hey there friend! Happy Wednesday!! How’s your day?”

Them: “Ugh. I have a headache. I do NOT want to be here.”

Me: “Oh, I’m sorry. Hopefully you’ll have an easy day. It’s Wednesday after all … halfway through the week”

These conversations, and all of the other variations of them imaginable, happen all ay long. I am constantly checking myself. Doing everything I can not to fall in the pit of negativity with them.

I know that 95% of these people probably don’t even know they are being negative. It’s not something that people go around doing on purpose. People don’t “want” to be unhappy. At least not all of them, there is always that 5%. But most people just seem to default to these kind of statements. It’s like it is expected by society to hate. Hate your job. Hate the weather. Hate traffic. Hate getting up on Monday. It’s just what we do. Remember … being kind is hard after all.

Here’s the thing: most days, thanks to whatever chemical is off balance in my brain that particular day, I am struggling to get through the day. Like just bare minimum make it through the day in a normal human way. When I’m in a “bad place” basic life can be a struggle. Getting out of bed. Taking a shower. Making myself presentable for society (doing my hair or make up). Eating food. These are things that can take considerable effort for me some days. And if my coaster is on an extra deep and long downswing … many of these things just don’t happen. Sometimes for many days in a row.

So when I get negative and complaining thoughts tossed at me like so much trash, it would be so easy for me to respond in kind and join them in a big old wallow of self pity. But what nearly always ends up happening? We go to war.

It becomes some kind of contest to see who’s life sucks more. They say they didn’t sleep well. I respond with “That sucks, neither did I” which gets me a “Well I only slept for 4 hours.” And when this happens … this is where my soul gets sucked out and I become exhausted.  Because my brain translates that response as “I only slept for 4 hours therefore I am more tired than you and my life is worse than yours.” And honestly, their life may be worse than mine. I don’t know. But my brain takes that translation, correct or not, and turns it into a giant steaming pile of guilt that quickly turns to something else entirely.

I start off by feeling bad that I complained back to them or sympathized in some way. I didn’t mean to start any kind of My Life Sucks More War. I backpedal and turn positive and maybe offer to help them with something to make up for it and … well help them. It starts as an honest attempt to be a good person to this human who is having a hard time. But them multiply that by all of the people you interact with that toss negative things at you and it can get to be a bit much. Then my brain takes things a whole new direction. In my attempts to end the war and negotiate a truce with offers to help and words of support … any real issues I may be personally having get pushed further and further down. My guilt monster tells me that my issues are stupid and don’t matter. This other person needs support and love. Stop feeling sorry for yourself and get your shit together. Which reallly aren’t bad things to say to yourself if you are creating some first world problems for yourself. But many days, the depression and apathy towards life I deal with are not the same as McDonalds giving me a medium fry instead of a large one. Thereapy and research have told me time and again that self care is one of the most important things I can do for myself when I’m in a dark place. But my guilt monster is much louder than everything else and he is telling me that I need to “get over myself” and stop being a big baby.

So I negate my own feelings and problems and issues. It’s possible that I’ve had a migraine for 6 days straight. But if someone tells me they have a headache … I will be damned if I will say I have one too. Because nine times out of ten all that is going to get me is some response about  how much worse their headache is than mine. They don’t know I’ve had a headache for almost a week. They only know they have a headache and it really hurts. They aren’t trying to make me feel bad and inconsequential. But my brain can’t see that. All it can see is that I am weak and selfish and stupid and stop complaining already.

So when I’m in a dark place, as I have been for the last few weeks, being positive all day is freaking exhausting. Not because I don’t like being positive. It really is the best way to be and I truly do like caring for other people. It’s why I loved working at a hospital and why I actually do like working in public service. Helping people is awesome. But I always end up selling myself short in the process and just making my dark place that much darker.

I’m a work in progress. I’m always trying to find ways to make myself better. Ways to take care of myself and ways to convince my brain to let me take care of myself. But it’s hard. I’m my own worst critic and I end up in this sad spiral of horrible feelings and self hatred. My new job is actually a bit of a blessing. Being back in public service is helping me. I feel like I’m making a difference again and helping people, like I did at the hospital. Not in the same exact way … but close enough. Seeing a case come to compliance and an issue being resolved in a real and tangible way helps me feel better about myself. Which in turn helps me feel like maybe I deserve to take care of myself. My guilt monster still tends to be the loudest thing in the room but I keep at it.

