How to be more positive
March 31, 2010 9:04 AM   Subscribe

I have a bad attitude. Help me change. (this might get long)

I'm struggling with a lot right now -- bipolar that is finally stabilizing (woo!), dealing with a lot of borderline personality traits (not formally diagnosed yet), having to give up a dog, moving to japan, a sick mother, a sick father, trying to get over abusive relationships in the past...

for me, this is a LOT. a lot lot. lot lot lot. I am in therapy and seeing a psychiatrist.

i am also in a very loving, committed relationship.

however, he doesn't seem to feel that i'm making progress i should be making, as fast as i should be making it. which, you can imagine, is leading to conflicts.

i admit: i am a negative person in a lot of respects. i catastrophize things that probably don't need to go that far. it takes me a millisecond to get to catastrophe from negative thought. i am working on it, but it's been with me a looong time and it's taking me time to change this habit.

my anxiety over, okay, pretty much everything (but which is super amped right now due to situational stresses) is causing me to be even more negative -- because i'm scared, and those fears become truths in my head.

i am having a lot of trouble with the whole "just say stop to yourself" and the positive self-talk. i do it when i can, and i try, but it doesn't come naturally to me yet, and i have to catch myself at the right moment, before the fear runs off and gets huge, in order for it to work. otherwise, it's off to the races for my brain.

my negativity and anxiety is a huge stressor for him in a lot of ways, and understandably, makes him not want to be around me. and i'm frustrating as hell. i need lots of reassurance about... well, everything. i know part of this is a self-confidence issue, and i'm working on that too.

i know there's no quick fix, but i have to do more than i am to start turning this around, before i frustrate him to the point of break up (which neither of us want, but he has expressed fears that it will "be this way forever").

and i thought the ever-brilliant me-fite community might have some advice, tips, resources.... anything really.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (14 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
One thing that helped me through a similar spot was to set up an anchor when I was feeling anxious and self-critical. When I caught myself, I would count to 5 on one hand -- touching my thumb to each finger in turn and then ending with my thumb. It was a subtle gesture that I could do walking down the hall at work -- but it then clued me in to how I was feeling and let me stop the negative self talk.
posted by elmay at 9:18 AM on March 31, 2010

however, he doesn't seem to feel that i'm making progress i should be making, as fast as i should be making it

And why does he get to decide this, instead of you and your therapist?
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 9:20 AM on March 31, 2010 [10 favorites]

Elmay, great idea!

Have you tried immersing yourself in a good escapist book? I've often found escapist reading gives me a break, time for subconscious and conscious stuff to sort itself out, heal itself.

You mention self-confidence. Do you get enough exercise? Are you doing anything that helps you to feel good about your body? Yoga? Weight training? Whatever appeals. Mens sana in corpore sano. Sometimes focusing on feeling good in your body helps your mind to follow suit.

I hope you get lots of helpful responses here and start to find ways to feel better.
posted by mareli at 9:26 AM on March 31, 2010

"And why does he get to decide this, instead of you and your therapist?"

Not to excuse him, but living with someone who's unrelentingly negative can be very, very exhausting. It's very hard. So the OP and her mate are stuck in a difficult position, wanting to be together, but with her needing a LOT of support right now and him not necessarily able to provide it because the amount of support she needs is a burden on him that he may not be strong enough to bear. It's a legitimately very difficult situation, and while he may not be expressing his frustration well, I think we should listen to what underlies his statement rather than how he expresses it.

Have you done couples counseling? I think a HUGE key to a couple getting through this kind of thing is having the partner in need do counseling alone, yes, but also having both partners go together, so that you can understand each other's feelings and needs better and develop strategies to cope as a couple. He may also need outside support. But please, please see if you can do couples counseling so you can nuture your relationship and learn coping strategies to use TOGETHER.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:32 AM on March 31, 2010 [1 favorite]

> moving to japan

I once acted as translator for a bipolar friend when he visited a Japanese psychiatrist's office. My friend was not doing well, at all. And I've had many bipolar friends.

Unsurprisingly, the psychiatrist wanted to know how fast this friend of mine could possibly return to the U.S.

By moving to Japan (or any foreign country), you are potentially adding so many problems to your list that I would heartily recommend stopping for a moment to think about why it's absolutely necessary for you to move there.

If you do move there, be sure you walk into the country with a list of treatment resources in your hand.

Apologies if you knew all this already...
posted by circular at 10:03 AM on March 31, 2010

I'm wondering if your boyfriend might need some education and a few coping techniques in order to be in a successful relationship with you. From your description, it sounds like you are being very proactive when it comes to your issues and trying very hard to find a better way of life. The fact that in his eyes you aren't improving quickly enough concerns me for many reasons, not the least of which is that being rushed through the process and racing towards being okay is another stressor, which is counterproductive.

