Every Silver Lining

… has a dark cloud.

Have you ever been talking to someone, and no matter how good life is for that person, there’s always a but.

A couple of  nights ago, that was me…

A portion of a conversation between me and a friend.

Me: “I got a big girl job!”
Friend: “You’re enjoying your new job?”
Me: “Yeah, but I’m working 12-14 hour days.”
Friend: “But you’re making more money at your new job, right?”
Me: “Yeah, but I have all of these new bills to pay.”
Friend: “Well, you’ll get summers off.”
Me: “Yeah, but this summer I’ll be working on my dissertation…”

Finally my friend joked: “Every silver lining has a dark cloud.”

This comment made me aware of what I was doing…

You see, I’m a recovering pessimist. I’ve hinted here and there about my addiction to negative thoughts (here and here), but I haven’t yet devoted an entire post to it.

Here it goes, I guess.

Throughout my life, into my mid- to late-20’s, I was a Negative Nelly.

  • The glass was half empty.
  • The cloud was dark, fuck the silver lining.
  • If someone started laughing as I approached, I was pretty sure they were laughing at me.
  • If someone didn’t return a call, they obviously didn’t like me.
  • If I had to talk to someone about a problem I had with them, in my mind the outcome could only be WWIII.

There was no in between.

I made some small steps on turning that around even before my divorce, but I didn’t start making real progress until I started going to counseling back in 2009. My counselor acted as a 3rd party to reflect my negative thoughts back at me. When she did that, she got me thinking about if those negative thoughts were reasonable or not.

  • If someone didn’t call me back, was it that they didn’t like me or was there perhaps another explanation?
  • If someone started laughing when I walked in room, were they really laughing at me or might there be something else?
  • If I needed to express my feelings and/or thoughts to someone, did it really need to be a highly combative situation or were there other alternatives?

At first, fear wanted me to believe that yes, they hated me. Or, yes, they really were laughing at me. Or, yes, it really would become WWIII. After all, I had some experiences to back up those responses.

But as I started looking around with new eyes, I realized the negative answer wasn’t always the right one. In fact, it often wasn’t the right one.

  • Perhaps my friend just got busy.
  • Perhaps my timing just coincided with a really funny joke.
  • Perhaps I could communicate in a different way so the conversation wouldn’t escalate.

Certainly it didn’t do me any good to plan for the worst. It was an incredibly heavy burden to worry that everyone was out to get me!

Over the past 6 years, I’ve collected more and more data that supports that the world really is a pretty fantastic place. With these data, I’ve let go of so much of my burden. Yay!

And yet, those naggy, chirpy, annoying Negative Nelly voices want to be heard sometimes.

Though I’m very confident my current, challenging situation will work out Ok in the end, when I was talking with my friend those negative voices just had to be heard.

While I’m a big proponent of not silencing negativity when it needs to be heard, I feel like what was coming out of my mouth while talking with my friend wasn’t helpful. I didn’t feel better after piping up with my worries. They just wanted to remind me that they were still there, ready to pull me down if I wasn’t careful.

So I’m very glad my friend reminded me of silver linings: the ones I’m always looking for when my concentration is focused.

Yes, I have to work to stay positive, but I know it is work worth doing. It has made the difference between happiness and misery, or at least mediocrity. 

Joe Walsh once sang, “I can’t complain, but sometimes I still do.” I guess that’s me, and it’s something I’m working on. At least I know I’m in good company with my problem.


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