Wednesday, February 01, 2017

Train your brain

Makes sense, doesn't it?
Some time last year, I bought a book by actress and singer Demi Lovato titled Staying Strong: 365 Days a Year. 

At the time, I was struggling to get my disorder under control, and I was looking for something to help me stay stable. I thought this book would be it, but I ended up forgetting all about it as things grew progressively worse. Fast forward to yesterday, when I was unpacking a box of books in my room and found it at the bottom, along with some other reading material about recovering from depression. Anyway, I picked it up and decided to use it as a daily devotional of sorts—which brings me to the point of this post.

Staying Strong: 365 Days a Year is, as Demi herself writes in the foreword, “a collection of my own words, quotes that inspire me, as well as lessons, meditations, reflections and daily goals.” Starting today, I'll read a page of this book every day and blog about it. So let’s begin.

Today’s passage: 

February 1
When we show our love, the world opens its arms for us.
You get back what you put out in the world. Put out positive energy and positivity is what you will receive. It’s [so] amazing how love can calm any situation. Even if other people behave in ways that are toxic or harmful, when you respond with love and compassion, it is powerful. Whatever the result is, you know you can sleep at night knowing you’ve done right, and that’s all you can control.

My thoughts:

I’ve always had a big problem with being and staying positive. When I was younger, I thought it was because I was a typical angsty teenager. I expected to grow out of my mood swings eventually. But as I got older, I started to feel like maybe there was more to my disposition—another reason why I was extremely irritable, pessimistic and tired all the time, among other things—than mere angst or hormonal changes. 

That feeling was confirmed in the summer of 2015, when, after a suicide attempt, I was diagnosed with a severe mental illness.

When you’re mentally ill, it’s not as easy to be and stay positive as it is for “normal” people. But a mentally ill person isn’t negative by choice. In the same way that someone who has a cold can’t help sneezing, a mentally ill person just can’t help but be negative. Based on personal experience, I can say that a mentally ill person’s brain automatically goes to a dark place in any given situation. By the time the person realizes what’s happening, it’s too late for him or her to stop his brain from going there.

That’s what it was like for me for such a long time. It wasn’t until I was diagnosed and treated that I started to be less of a negatron. Yes, part of my treatment involved taking oral medication, but my psychiatrist Dr. Randy Dellosa also taught me to train my brain to be positive. He told me to start with countering my negative thoughts with positive ones. I had trouble doing that, especially at first, but it got easier with practice and time. As I got used to thinking positively, I started to act positively too. I became less irritable and pessimistic. More importantly, I became less combative. 

Before I learned to train my brain, I was the kind of guy who took everything too personally and seriously. I would start fights with everyone over the smallest things. I used to believe going on the offensive was the best—make that only—response to any situation, and that calling people names, cussing at them or raising my voice was the most effective way to win an argument.

I’m proud to say I know better now.

Don’t get me wrong, I still have my moments, particularly when I’m unable to take my meds. But for the most part, I’m now able to respond to people and situations—even those that would sorely test the patience of a saint—with love and compassion, as Demi writes in today’s passage from Staying Strong: 365 Days a Week. Because I learned to act and think positively, I also learned better ways to relate to people.

Case in point: several months ago, I had an appointment with clinical psychologist Zenia Panahon, who wrote the following about me in a psychiatric evaluation afterwards: “He appears to know how to deal with people, including those that seem volatile—calming the person down, understanding their need and trying to provide an answer for it.”

Fighting fire with fire isn’t always the best course of action. That said, I know it isn’t easy to train your brain to be positive so you can respond to negative situations positively. (Ano daw? Haha!) I know I wouldn’t have been able to manage it if I didn’t have my meds and my therapists. But if you successfully learn to come at others in the nicest possible way, they might be more inclined to listen to you. Yes, even if what you’re saying isn’t something they necessarily want to hear. As the saying goes, you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.

So to whoever is reading this, please try to train your brain like I did. I promise it will change you and your world for the better. Look at what it did for me.

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