If you weren't doing things to address your issues, then I think I would understand your boyfriend's frustration more. It would sound more reasonable and less like impatience. Bring him to one of your sessions and see if you can ease his concerns and recalibrate any unrealistic expectations he may have. Maybe your therapist can suggest ways for him to cope and help you along your way towards happiness and health. Best of luck.
posted by katemcd at 10:33 AM on March 31, 2010 [1 favorite]

Seconding circular-- the state of mental health care in Japan is different than it is in the United States and Europe. The meds available to you may be different than the ones you're currently taking, the focus of therapy is different, and you'll want to know what you're getting into before you're over there and confronted with a crisis.

The US Embassy offers some resources on how to receive emergency care in Japan, and a list of care providers (this one's for Tokyo, but there's a link to surrounding areas on that page). You might take it to your therapist to assist in formulating an action plan for your move.

Also, make sure you check your prescriptions with your nearest Japanese embassy or consulate to make sure you can import them, and that you can obtain a supply while you're in-country.

As to your overall condition, if you work on it persistently and obtain the right kinds of help, as you seem to be doing, it... well, it still might be "forever," but it'll be a vastly more positive forever than the one your SO seems to be expecting. Perhaps you two can sit down and discuss his expectations vs. yours and those of your therapist?
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 10:48 AM on March 31, 2010

I think it's constructive for the OP to consider his/her own age, and that of their significant other, as well. People with turbulent personal history (abuse + psychiatric conditions (bi-polar) + recent emotional loss (giving up dog)), that are further experiencing high current stress (moving to japan) are bound to be tough, needy people with which to be in "a very loving, committed relationship." For the significant other, it's probably a much, much more demanding relationship than it is an equally loving one, and if the significant other is a young, or only partially mature person himself, the effort and personal balance required by the OP might just be beyond his capability to offer, with the consistency and vision that the OP needs.

Sometimes, we meet a great person for our lives, a decade or two before we or they are ready to be great enough to make a life, together. When that happens, the best thing to do, if we can, is to try to see that situation mutually, and move on with the least hurt to all that can be managed. That would give the OP focus to continue and contribute to his/her on-going therapy and life complications, and give the significant other an honorable, loving closure to a relationship he certainly doesn't want to see end in negativity and hurt.

Better to look back on good memories, always in love, than to always wish you'd had the wisdom and courage to do the right thing for someone you loved, and didn't.
posted by paulsc at 10:48 AM on March 31, 2010 [2 favorites]

I have that ability to go from 0 to utter catastrophe thinking in 2 seconds. But often I find that my thoughts CREATE the catastrophe, rather than the situation really BEING a catastrophe. If you adopt a "we'll see" attitdude that is much more positive than a:

"oh my god, this small [probably transient] thing is a sign of utter doom that is sure to follow, I must react by thinking through all the possible ways this will hurt me and take action to stop that pain. Except that there are 10,000 things I cannot control that are sure to hurt me [in reality they probably won't happen] and since I can't do anything about those 10,000 things I am going to instead worry and fret and think about each one of them [which is useless since, if you really can't do anything about them then there is no point in thinking about them]. Since I cannot do anything about them I am just going to imagine how horrible, awful, unbearable and the end-of-the-world-ly those things would be if they did happen [which will just make them that much MORE unpleasant in the unlikely event they do happen]" attitude (Except you probably don't have those little thoughts in brackets)

It's hard, but just take a situation and go "Ya, this makes me feel bad, this may lead to bad things, but maybe it won't. Let's wait and see" And then move on. Breathing techniques help. (oh and meds... need the meds)

Once you do this a few times and see that, no really, the world is not falling apart, it becomes easier to accept a negative thought/feeling/situation/comment and move on to the next thing, which has a good chance of being a positive thought/feeling/situation etc. And no matter what, I guarantee you there is always a "next thing".
posted by DetonatedManiac at 10:51 AM on March 31, 2010

Are you doing any CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy)? That helped a lot for me when I was in a similar state. The idea that thoughts control emotions and not the other way around is a pretty good place to start. Similar to what DetonatedManiac was saying. You could try grabbing a pen and paper. Then think of something anxiety inspiring and right down the stuff you think, starting at the start. And I do mean the start, not the 4th or 5th thought, after your run away brain had grabbed the starting thought and reworked it 4 or 5 times inside of a split-second.

Sometimes you'll never notice what thought(s) are causing all the trouble because you react emotionally to them straight away and they remain clouded. 7 years of therapy later and I'm still picking thoughts out of the fog, though I will admit, it is getting rarer and rarer as the fog clears (so to speak).

