I don’t want this to be a clichéd account of positive thinking, but it’s kind of hard to explain it in any other way. I’ll give it a go, and if you can reserve judgement until I’ve at least got part of the way through, I’d appreciate it 😉
Positive thinking has been around for so long I can’t even be bothered to Google it for a reference. Everyone has heard of how a positive mental attitude can affect the outcome of an event and make life better. That’s all well and good, but sometimes life is just bloody hard and no amount of positive thinking is going to make it less hard. It might be tempting in those times to just give up on trying to think better thoughts and drown your sorrows in wine and chocolate (just me?). But I thought I would offer another reason to try and stay positive.
Your attitude Effects How You Perceive Reality
When I had my first child I had the most horrendously lengthy labour imaginable. I stayed awake for exactly 56 hours while it felt like I was being ripped in two with every contraction. After my son was born I rapidly deteriorated into stage 4 hypovolemic shock. I haemorrhaged so severely they couldn’t find a pulse or get a blood pressure reading. I lost consciousness and I almost died. Once I had been stabilised and filled back up with donated blood, I was discharged. I was barely able to walk and accompanied by a newborn who proceeded to wake up eight times a night for food and comfort.
Around six weeks after the birth I was sat on the sofa idly watching Come Dine With Me. I had been suffering insomnia, despite the tiredness, because I kept reliving what had happened at the birth. I felt like a failure because I’d planned a home birth and I’d ended up in hospital. I was angry at some of the things the midwives had said and done. I felt like I was in a strangers body, 3 dress sizes larger than I had started out in. Motherhood didn’t begin well for me.
Realising How Low Your Mood Is
Suddenly, completely out of the blue, one of the commentator’s particular cutting comments actually made me laugh out loud (thank you Dave Lamb).
I still remember with such clarity the delicious feeling of unexpected laughter bubbling up from inside me because it felt so unusual. I realised with a feeling of disbelief that I hadn’t laughed once since my son had been born. I had barely managed to smile politely to reassure well-wishers that I was “coping”.
I had forgotten what it felt like to laugh, and the experience was so surreal and surprising – and pleasurable – that it really hit home how utterly unhappy and exhausted I had been.
I had so much to be grateful for, and yet I felt so low.
A positive attitude makes you feel better, even when you feel worse
When my third child was born, it was the baby I thought I would never have. We tried for three unbearably long years and I lost seven consecutive pregnancies in a weird prison-sentence of “secondary infertility”. By the time I went into labour I was so terrified that the baby was going to die I was probably carrying the title of Insane Pregnant Woman Of The Year on the Maternity Ward.
The minute my daughter was born, it felt as though the sun finally came out after three years of night, and bathed us both in the brightest and most heart-swellingly beautiful light I had ever seen.
There were post-birth complications and I had to go into surgery, but I was smiling at everyone like they were the most amazing people on earth. When I came round from the anaesthetic I gave the surgeon an enthusiastic thumbs-up even though my throat was too raw to talk. I was up and walking before they could stop me, asking for cannulas and catheters to be taken out. The midwife said she had never seen anyone recover so fast from a general anaesthetic.
Unlike my boys, my daughter was the baby that could not be put down. If I did put her down she began screaming within 30 seconds, even if she was asleep, and continued until I picked her up again. That was my life for four months. There are photos of me brushing my teeth while holding her, eating while holding her and even sat on the toilet holding her. She didn’t just sleep in the bed with me, she slept on my chest. She was so determined to be utterly bound to me that I learnt to do everything with one hand, including looking after my two boys.
How you remember events depends on your attitude at the time
So here’s the thing. my first son was by all standards a pretty easy-going baby. He slept in his Moses basket and was doing 8 hour blocks of sleep by 14 weeks old (as was his younger brother). But I still struggled through every day feeling physically wrecked, isolated, lonely and like I had been hit by a truck.
My daughter didn’t sleep 8 hours in a row until she was two. In fact, for the first four months she woke up every 90 minutes, and screamed.
I was so sleep deprived I used to leave the front door to the house unlocked, leave the oven running, forget everything as soon as I was told it, and drive off with the back doors (or boot) of the car still open (and thankfully all three of my kids strapped into their seats). I was a liability in the car and at home.
