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Becoming More Positive When Negativity Feels Instinctive

Positive Mind

“Dwelling on the negative simply contributes to its power.” ~Shirley MacLaine

If you have ever felt the depths of depression, you know it’s not the same as being sad or having “the blues.” It’s the hopeless, overwhelming feeling of melancholy where nothing, not even the people you love, can pull you out.

It can feel like being under water in the ocean while the waves keep washing over you, pushing you further and further underneath, while no matter how hard you try, you can’t seem to break the surface to get that much needed air in order to survive.

Unfortunately, I am no stranger to this foe, this unwelcomed presence of darkness. I suffer from chronic depression, and it has followed me around for many years, letting me know that it will never completely disappear.

For a long time, I thought of myself as a victim. It always seemed that others had it much easier. I felt so alone. While I knew there were others out there who suffered from mental illnesses, it was hard to not have a “poor me” attitude while living in it.

I got to the point where I wouldn’t even try to go beyond taking a pill every day to stave off the depression. I felt hopeless most of the time. Even in good times, beneath the surface, there was sadness over the impending doom that I knew would eventually take over again.

The last major depression I had was a year ago. I had to move back in with my parents (at age 34) when I was jobless, hopeless, and had just hit rock bottom. This has happened more times than I care to admit.

But this time was different because I was determined to crawl out of that dark place and never fall back in again.

I had a choice—I could either keep going down the same old traveled road where I knew all the stops and turns, or I could veer off in a new direction, one that might lead to inner peace and happiness.

I decided to take the road less traveled. It has not been an easy one because I’ve hit plenty of bumps and I’ve also crashed into a wall or three. The biggest challenge was finding decent mental health care, since I had spent years searching for it, to no avail.

After finally finding a good psychiatrist and getting my medication tweaked, I added some much needed therapy. This has helped me come to terms with the fact that, while my chemical imbalance is something that I was born with, I wasn’t controlling my illness; it was controlling me.

This last year has truly been a turning point for me. Keeping a journal of my thoughts in both good times and bad has led to an epiphany about the way that I think.

I realized how hopeless I had been for so many years. I was so jaded that I truly believed I would never lead a happy life due to my mental illness.

I used to think that happy-go-lucky people had never experienced any hardships. I now realize that while those people actually do have problems, it’s their attitude that gets them through the rough times.

Unhappiness generally occurs not because of what happens in a person’s life, but because of how that person thinks about what happens.

I now know that while I cannot change what has happened in the past, my attitude and outlook in the present will help me deal with whatever happens in the future. Having control over my thoughts will make my inner world a place of freedom instead of a prison.

I’ve become determined to be one of those happy people. But that takes work—lots of work!

My negative mind rejected the idea of any positivity at first. Slowly but surely, using affirmations in my daily life has provided much needed guidance in my ongoing metamorphosis into a positive person. It takes practice to train your mind and you have to work at it each day, but it can be done.

So how does someone become a positive person?

Work on erasing that negative song playing over and over in your mind.

Replace that track with a positive tune and make sure it is one you can dance to!

Use daily affirmations. Two that have helped me are:

“I willingly accept things as they come, even if I don’t like it.”

How I respond is always my choice.”

Keep reminding yourself of the good things in life.

It could be something simple—for example, that you have a roof over your head or that you have plenty to eat.

Take care of yourself physically and it will help you mentally, as well.

Exercise, eat well, take vitamins.

I have to remind myself often that change is not going to happen overnight, and it will take more than a few months to be able to become the positive person I desperately want to be.

I’m trying to talk to myself in the same compassionate way I would talk to a friend. I am working on seeing each incident in my life as beneficial to me in some way.

In the last year, I have started yoga. Quieting my mind has proven to be quite a difficult task to master, since my brain is a blabbermouth. However, each breath helps be in the moment. I’m still pretty inflexible, but I have goal poses that keep me motivated.

I have also started to meditate, which has proven to be even harder since, even though I have no trouble being still physically, that talkative mind of mine won’t quiet. I was frustrated until I started to use some daily affirmations and chants. I’m now able to channel and squash all those negative thoughts that pop up.

I have also found writing to be a passion. Putting my negative thoughts on paper helps me to identify the distorted thinking that can still occur from time to time. It also helps me spin those thoughts into positives and look at things from a new perspective.

Negative thoughts may creep back in sporadically, but I remind myself that how I respond is always my choice. If I have problems, they occur because I still have more to learn.

Since I control my thoughts, I can decide to think positively about anything. My happiness ultimately depends on me.

When I feel those creepy incessant thoughts start bubbling around in my brain, I remind myself that it took time for me to fall apart, and that means it may take a substantial amount of time to put myself back together again.