So if you text me with a complaint I promise not to complain back to you. At least 90% of the time. I will try my best to respond with a kind word and a positive thought. If I can help in any way I will try. I will fail from time to time. I’m not perfect. I hate that the simple act of trying to be kind wears me out so much. But that won’t stop me from trying. I’m a work in progress and some day I will slay my guilt monster.

Until then … the sun is out and it’s Wednesday. The week is almost over.

PS: Leslie Knope is my Spirit Animal

Qualifications For Kindness

One of the things I do in my new job is answering our “Hotline.”  It’s a number people can call to report any potential or suspected illegal construction work being done in the city. Most of the calls I get are valid and require investigation. However, most of the calls I get are also from people being douchebags because their neighbor’s dog barks too much … or some shit.  #WhyCantWeAllJustGetAlong

I also get a ton of general calls that need transferred to other departments. In our main phone tree, people hear the word “Compliance” and figure that since we are the “Bad Guys” we can help them. Sometimes I feel like we are the Building Department’s version of the Principals Office.

I recently received a message from an older gentleman who prefaced his entire message with two disclaimers: “I’m a veteran.” and “I’m 71 years old.”

His message was slightly rambling with a tiny touch of incoherence. I’m ashamed to say my initial response was to write him off as “crazy.” He didn’t identify an actual issue and just stated that someone was trying to “do him wrong” and that he needed help.

I’ve been in a two-day training session and haven’t had a chance to call him back yet, the message is sitting on my desk. But now that I’ve had a day or so to think about it, I was struck by something with this guy.

Why did he feel the need to qualify his entire request for help with these two facts?  I’m a veteran.  I’m 71 years old.

I realized a couple of things. First, I felt horrible for jumping to the conclusion that this was a crazy old guy who was just going to be a waste of my time. I had no reason to just assume that he would be a huge pain in my ass.  #IKnowBetter

Secondly, what kind of society do we live in where a person feels like, in order to get some help, some common decency & kindness, he has to “prove” he was worthy of help because he was old and had served our country.

Every day we are given many opportunities to be kind. We are faced with situations and have encounters with others, a wide variety of chances of all shapes and sizes to treat others with some basic compassion. Every day people chose to by cynical. To judge. To react negatively. To turn away or ignore.

That is the easy way out though, isn’t it?

It would be so much easier for me to just forward this message to our general reception line. To write him off as inconsequential and wash my hands of him. Dump him on someone else and make him someone else’s problem. Not my circus, not my monkeys, right?

Why is the “right” way also the “hard” way?

Why are humans wired to judge and dismiss instead of naturally wanting to ask, or help, or care?

Now, there are people who buck this system. People who are naturally inclined to be kind and compassionate and understanding, just by default. (I know a few of these people and I’m lucky to call them friends. They are an inspiration to me on a daily basis. Yes I am talking about you Sarah). This is the kind of person I want to be. I don’t work at being uncompassionate. I don’t go out of my way to be judgmental. But in our world of instant gratification and social media, where we are surrounded daily by negativity and ugliness, it seems to be the default to always assume the worst.

I don’t know about you, but this shit drains me. I stopped watching the news a few years ago because it just plain bummed me out. Negativity sucks the life out of my soul. It makes me cranky and ugly and I really, really don’t like it.

So I try as much as I can to take a minute and think before I judge. Take a breath or two before I speak and say something ugly. Try to see the positive in a situation or the good in a person. I know this makes people crazy. My poor boyfriend is the biggest recipient of this. My need to constantly point out the other side of a situation, or arguing for the underdog. I truly don’t mean to be argumentative or negative or naggy. I just want the world to be a less negative place. Less ugly flying around. I am a self-professed “Lover of Loving Things.” I hate confrontation. I dream of a world filled with rainbows and butterflies and sunshine and unicorns. #SoSueMe

I have decided that when I get back to work after training, I’m gonna call that guy back. I may or may not be able to help him. He may very well not even have an issue that needs to be addressed by my department or any other City department. But he deserves a chance to tell someone what is going on, and it may as well be me. And not because he is a veteran, or because he is 71 years old. Simply because he is a human being and it is the right thing to do.