I’m going to be honest – I have not been doing well for the past month. This happens every fall when my depression rears it’s ugly head after a relatively peaceful summer. And with my depression, comes my psychosis. Things have been rough, to say the least. Even though it happens every year, I feel I am never adequately prepared. Prepared for the knowledge that winter could be worse. Prepared for the struggle of the next few days, weeks, and months. And knowing that I need to come up with a strategy to cope.
Everyone has their own coping mechanisms when things go south. Some are healthy, some are not. Most people have some of both. Unfortunately, one of my not so healthy coping mechanisms is pessimism. If you expect everything to go wrong, you can never be disappointed. Logical — but not healthy. This can very easily turn into a vicious cycle of self-fulfilling prophecy, cynicism, and deeper depression. Not good. So, whenever I feel myself falling down the “nothing will ever go right” rabbit hole, I turn to one of my favorite childhood literary heroes – Anne Shirley from Anne of Green Gables.
Anne’s attitude toward life is as different from mine as it could possibly be. She is an optimist. Not the irritating preachy ”Pollyanna” kind that makes it a game to find the good in bad situations (don’t get me started), but a true optimist. One who is open to the good in the world around her and uses her imagination to see beyond the bad. I first met Anne when she was an 11-year old orphan, sitting alone at a train station, waiting to be to be picked up by her new “family” who she has never met. Before ending up in the orphan asylum, her “family experience” had consisted of being used to take care of someone else’s children. A situation that should make anyone apprehensive and pessimistic. But not Anne. Instead, she spent her time noticing the beautiful wild cherry tree nearby, imagining herself sleeping in it if no one showed to pick her up.
Anne is picked up — by 60-year old Matthew Cuthbert, who was expecting an 11-year old boy, not a girl. Not surprisingly, she is crushed when she learns from Matthew’s spinster sister Marilla that she is going to be sent back to the orphan asylum. But, by the next morning, her natural optimism begins to raise its head. Knowing she must leave, her conversation with Marilla reflects her spirit and optimistic attitude, “I’m so glad that it’s a sunshiny morning. But I like like rainy mornings real well too. All sorts of mornings are interesting, don’t you think? You don’t know what is going to happen through the day, and there’s so much scope for the imagination.”
What I like most about Anne’s character is that it is not a false, unrealistic optimism. She doesn’t live in her imagination, she uses her imagination to see good possibilities. She knows that life does not always live up to one’s hopes, that disappointments abound. One of my favorite Anne quotes is “ I’m fond of romantic things, and a graveyard full of buried hopes is about as romantic a thing as one can imagine, isn’t it? I’m rather glad I have one.” Anne is realistic about life, acknowledges it’s pain, and then moves on. Throughout all of the Anne Of Green Gables series (12 books!) Anne manages to hold on to this attitude.
I can learn a lot from Anne. She has a way of turning every negative into a positive. People think her hair is too red, she looks strange, and her clothes are out of fashion. Anne celebrates her differences. Strict rules are placed upon her. She finds the joy in them. She sees the beauty around her. A blossoming tree. A sunshiny day. Little things can make her happy. In the first book of the series, all she wants is a dress with puffy sleeves (spoiler alert — she gets it).
I tend to do the opposite. At the first sign of negativity I panic. I feel I ruin things before I even touch them. Sometimes I feel like a total failure at age 22. Instead of going outside and appreciating the little things, I lie face down on my floor and dread the big ones. I need some of Anne’s extreme optimism.
This one Anne quote pretty much sums up her philosophy of life — “It’s been my experience that you can nearly always enjoy things if you make up your mind firmly that you will.” I am trying. I am trying to see the good inside of the bad. Yes, I have been too sick to spend much time with friends, but that has given me time to self reflect and make art. Yes, many of my pieces have been rejected, but this is just an opportunity to grow. I’m trying to find the light in even the darkest of places. Yes, I have been severely depressed for the past month, but it is showing me who my real friends are. Yes, I have experienced great trauma, but now I can educate others about it.
I think that everyone should bring a little Anne Shirley into their lives. That doesn’t mean not acknowledging the pain or difficulties in your life, but trying not to let them define your present and shape your future. Whenever you catch yourself predicting failure, stop yourself short. (I’m trying.) Try to find the good in the bad. (I’m trying.) It’s cliché, and a little schmaltzy I know, but try deep down, in your heart of hearts, to look on the bright side — the positive side. Treat yourself to small things, like Anne’s puffy sleeves (for me, I like lipstick and reading books about books). In the face of violent negativity, sometimes the best thing to do is face it with violent positivity. I am trying to believe I will be ok, and the more I believe it, the more I feel it is true. Anne’s methods can work, schmaltzy as they sound. So the next time you find yourself face down on the floor, think to yourself: What would Anne do?