While I hope I’ll never experience depression again, I know that I may. I also know that next time I feel it looming, I won’t go down without a fight. I’ve grown as a person and I am stronger today because of it.

Many people say that you are who you are and you can’t change. I don’t think that’s true. It may take a long time and there will be days when those negative thoughts creep back in, but anyone can be more positive if they really work at it.

Photo by 58minutos

Avatar of Elizabeth Patterson

About Elizabeth Patterson

Elizabeth Patterson has finally decided what she wants to be when she “grows up” and has reinvented her life by starting a career as a writer. She hopes that one day the stigma associated with mental illness will disappear altogether and everyone will be well educated on the subject. She will continue to tell her story at: http://talesfromgingergirl.blogspot.com/

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  • Saelwen

    Your article gives me hope that my chronically depressed boyfriend will one day too reach that make or break point and realize his potential for happiness as you did :)

  • http://lifewithlegacy.com/ Thomas Joe Akins

    Hey Elizabeth, thanks for sharing your story. I know that life sometimes deals us cards that we wish we never had. I feel your pain about having to move back in with your family and hope that everything worked out for the better. I ran away from home at the age of 16 and had my share of hardships. I know that everything that you are going through will only make you stronger and allow you to have compassion for others as you go through your journey in life. Stay positive and keep sharing your story, I know that you will help many people along the way!

    One Life / One Legacy
    Thomas Joe

  • KatyCowan

    Thanks for sharing your story Elizabeth. This is why I love TinyBuddha so much. Just when I’m struggling with something, an article always pops up to suit what I’m thinking or going through. I’m not someone who suffers from depression. Although I have naturally had a few episodes in the past – I think we all have and go through it. It’s more common than people will let on.

    But we don’t have to be depressed to have our moments of negativity and self-doubt. Being ‘down’ can happen to most of us. And when that happens, all those past regrets and mistakes bubble back up to the surface – and we punish ourselves. We wonder why some people don’t like us, and we beat ourselves up – asking questions like ‘What did I do wrong?’ or ‘How can I be liked more?’ But you’re totally right. The key to happiness is to control how you react to things. Happy people tend to shrug their shoulders and understand that some things are out of their control. They understand that not everyone can like them and that it’s ok. It’s just normal. And they also understand that mistakes are a great thing – they build us up to be the people we are today.

    I’d like to add a few more daily affirmations if that’s ok? I always say ‘Never look back or forward, just enjoy now!’ And… remind yourself how kick ass wonderful you are. That you’re a good person. That you try your very best to make your way in the world to be happy and make others happy. Give yourself a big, warm hug and remember the most important thing of all – we all suffer. We all go through the same thing. But we are in control of how we react to things. We have the power to be happy. Mind over matter. Replacing negative thoughts with positive ones. I mentally imagine myself karate kicking negative thoughts out of my brain and it makes me smile! Best wishes to you and thanks again for sharing! :D

  • Iris Daly Williams

    Wow, Elizabeth! Your words connect with me on a deep level. I commend you for writing this article, well written in penmanship, and it also had a great emotional connection as well. I had no idea you and I had so many things in common, both good and bad. Yoga is awesome for me as well and I would love practice with you sometime in Florence. Depression or other mental disorders and problems affect real people, just like me and you. I am with you on finding the right treatment plan, pychiatrist, therapist, counselor, etc. I thank god for my therapist, whom I see tomorrow! Hugs to you today, I am sure you were scared and both exhilerated to see this published. I look forward to seeing what else you write on your blog. I have a blog (that I need to get better about writing in) too and dreams of being a ‘writer’ of some type. Let’s get together soon! ::HUGS::

  • Elizabeth Patterson

    Thank you, Katy for you wonderful thoughts. You are right, you do not have to go through depression to have moments of negativity and self-doubt. I have (and still do sometimes) punish myself for past mistakes. I love your affirmations, especially the “kickass wonderful you are” one. Also, love the “karate kicking negative thoughts”. I’m gonna have to steal that one. Best wishes to you, as well, and thanks again!!

  • Elizabeth Patterson

    Thank you, Thomas Joe, for your sweet comment. I’m glad you can relate and hope that things worked out for you, as well. You are right, it will only make me stronger as each day passes. I intend to keep sharing so others will not feel that they are alone. Thanks again!!

  • Elizabeth Patterson

    Saelwen, I truly hope that your boyfriend gets better. It is so hard to pull yourself out of that dark place, especially when you have to deal with it time and time again. Medication does help when you are on the right kind. It varies for each individual. But he will have to put the work in to stay on course. It took me a long time to realize that. Be as patient as you can and just love him. I know that it is hard for you to watch and that you feel helpless. I hope that he will read the post and get inspired! Thank for the feedback!

