Back when I was a steady member of a 12-step program, I carried a little blue book in my purse as a reminder of the steps and what I could do to feel better. It had this quote:
“Folks are usually about as happy as they make their minds up to be”which, at the time, really irked me.
That was a time in my life when I was severely depression. I felt really, really sad most of the time. In my last post I said living with grief feel like carrying around a sack of rocks. Depression feels likes that too, except maybe worse, if that's even possible. Like the commercials say, depression hurts. It hurts in your bones, your heart, and your soul. Depression lies. It makes you believe things about yourself that are not true. And depression hangs on like the last person at a party, long after everyone else is gone and all you want to do is clean up and go to bed. But you look around and there is depression sitting on the couch. You feel like moving, but your legs don't cooperate. You feel tired, but you can't sleep, or you sleep to much. You want to laugh again but have forgotten how. You are always afraid you will crack open, and no one, least of all you, will be able to put the pieces back together again.
For the record, no one makes up their mind (or chooses) to be depressed. Perhaps in the beginning, when you know a new day is dawning and you have to get out of bed, but you don't really feel up to facing the day so you decide to roll over and go back to sleep. Or when someone asks you to do something and you know it would be nice to have a conversation with someone other than the voices in your head, but you opt out. Maybe those are choices you make. But eventually, depression takes over the choices and rules your life. So every time I read that quote, I wanted to scream at Mr. Lincoln, who was known to be a depressive, that he wasn't doing anyone any good by piling on a bunch of "not making up their mind about being happy" hooey, which equals guilt which equals more sadness.
The other day Sweetie came out of his office, sat down on the couch and fluffed up the pillows, a sure sign he wanted to talk about something.
Sweetie: I read your blog. I'd like to give you a visual.
ME: Hmmm. Okay.
Sweetie: First I want to say that every morning when you wake up, before you even put your feet on the floor, you can choose what kind of a day you're going to have.
ME (silently in my head, to myself - skin starting to crawl): Wait a minute, Buster, don't start in with that old, you can choose BS, cause I'm not buying it.
ME (to Sweetie): What if (he hates that question so his skin is getting as crawly as mine) I decide I'm going to have a great day, then on the way to work someone runs into me and smashes up the car? I'm going to be really pissed and not of my choosing. Right?
Sweetie: Well, yeah, but you can choose how long you're going to stay pissed off.
ME: Yeah, but what about when I see pictures of my mom and dad and get sad, and remember how much I miss them, and feel that bag of rocks on my back and then I just want to go to bed and cry or sleep or both?
Sweetie: You can choose how long you carry around those rocks. Life is like a bowl of jelly beans.
ME (back in my head): Is he channeling Forrest Gump?
Sweetie: Let's say there is a bowl of jelly beans on the counter and let's say a feeling or emotion is attached is each color. Red = anger. Blue = Happy. White = peace. Black = depressed, and so on. You walk by the bowl and pick a color that matches your mood. You're feeling happy, so you pick blue. YOu might stay blue/happy all day or if something happens that changes that mood - like someone running into you - you pick another color, in this case red.
ME: Yeh, but. (Sweetie really hates this statement and is beginning to see red jelly beans).
Sweetie: The point is there is a whole bowl full of colors and you don't have to be just one all the time. On any given day you can be a rainbow of colors.
ME: (Light bulb goes off in head) So you're saying I will have the feeling (color) but I don't have to stay there. The choice is not about the feeling, but about how long you're going to hold on to it. Let's say I'm having a green/serene day, I would obviously choose to stay green. If I get a memory of Dad and it makes me black/sad, I feel it, then move on. I can pick up the bag of rocks if I want, nobody is stopping me, but why would I when I can go back to green?
ME: (remembering Christine, my therapist, drilling it into my head that you can feel more than one feeling at a time.) Thanks, Sweetie. I think you may be on to something.
I can't say that I've practiced the Jelly Bean theory every day, but I have kept the visual in my head and returned to it a number of times. Awareness is the first step of change. Sweetie used the candy visual because his mind goes naturally to things made of sugar. The bowl could be full of colored strips of paper, or buttons, or beads. It would be a bit cumbersome but you could even have a bright colorful bokay of balloons and when you are choosing one color over another, you can literally let it go.
So, Mr. Lincoln, when it comes to that quote, I think I'll trade my red jelly bean in for a pink one. I think I better see your point, but it still kind of irritates me.
What color are you today?
PS. Example: Sat. morning Sweetie and I got up on opposite sides of the bed and neither of them were very good. As the day progressed, he barked at me and I barked back. When we headed out to do our grocery shopping we sat in stony silence for awhile.
ME: What color are you right now?
Sweetie: Yellow, for caution. I've got to be very cautious with what I say.
ME: Let's hear it for the jelly beans.