My Mindset Challenge for Positivity

My life, all things considered, is going pretty well. Almost half a decade into brain surgery recovery, and I have moved to NYC and began a career, and my mind is at its most peaceful in years. One of the biggest improvements to my life is the new found outlook to life, which, until then, had been bound with anxiety and depression. Until recently, depression, anxiety, neuro-fatigue, and paranoia ruled my life.

My Mindset Challenge for Positivity:

The only person that can make me feel the way I feel is myself

21480187763_6c6a134822_zThe very first time I told myself, “I am the only person that can make me feel this way. No one else has that power over me,” I was rocking myself in bed, sobbing.  I don’t remember what the exact circumstance was, but my little heart had been wounded in some way or another, and I was having one of my meltdowns.

I repeated to myself that I had a choice: to allow myself to be sucked into the Negative Loop, and spend the whole day in bed crying, or I could break the cycle, convince myself that it really doesn’t matter, and I shouldn’t have to waste a perfectly good day.

To my surprise, after a while of mental tug-of-war, I stopped crying, my heart rate slowed, and I was able to breathe.  I spent the weekend actually doing things and occupying myself with activities, as opposed to spending it in the dark confines of my bedroom, blinds closed.

It was an epiphany: I can feel horrible and hurt and angry and sad all I want, affected by external or internal circumstances (real or imagined), but in the end, the only person who is sad and angry is ME.  Why should I suffer and ruin an otherwise perfectly fine day by brooding and being angry, when I could be having a great time?

As a matter of fact, the person who was the cause of my anxiety probably has no idea I am under such duress (though to be fair, my paranoid response to their actions/words are in most cases excessive, given the nature of anxiety disorders- in most cases, the physical or emotional reaction is an overreaction to a stimulus 1).

From then on, whenever I feel my anxiety welling up, panic setting in, or depression starting to shadow over me, I repeated the magic words: “The only person that can make me feel the way I feel is myself.”

Most of the time, it didn’t work, and I had a full blown attack. But increasingly, I was able to slowly talk myself out of the ditch.  With practice and repetition of my “thought curving,” events that incapacitated me before no longer affected me as strongly.  My recovery time became much quicker, enabling me to enjoy my days more freely.

For the first time in my life, I learned to convince myself that I am in control of my own emotions and reactions to events, instead of being dragged through the ride.

Why the challenge?

23703927706_65924fbab8_zThe above mentioned concept is probably one which comes naturally to many.  However, to many, like me, who have been living through life-long battles with social/general anxiety, depression, self confidence issues, and insecurities stemming from anything between social awkwardness to physique, Think Your Way Out Of Negativity was never really a possibility.

After all, Depression isn’t just being sad. It engulfs you. It eats you from the inside. It whispers dark and damning things into your ears, at the raw core of your existence, where you are most vulnerable. It stabs you where it hurts, and sometimes, it just hurts so good to wallow in it, allowing negativity to spiral out of control around you, swallowing you whole.

I was an unwilling subscriber to this lifestyle for many years. Diagnosed with depression in 7th grade, I was constantly medicated with cocktails of drugs to control my mood disorders (the diagnoses just kept piling on), until that one fateful day, half a year after my brain surgery, when my neurologist and neurosurgeon gave the okay for me to stop taking my medications.

They meant the seizure medications, which I had been taking before and after my surgery to keep any residual seizure activities under control.  But my mother and I made the decision to cut me off all medications, if only to see what would happen.  My psychiatrist was opposed to the idea (of course, since the only reason why I kept the 15 minute appointment every 3 months for $90 was to get a refill prescription of my medications…), but we figured, “Why not.” Summer vacation was coming up anyways.

The result was a myriad of disorders and conditions that we were completely unprepared for, but that’s for another post… Long story short, for the first time since pre-adolescence, I had to deal with my brain and its fickleness, along with the healing brain injury, without medications.  Since medications could not help me anymore to keep my anxiety or panic attacks controlled, I had to develop ways to “think my way” out of the attacks and bouts of depression that hit me from time to time.

23362090239_f74e3471fd_zI began therapy that summer, when my world fell apart, leaving me raw to come face to face with my brain injury.  Through trial and error (on both the therapy methods and choice of therapists), I began to understand that with my brain injury in the frontal lobe, my anxiety and executive functioning were highly affected, leaving me an anxious disorganized mess.

What I experienced, every time I was startled, or I was affected by someone’s look, tone of voice, or words, was called a Negative Feedback Loop 2, and by allowing my brain to loop itself deeper and deeper into a panic or depression by Negative Self Talk or brooding on a situation, I was allowing the Feedback Loop to noose tighter and tighter around my throat.

It is difficult to explain how anxiety could debilitate someone as much as it can.

How every subway ride could potentially trigger a panic attack; how I could burst out in random tears while being jostled around Times Square during rush hour.