  • Elizabeth Patterson

    Iris, how sweet you are! Glad you on Tiny Buddha. It truly is a wonderful site. I didn’t know we shared so much in common, either. Yoga is awesome, I’m just so stiff cause I put all my tension in shoulders and back. I’m in Gulf Shores now, but would love to do yoga with you when I visit my grandmother at some point. If you are ever down here, let me know!! I have GOT to go see my therapist! Work has been crazy, so it has been a couple of months. I have to drive an hour to see her because South Alabama, at least where I am, doesn’t have good mental health care. Hugs back to you! Let’s also talk writing! I’m about to work on my blog. I’ve been slacking! Send me your blog info on Facebook:) . Love to you!!

  • xtina

    Wonderful article/blog. You covered many facets of depression that many people need to read. This is truely inspirational, i will save it to my bookmarks to read when i need a reminder! Thank u for shareing

  • Elizabeth Patterson

    Thank you so much, Xtina! I’m glad it is inspirational to you!! It is true, people need to know. I want everyone to be educated on the subject, whether they suffer or not. Good luck to you!

  • alex

    Thaanks Elizabeth for sharing your story. It helps to remind me on basic attitudes which i have lost during the last month. I lost my job and needed to move back home to my parents at the age of 37. Addtionally, i needed a defibrilator 3 years ago after a sudden cardiac arrest. Keeping me positive is a daily challenge.

  • Elizabeth Patterson

    Alex, we may have different struggles, but keeping positive is important and I still have to remind myself to do it each day. I’m so sorry about what happened 3 years ago. Thanks for your feedback. Take care:)

  • http://flawd.net/ Derek

    Thanks for sharing Elizabeth. I’ve found very similar things to work for me as well. Realizing perspective is a choice. Choosing to change the channel in my mind if I “went negative”. Making a gratitude list from time to time. Exercising. Doing things that put me outside of my comfort zone and seeing the positive effects it had. Unfortunately, the biggest factor and one that I couldn’t rush was TIME. It took a lot of time and consistent effort for those ruts of negativity that were dug deep in my neural pathways to be re-routed. But now, instead of considering myself a cynic, I jokingly refer to myself as a cynical optimist. ;)

    Keep up the good work.

  • http://www.vishnusvirtues.com/ Vishnu

    It takes a lot of courage to write a post like this and thank you for doing so Elizabeth. Your battle with depression to the epiphany you had through journaling and your discoveries are inspiring. As Katy points out, it’s not those suffering from depression that may be experiencing negativity and doubts. It’s all of us at different points in our lives in varying degrees.

    The biggest take-away for me is the power of thoughts and how you realized you’re able to control them. When we change our thoughts, we can change our perspective. But realizing we can change our thoughts is the real lesson here. You offer a lot of good suggestions – replacing a positive track with the negative one, meditation, affirmations etc. I spend a lot of my day with all of these positive habits in my life in order to reduce the amount of down time or negative time I have in my life:) So instead of waiting for things to go downhill, I try to keep nourished with positivity by putting positive books, affirmations, people and perspectives around me. And like you, I consciously do that every day.

    Thank you again for sharing your insights.

  • Erin

    Wow! Your honesty is SO inspiring. I too struggle with depression, throughout my 20s and into my 30s. I also got help and am just about where you are in your journey, just working at being happy and positive every day :) My favorite quote: We either make ourselves miserable, or we make ourselves happy. The amount of work is the same.” ― Carlos Castaneda.

  • Saloni

    Hi Elizabeth. This is exactly what i needed at the moment and probably many others too. The way you have put your story into words taking a detour from rough road to a smooth one is just commendable. I can’t thank you enough for this. TinyBuddha has always helped me overcome my troubles and become a positive person and it wouldn’t have been possible without people like you. I am a regular reader and this is by far one of the best things that i have come across and can actually apply on myself. Truly inspirational. Thanks a lot.

    Regards,
    Saloni :)

  • ali

    Like many of the others below, this article has come at just the right time for me. I decided about two years ago that I’d take control and not let depression happen to me again by cultivating positive thinking, getting active (and also into yoga! I love it), setting goals and tackling negative patterns and I’m proud that I’ve thrown out a lot of the garbage from my life. However, in that two years I’ve also had two of the most challenging episodes of depression since my teenage years. Finally I am looking for the the deeper answers and the right care to help me find a better way to live and stick to it so it’s reassuring at this moment to be reminded that I am not alone, not by a long shot.

    Thank you for sharing your story. It’s a brave thing to do and I am sure with that courage and your determination you will continue to grow and shine.

  • Andrei

    Your words are so simple and yet so inspiring! Thanks for sharing this!