But here’s the thing. I was on such a high after I had her, that none of that mattered. When I look back on those early months, now three years ago, I still remember them with a warm and fuzzy feeling, because that is how I felt at the time – even on the nights when I sat with tears running down my face while feeding her because I was so desperate for sleep. The tears were transitory. They were a reaction to being woken up and having to get up again and feed a baby even though I wanted to sleep for a month.
They weren’t imbued with the negative emotion of how difficult it all was.
On the other hand, the tears with my son were a symptom of anger, shame, self-pity and a sense of failure. They embodied everything I was feeling at the time.
The circumstances were similar, and one was significantly easier than the other, but my experience and subsequent memory of them are quite different.
Okay, point taken, but they are extreme circumstances
Okay, let’s look at something less emotive than childbirth.
Let’s take being stuck at home with two toddlers on the the fourth consecutive rainy day of the holidays. I hate the cold and the rain. How many times I have been here I can’t count. The UK weather is so despicable it’s a wonder anyone ever starts a family here. There have been days where I have just hated having to be a parent. But the rainy day I remember most fondly is the one where I decided we were going to go out and “Have A Nice Time”.
My boys were 2 and 3. I dressed them up in all-in-one rain gear. I put them in wellies. I put my own coat and wellies on. And I took them to the park. No one else was there (of course, it was fucking raining and muddy). But the boys loved it. They slid down the slide at top speed in their rain onesies. They splashed in puddles. And instead of standing there hating it, I made a video on my phone and cheered them on.
Did I enjoy it? At the time, not really. I didn’t want to be there. I wanted to be at home in the warm. I knew that huge amounts of clearing up and washing would be required when we got back. My hands were cold and my hair was plastered to my face and I felt utterly trapped by parenthood.
But I decided to have fun. More than anything because I was fed up and I wanted to say Fuck You to the weather.
Choosing A Better Mindset
But here’s the weird thing. When I look back on that afternoon now, even though I was cold and miserable and I didn’t want to be there, the memory of that day is overwhelmingly positive. I remember the boys enthusiasm for the wet slide, and how we walked home with all the time in the world while everyone else was inside hiding from the rain. The fact that I stubbornly decided to have fun, even though it was a crappy situation, means that I remember it as fun.
On the other hand, there have been school runs in torrential rain where I have wanted to cry by the time I’ve gotten all the kids into the car, the buggy in the boot and myself in the drivers seat. There was less time spent in the rain, and there was more convenience in the form of a warm car, but the memory is negative because I decided during the event that it was such an ordeal.
Hopefully I am explaining this effectively. I have rambled on for so long and if you are still here then you clearly deserve a pat on the back for persistence (or you are my Dad).
What I’m trying to say is
Sometimes life is crap. It throws crap our way and trips us up and catches us out and makes us feel awful. We have a choice when this happens. We can wallow in the unfairness of it all and remember all the other crap that life has thrown at us and feel utterly sorry for ourselves. Or, we can cry and shout and then stand up and get on with it anyway.
Did you know that you can still choose to be “positive” about something even if it’s breaking your heart? Having that resolve to approach it with the most balanced and positive mindset changes how that situation is perceived forever.
Honestly. Try it with something simple. Next time you’re in a slow moving queue and your toddler tells you she needs a poo and you have fifteen minutes before the garage closes and you still have to collect your car and it’s raining and you can see the bus pulling into the stop outside… Next time life conspires to make you miserable, don’t connect the misery to anything else. Feel it, take a deep breath, and DECIDE that it’s all okay anyway.
I swear it works.
And, like many bloggers do, I’m really talking to myself at this stage, because…
Life as a parent can be hard. My days revolve around my kids, which I wouldn’t change, but sometimes I’d like my time to be a tiny bit more about me.
There will always be difficult bedtimes, kids that wake in the night, and tantrums over illogical things like the colour of a plate. It’s a choice in these moments whether to add it to the list of ordeals that you have to put up with each day, or to just let it pass and choose happiness because actually life could be a whole lot worse.
You can decide right now that it’s all going to be okay – and it will be. Even when it’s not.