IANAPsychiatrist or Clinical Psychologist.
posted by Submiqent at 11:07 AM on March 31, 2010

I'm also good at catastrophizing, and the thing that helps me most of all is getting enough sleep. So long as I'm rested, the tendency to stress and catastrophize goes down significantly.

Sleep may not be your cure, but I suggest you take a bit of time to figure out what is. It might be eating healthily/cutting something from your diet. It might be physical excercise. It might be a soak in a hot tub at the end of the day. Whatever it is, make sure you get enough of it.

My grandfather was sick most of his life, and his thing was eating 3 meals a day, regardless of whether or not he felt hungry. Sumbitch died in his sleep in his 80s. It works. Really.
posted by LN at 11:08 AM on March 31, 2010

After 30+ years of struggling with depression, I also have trouble with rapid catastrophizing. The kind of thing where losing a scarf can turn into "I might as well kill myself now" in about 5 seconds.

What's been the most help for me is awareness practice. The books and writings of American Zen teacher Cheri Huber have been lifesaving for me. Awareness practice is the only thing that's helped me recognize the process as it happens and begin to let go of it. ("Begin to" — it's an ongoing effort.)

i am having a lot of trouble with the whole "just say stop to yourself" and the positive self-talk

Cheri doesn't think positive self-talk or affirmations are helpful. She draws a distinction between an "affirmation" and a "reassurance". Repeating an affirmation means repeating something that isn't true. Maybe you want it to be true, but it's not true now. Someone who never moves from the sofa can repeat the affirmation "I am physically active and fit" all they want, but deep down they know it's not true. Someone involved in an unhealthy relationship can repeat "My partner loves, respects, and supports me as an equal" until they turn blue in the face without it having any effect on the partner. Deep down, it's not true.

A reassurance is something you tell yourself that is true. "No matter what, I'm here with you and we'll get through this together." "When I hold myself in compassionate awareness, I am equal to the challenges of my life." "I love you exactly as you are and I will help you work to become whatever you want to be."

You might see if your local library has any of her books. The three I think might be most helpful to you are The Key (And the Name of the Key Is Willingness), (Regardless of What You Were Taught to Believe) There Is Nothing Wrong with You: Going Beyond Self-Hate, and The Depression Book: Depression as an Opportunity for Spiritual Growth.

Very best wishes.

Oh, and in case you run into this: when I started pulling out of the worst of my depression, the catastrophizing found a way to kick in even worse. The slightest down or sad feeling, and the narrator in my brain would immediately jump to "see, you thought you were improving but this proves you'll never get better, it's hopeless, you'll be dealing with this for the rest of your life (so you might as well kill yourself now)." DO NOT LISTEN TO THIS VOICE. It is LYING to you.
posted by Lexica at 1:13 PM on March 31, 2010 [2 favorites]

It wasn't clear to me from your post, but if you haven't gotten to Japan already, really really reconsider going at this time. It's a place where it is very easy to get isolated and lonely and more negative under the best circumstances, adding additional stress to what relationships you do have there. Mental health expectations and treatment are also very different, as mentioned above. (I used to live there, and have friends there who are mental health practitioners and friends who see them.)
posted by whatzit at 2:32 PM on March 31, 2010

I have borderline. Don't listen to people who say discouraging things like it's not curable, BPD people are just attention-seeking manipulators, and that sort of stuff. (I think some of those people have been hurt by someone with BPD and that colors their entire view of the disorder.) I no longer meet at least 5 of the 9 diagnostic criteria (that's over 200 possible combinations of symptoms!) and so am in remission/recovered. I may always struggle with some issues, but I'm definitely not the same person I used to be.

I recently had a bit of a personal revelation. I was thinking to myself "gee wouldn't it be nice if this person who hurt me years ago just fell off the face of the earth" when I realized... being mad at people who have hurt me in the past is not doing me any good. All I'm doing is being angry but they're out there living their lives, and they're not angry at me... probably not even thinking about me. Well, why should I waste my energy being angry at them when there's so much I can be happy about or look forward to? So I've been trying to let that hurt and anger go. It might be cliched, but each day try thinking of something (or Tweeting, blogging, whatever) that makes you happy or that you're grateful for. It will help you look for positive things in your life.

Drugs are not always the answer, but have you asked your psychiatrist (if you have one) about antidepressants? A lot of them help with anxiety too.

however, he doesn't seem to feel that i'm making progress i should be making, as fast as i should be making it. which, you can imagine, is leading to conflicts.

It can take a long time. I think this is his issue, not yours.

I can't promise answers or even great advice, but if you need to vent, feel free to Memail me.
posted by IndigoRain at 11:02 PM on March 31, 2010 [1 favorite]

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