I gotta admit that right on this second, I’m on the “bright side”. This post just comes from the master of all inspirations = avoiding homework, and remembering a bit about the time I spent when I was in psychiatry practice and got to play doctor on a bunch of depressed people, anxious people, ocd people, post-traumatic stress disorder people, etc. (I didn’t do any harm to them, just got to talk to them a lot. The attending doc was the one in charge of doses and serious treatment stuff).
So, yea. As we grow older, we become increasingly aware of how the world around us is not a magical, beautiful thing taken from a fairy tale. There are many cool things around there, but there is also really bad stuff. So how do people manage to wake up everyday (or at least most days) feeling content and optimistic? Or even wake up at all. Do normal happy people get to be in some sort of enhanced version of the world? Do they have too little problems? Are they faking?
It’s hard to tell, but I really don’t think so. This is also not a secret for most people: it’s all about perception, It’s all in your head, It’s true. It doesn’t mean it’s not real. That’s where the argument still lies, many people think that because it’s just in your head, then it’s less serious than if it was a tangible thing.
“What is real? How do you define real? If real is what you can feel, smell, taste and see, then real is simply electrical signals interpreted by our brain.”
I’m not going to go all matrix on you, I just want to make my point. Everything we think of as external world, it’s just an interpretation. Humans share a genetic code that is almost identical for all of us (same species, hey!), and from a similar environment acting on similar structure, we can easily understand why probably those interpretations are generally not too different from each other (ie, we have a general idea of what’s happy, sad, funny, red, blue, etc).
Same happens with the “color” we give to what happens everyday, most will agree that getting a raise in your job is a good thing, and getting fired sucks! However, though similar for the most part, our interpretations are far from being identical, since not the gene code, nor the environment are identical for every one of us. And many subtle and not so subtle happenings of life will also get a different color depending on the incredibly complex and not well understood process by which our brain interprets stuff.
And yes, some people’s mechanisms for whatever reason happen to be fucked up and they selectively see many more things as “bad” or “sad” or “tragic”, while normal people maybe wouldn’t. That’s why, for these people in the hospital, telling them that everything was ok and the sun was shining wouldn’t convince them. Everything could be perfect from our point of view while they would be seeing the same and thinking it’s hell.
Our optimism depends entirely on our ability to stay on that bright side of the world. To have our brain consistently interpreting the surroundings, not correctly (it doesn’t matter at all what’s correctly interpreted or not), but in a practical way that allows us to ignore those rational and irrational thoughts that aren’t useful for us, and only lead us to stress, anxiety and suffering.
Everything is good when this healthy mechanism works fine, but when it doesn’t, what do we do? There’s little the direct affected person can do about it, and there’s much less other people can do about it.
I used to love psychiatry, and I used to think I wanted to work in that field. The problems…. 1) It’s really hard to help someone with a mental issue. Most of your patients will end up hating you, even if you’re not a bad or neglectful person/doctor. Most of them will go away with the same problem they had yelling around about how that doctor wasn’t helpful at all. It’s just really hard. Psychiatry is still a very young science, and though there are many options and protocols, the treatments are still far away from being as effective as some other things in medicine. (Effective as epinephrine for reanimation or penicillin for syphilis). I just don’t think I could handle wanting to help these people and not being able to most of the times. I wish there was like one shot that cured schizophrenia, and another for bipolar disorder, and another for depression. But there’s no such thing.
2) It also happens that in order to be a good psychiatrist you’d have to have your own special pattern of thoughts. Have that set of optimistic perceptions in place, strong enough not to get down every time you see something bad. And it’s just that my bright side of the world is there, but stands on thin ice, and I can’t afford to constantly break that delicate equilibrium in my mind and calling it a job.