  • Jonathan

    It is encouraging to know that I am not alone. I couldn’t have explained how I am feeling any better if I had written the piece myself. Ironically, I know instinctively what I need to do but for some reason I am struggling to start the journey. Some days, going to the gym seems as daunting as trying to climb Everest.

  • Elizabeth Patterson

    Vishnu, thank you so much for taking the time to comment! You are right, the power of thoughts is very strong. I’m glad that you liked some of my suggestions. It’s great that you spend each day working on positive habits. It took awhile to make them a daily routine, but once I did, it was amazing how much better I felt. Thanks again for your thoughts!

  • Elizabeth Patterson

    Jonathan, you are definitely not alone. It is hard to remember that sometimes. Glad to know that I have a kindred spirit. I, too, struggle with the exercise part! I still have my bad days, but instead of punishing myself for not having a good day, I just tell myself that tomorrow I’m going to make it better. Thanks for your comment. If I can do it, anyone can!!!

  • Elizabeth Patterson

    Thanks, Andrei! I’m hoping to inspire others just like this website does for me. Glad my words did that for you!

  • Tana

    Thank you for writing and sharing. And especially for reiterating that, even with medication and therapy, the fight against depression takes work on a daily basis. Retraining our minds does not come only with a pill. It is a fight. The payoff is there and attainable with time. Your words mean a lot to me and likely to many more. Thank you.

  • Elizabeth Patterson

    Thank you so much, Ali! I really appreciate your sweet comment. You are definitely not alone. I also know what it is like to struggle. In the past, I just relied on medication, but therapy has helped tremendously. I avoided it for years because those I had tried made me uncomfortable. My counselor now is really easy to talk to and genuinely seems to care about me. It is so hard to find good mental health care. I also am still learning coping skills. If something really bad were to happen, I’m not sure how I would react. I’m hoping that since I’m stronger, I will be able to handle it. Hang in there. I know it’s not easy, but you can do it!

  • Elizabeth Patterson

    Saloni, I am touched. Tiny Buddha is amazing! The reason I wrote this was to inspire and I’m so glad it just that for you. You are so welcome. Definitely use some of those techniques. They really help. Thank you so much!!

  • Elizabeth Patterson

    Thanks, Erin! I was scared, but wanted to share my story. I’m glad we are at the same place. We can do it!! Love the quote. Very true!

  • Elizabeth Patterson

    Thanks for commenting, Derek! You are so right. Time is the one thing that we can’t rush. I keep wanting some things to move faster, but I know changing your attitude is something that won’t happen overnight. Would be great if that was possible, though! “Cynical optimist”…love it! Thanks again.

  • Elizabeth Patterson

    Thank you, Tana! I always relied on the meds and after some major reflection, I knew something had to give. You definitely have to put in the work to reap the rewards. I’m glad this means a lot to you. You are welcome.

  • RandyH

    Hi Elizabeth…how beautifully brave of you to share this story. I’ve read all the comments and there’s nothing left to say that hasn’t been said so I’ll just say “ditto”. I’m curious…have you or anyone you know of eliminated their medication? Mindfulness, meditation and living in the here and now have greatly improved my life on medication. My goal is to eliminate it but it’s scary. Any feedback?

  • Elizabeth Patterson

    Randy, first of all, thank you very much! Second, I have not eliminated the meds and don’t plan on it. I agree with you…scary! The people I have known who have dropped their medication were not ready to do so because they were not taking care of themselves. I honestly don’t know the best answer. I guess it would depend on how serious the diagnosis and what kind of medication one was taking. Again, thanks for commenting and good luck with your decision.

  • Robin Stewart

    Elizabeth this is a great article. Thank you for sharing!

  • Elizabeth Patterson

    Hey Robin! Glad you are on Tiny Buddha. I love this site so much. Thank you so much:) It was definitely written from the heart.

  • PRAVIN J SHAH

    EXCELLENT ARTICLE. DESCRIBES DEPRESSION AND TREATMENT’S HOPES, PERSISTENCE REQUIRED AND LIMITATIONS. THANKS A LOT.

  • Rishabh Rastogi

    You have what I will call it as ‘ accepted,grown and transcended’ your weakness and that take a lot of true grit and effort. Hats off to the effort that you’ve put in and I realize that how hard it must have been to consistently work without quitting.
    Recently I have also been under the spirals of negative thoughts and I also want to learn and go beyond them and I will try few things that you did, lets hope it changes me for the good.
    I really salute you for the patience,control over you mind and persistence that you have shown.

  • Amy

    great post I can identify with lots. I’m 33, living on my friend’s sofa and my life is a mess so I find being positive about the future overwhelming at times but my song is ‘Step by Step’ by Whitney in my head. I sing it too as I love singing. The lyrics are good and helpful when feeling so very low.