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The Enchanted Outlook

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suicide

“Is This Normal?” (Wellness Spells Series)

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When I used to work for a mental health nonprofit, I would get asked a question from time to time. It went something like this: “I do this strange behavior and I’m worried that I may be mentally ill. Is this behavior normal?”

Now, not being a licensed clinician, I couldn’t give medical advice, and I would tell them so and refer them to a clinician, but I would also ask them how the behavior made them feel. There was a reason I asked that particular question, though, and I will explain why.

There are many different definitions of “abnormal.” One is, quite simply, not adhering to the norm. So, these would be the behaviors at the far end of a bell curve, so to speak. The problem with this definition of “abnormal” is that it isn’t inherently bad. A person with high intelligence would be abnormal. A person who has unusually good well-being would be abnormal. A person who has very high emotional intelligence would be abnormal. In fact, many notable public figures would be abnormal in some way or another, whether through their creativity, their wittiness, or their strength of character. So you see, simply not adhering to the “norm” is not a bad thing at all, psychologically speaking. To compound the confusion with this, what is considered “the norm” varies across cultures anyway.

A second definition of “abnormal,” the one that is often used as part of a mental illness diagnosis, is that which is maladaptive; i.e. more harmful than helpful. These behaviors can cause harm or distress to self or others. If a behavior or thought pattern is causing a person distress, preventing them from being able to live a full life, preventing them from being able to form healthy relationships, or putting others at risk, then that behavior or thought pattern may be something that needs to be addressed by a mental health professional. Just as there is no reason to live with a physical illness that is impairing our ability to thrive if we can help it, we do not need to limit ourselves by ignoring the symptoms of a potential mental illness, either.

So, it’s always good to double-check with a licensed clinician if you think you may have a mental health condition, but it can help to ask yourself how the behavior or thought pattern makes you feel. Is it causing you distress? Is it preventing you from being able to hold down a job or concentrate in class? Are you worried about hurting yourself or others?** Is it interfering with your relationships? Then it is something you want to see a licensed professional about.

By all means, get a professional opinion if you have a behavior or thought that is concerning you. But, consider that it’s okay to be quirky, or eccentric, or to think outside the box. To me, that’s what having an Enchanted Outlook is all about. If we all thought exactly the same, what a boring world that would be! Our differences in perspective and thought are what make us human. And remember: it’s possible to be both “abnormal” and have excellent mental well-being.

So, I intended to make another wellness spell to go with this one, but I sat here for maybe twenty minutes because I was concerned about the ethics of summing this one up TOO concisely. So- feel free to make your own wellness spell if you would like. Something to do with accepting yourself. But also taking care of yourself. And seeking a second opinion if needed. But being okay with having your own unique perspective. Unless that perspective is bothering you. Or hurting someone else. And ultimately knowing that it’s important to do the safest thing.

Oh goodness. Maybe this should just be a nonverbal spell. Anyway, remember to practice self-love and take care of you.

**If you are having thoughts of hurting yourself or others, please call 911 or your equivalent emergency services, or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK or the online crisis chat at https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/Both services are free, confidential, and available 24/7.

Optimism Do’s and Don’ts

optimism smile field girl

The Original Phoenix wrote a wonderful post recently called 4 Ways Positive Thinking Helps Me that got my wheels turning, particularly since she mentioned some articles that were critical of positive thinking. I had seen some similar anti-optimism articles circulating lately and have been wanting to address both sides of the coin. When I worked as a suicide prevention instructor, I had given a lot of thought to when and in what ways optimism is helpful and when it is not so helpful. I decided to compile a little guideline to optimism from what I had learned through work and also through personal research.

1.Do practice gratitude.

Studies have shown that practicing gratitude has a very positive effect on mental health along with tons of other benefits. I like to think of what I am grateful for when I wake up in the morning. It puts my stresses in perspective.

2. Don’t ignore your own feelings.

In America where I live, there can be this kind of expectation of optimism that sometimes makes it hard to NOT look on the bright side. Think about it: what’s the standard answer to the question, “How are you?” Do people really want to hear any answer other than “good?” But denying our own feelings isn’t helpful. We can be honest with our own feelings and still hope for a positive outcome in difficult times.

3. Do find the silver lining.

When bad things happen to us, it’s very easy to focus on what else could go wrong. I am guilty of this as well. While being prepared for the worst isn’t a bad thing, I do like to take a moment to ask myself, “what could go right?” What opportunities could come from a bad situation? What can be learned? How can this experience lead to growth?

4. Don’t be blindly optimistic when the consequences are high.

There are many times when it pays to be optimistic. When the consequences of failure are high, it doesn’t pay to be optimistic.* In other words, go into that job interview optimistic; what’s the worst that can happen? But don’t start up that full passenger jet plane with the check engine light on and hope for the best. Blind optimism in risky situations is not a good thing.

5. Do make optimism intentional.

It’s easy to fall into a rut of our traditional thinking and forget to be optimistic; I’ve certainly been there. That’s why I try to make time for optimism. Optimism can help  with ability to cope with stress, our social support, our health, our career, our longevity, and more* so there are a number of reasons why it pays to be a little optimistic besides just “feeling good.”

6. Don’t forget to wallow now and again.

Is there anything more cathartic than a good cry? When I was little and I would cry, my mom would read me the Owl at Home story about “Tearwater Tea.” Owl wants to make his favorite tea, so he thinks of sad things like broken chairs and forgotten spoons until he has filled up a teapot with his tears. As silly as it is, it’s a reminder that a good cry once in a while is important. Just make sure that wallowing is a place you visit on occasion, and not a place you live full-time.

7. Do defend your own personal boundaries.

Don’t let others tell you how you should or shouldn’t feel. You are feeling miserable today? Feel miserable. Feeling optimistic? Feel optimistic. Exploring our own emotions is a very personal journey and shouldn’t be invalidated by others. It’s okay to feel what you need to feel. Even this post; if you’re not feeling it today, it’s okay to say, “no thanks” and come back to it another time.

8. Don’t force optimism on others.

On the flip side, it isn’t helpful to force our feelings on others when they come to us for help. Truly listening involves accepting how someone else is feeling with no strings attatched. I have found that when we listen in a non-directive way, it is easier for people to talk through their own feelings and to find a solution that works best for them. Often this process leaves people feeling much more optimistic in the end than if we try to force them to feel how we feel about a situation.

I hope this has been a helpful guide to optimism. And speaking of gratitude, thanks to The Original Phoenix for the inspiration. Be sure to check out her blog for posts about mental health, college life, and the power of human potential.

Source: Positive Psychology: Theory, Research and Applications, by Kate Hefferon and Ilona Boniwell

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