How I had to read over every Cover E-mail 10 times, and be riddled with anxiety for the next few hours after pressing “Send;” how every snide comment or expression could haunt me for days, as I scrutinized every word, expression, and tone, chiding myself for my stupid remarks.

Being content and happy came laboriously, but catastrophe and jeopardy were quick and swift. My inability to prioritize tasks and execute them raised my anxiety, which in turn made me less able to organize and get my work done, my teeth brushed, or feet out the door.

Me & My New Brain.

10922450_10203701225950877_1227903726097777314_n I don’t know what’s going on with my left frontal lobe. I don’t know if there’s activity there again, or if the neurons have simply remapped themselves around the mass of fleshy gray that got damaged when they took my AVMs out. I haven’t seen my scans since my surgery, so all I know is that, at the point after my surgery, that area of my brain was no longer in commission.  What I know for sure is that have been seizure-free for over 4 years, and I am functioning fairly well for someone with substantial damage in the frontal lobe.

The frontal lobe is the control center for the brain. It is where the thinking, decision making, and planning happens, as well as where your personality lives. It is also essential for fluent, meaningful speech. It is the Executive Function Control Center, as well as Personality Control Center. (Want to learn more about parts of your brain and what they do? Here’s a good place to start!)

Damage to the frontal lobe can cause “changes in personality, limited facial expressions, and difficulty in interpreting one’s environment, such as not being able to adequately assess risk and danger,” along with executive function and speech issues 3.  In my case, I developed Executive Function Disorder, Anxiety Disorder (along with Panic Disorder), Stress Gait Disorder, and Non-Epileptic Seizure Disorder. Majority of the symptoms loop back to my Executive Function Disorder and Anxiety Disorder. They themselves do their own Negative Feedback Loop, as not being able to organize and do tasks spiked my anxiety, which in turn made it impossible to plan, organize, and execute tasks.

Have you made any recent changes to your mindset or lifestyle to invite positivity in your life? Please share with me! 🙂


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Notes:

  1. “Anxiety is a feeling of fear, uneasiness, and worry, usually generalized and unfocused as an overreaction to a situation that is only subjectively seen as menacing. It is often accompanied by muscular tension, restlessness, fatigue and problems in concentration.” (Wikipedia)
  2. Addressing Anxiety and the Negative Feedback Loop @ GoodTherapy
  3. Frontal Lobe Anatomy & Pictures @ Healthline

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11 Comments

  1. YOU ARE BACKKKK!!! I missed you and I’m so glad to see you blogging. <3

    I too struggled with negative thinking and it was only this year that I started to make an effort to think positively. It is still an ongoing process and I still have to take the time and recognize my old negative thoughts and force myself to say out loud the err of my negativity. It actually helps a lot. I think I blogged about my thoughts and my journey to optimism this past summer or start of fall.

    You are definitely headed in the right direction especially when you are doing this for yourself and not anybody else. <3 More power to you! I admire you so much because you are fearless and courageous. Keep it up.

    1. I AM INDEED BACKKKKK hahaha. Though I’m noticing more and more, reading my own writing, both on my blog and commenting on other people’s blogs, that my thoughts are choppy, sentences really disconnected, and I’m just ALL OVER THE PLACE. I can’t tell if it’s the caffeine, or my brain is yet again doing something really weird… Lol.

      Anyways, I’d always been a skeptic of things like meditation and “self talk” and all that quackery, but I’m really impressed that a “mindset reset” actually does help… And helping much more than “chemical balancing” via drugs or whatever else psychologists have tried for over a decade. It really is all in the mind, right? Fascinating how the brain works… I’m hoping to be able to control the way my brain functions by “talking” my way through the ups and downs…

  2. Glad to meet you, and also yes, my car accident/wreck showed me the truth of so much. You are spot on that the only person that can change yourself, is you. I love this post so much! That’s why I loved/love blogging. Helps me channel my thoughts/feelings into positive ones.

    1. Thanks for coming by. 🙂 I’m hoping that I’m going to slowly be able to internalize this concept… Because I’m quite frankly SO tired of living with so much anxiety and depression… I want to be HAPPY! And I’ve finally understood that in order to do so… I need to change first…

  3. I think in some ways we all struggle with negative thinking but as you mentioned, others are more effected by it and react much more poorly while others recovery time is much shorter. I like that you have found a method that works for you to try and help mitigate the potential go into a negative feedback loop. As a teenager I would say I had similar issues and found that depression was the norm for me. In fact, when I met my husband, I would purposely sabotage myself and cause issues because to not be crying all the time seemed odd to me. I’m happy to say that through self-realization and acknowledgement of my tendencies, I was able to slowly climb out of that hole. I still have my moments but like you said, only I can make myself feel a certain way but more importantly, only I can choose to let it dictate the way I live my life and I decided a long time ago, it’s just not worth it.

    1. I’m so glad you’ve discovered what works for you! I’ve been living through mental illnesses for majority of my life, so the past few years have been the first time in a VERY LONG TIME that I’ve been free of major clinical depression… And I want to stay that way… So I need to figure this thing out quick so that I can live the rest of my life positively! Now to keep on telling myself this to convince myself… Haha.

  4. Heya nice meeting you! I live in New York too!

    I know somebody who recently suffered damage to his brain and his behavior changed 180. It’s horrible, and I feel terrible about it, but there’s not much I can do because he is unwilling to admit that he has anxiety or depression or any of those things, but instead says he has a damaged brain and uses it to act out and be a spoiled brat. I put it out of my mind most of the time, but it bothers me a lot since I’ve known him my whole life and his life has been changed with the incident.

    I actually took a look at your photographic documentation of your brain injury and I feel very encouraged after reading this how much you’ve been through and have got through. I had a mini-stroke a few years ago but it was so small that I wasn’t affected apart from my right arm which I can never write more than a paragraph again (so if I were to take the SATs I would fail now). For a long time after that I was afraid of getting depressed, but I don’t actually believe the only person who can make you sink into negativity is yourself. I’ve gone through some stuff in recent years and the ones who made me sink into negativity are other people, when I try and try to just live my life the way I want. I’m not blaming them anymore – I did for a while then tried not to and it felt worse that I felt hurt – but some of the things they have said just don’t make sense to me and I don’t think that’s anybody’s fault at this point. Negativity is just not the way to do things for any situation, throwing blame at others or yourself doesn’t help. If you’re feeling down there must be a reason for it.

    If you ever want to talk about brain injuries or strokes or getting through tough times, please hit me up! 🙂

    1. Hello! I knew you lived in NYC, but had no idea about a mini-stroke! That’s amazing, that you’ve been able to bounce back so well! I lost quite a bit of fine motor skills after my surgery, so I had to slowly regain them… Now I’m able to write a few paragraphs, maybe!

      I agree- most of the time, the reason why I’m upset or hurt is because of others’ actions. People have said and done horrible things to me in the past few years, one of which was calling me a “menace to society” (when my mom was trying to get me to drive again), and another by my mentor teacher which destroyed my whole career path (I was getting a Master’s Degree in special education, and because of her horrible actions, I was not able to get my teaching certification, despite the fact that I worked through brain surgery and brain injury to obtain my said degree…). People do horrible things and it’s really incomprehensible to me on the most part, but I am trying to internalize the concept that no matter how horrible people are to me… I can make the decision on whether or not to LET them destroy me and everything I’ve worked for (sometimes works, sometimes doesn’t… one day maybe I’ll have full control of my reactions?? doubt it though.).

      People had all these things to say when I was still trying to regain my composure in life, stuff about how just lazy I am or piling excuses, but once I actually tried to do things, they would tell me how I’m damaged and inadequate; will never work, and me being a professional and independent human being would be a menace to society… I can never satisfy those people!!

      I would love to chat with you some time! 🙂 It’s hard finding people who actually “understand” the struggles and the triumphs of your experiences unless they experienced them themselves… I don’t want sympathy or to be looked at differently, and as “damaged goods” as many people have done; I just want to be able to discuss my life, the most important few years of my life, and not be judged for my struggles! It’s hard to find friends here, since it’s hard for me to juggle work and keeping up with friends because I never know from day to day how my fatigue level will be… Haha.

  5. This reminds me of the Eleanor Roosevelt quote, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” Oftentimes I find myself just moping around, blaming life/circumstances/others for my misery, when really if I just got out of bed and did something I would feel so much better! This is such a great mindset to have and I feel that it is one that can really transform your life for the better. Of course it’s always easier said than done. 😛

    I recently received some advice from a close professor to be bold. I’m a pretty quiet and timid person, so I’m never the first one to speak up in a group of people. I also tend to shy away from opportunities because change can be really terrifying to me, so I’m trying to just remember those two little words to not be so afraid of just being me.

    1. It definitely is easier said than done… Especially when the bed is so welcoming. Haha! I’m so glad you have a close professor that can give you life advice! My university was so large that it was very difficult to forge relationships beyond the classroom, so that’s one thing I miss about not going to a smaller school where I could find a mentor! With my anxiety and social anxiety, it’s difficult for me to instigate change and make a leap… But I do find that my life is so much better every time I make that jump and just run with it! (Despite spending a few days suffering from nausea/my brain freaking out.) I hope you take those chances and be you! 🙂

  6. Anxiety and depression are horrid to deal with. I’ve always had issues with it (mostly severe worrying). It got worse over the last year for me. But also some is likely due to my thyroid junk that apparently bounces around. I know I’m less able to handle stuff it seems and sometimes just want to curl up and cry. I try to be more positive, but it can be extremely hard. When you hurt you just want to keep hurting sometimes even when you know you need to try to pull yourself out of it. And sadly most people that haven’t dealt with it don’t really get it.

    Sadly your case seems quite bad, but I love how you pulled yourself out of it. I might have to try that the next time I freak out or whatever.

    Stay positive! *hug*

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