Even before my Multiple Sclerosis years, I was told this all the time as I have always dealt with serious depression. “You just got to try to stay positive”. “Stay positive?” I thought, “That is like telling someone with arthritis to just try to produce more cartilage”. It made me mad. How could I just flip a switch and be positive and not depressed as my depression was clearly a biological issue and not a situational one?
Now I know the difference between my episodes of biological depression and situational depression. It even feels different. After I was diagnosed with MS I experienced a lot of situational depression just as most people do after that sort of life changing diagnosis. When it became clear to people that I was feeling down I began to hear it again; “just try to stay positive Matt”. My initial reaction would be that of someone extremely annoyed but after I gave it some thought I was able to see how it was possible to look at a bad situation in a different light; it’s temporary, it will get better, it could be worse. And though I was aware of this “positive thinking” possibility, I could never really implement it into my life no matter how hard I tried. Depression always won in the end.
Let’s fast-forward to about a month ago; I had recently moved to Colorado, I finally had my own car again (in fact, it was the exact model truck I had wanted since high school), and I had a job. The weather was great, I could go outside, and there was much more nature around me, which I love. Things were definitely looking up. Even still, I found myself coming home from work feeling bummed out. I hated my job. I appreciated it but I loathed going to work everyday. This would lead to days of minor depression here and there and I didn’t get why. Then I moved into my own apartment and transferred to a new location with the same company. A bigger store and a possibly more stressful job… I thought this factor alone would cancel out all the good in my life and once again send me into a bout of depression. To my surprise, no, it did not.
Why was this I wondered? Then I realized, what was the other thing I was always told when I was depressed? “You need to surround yourself with positive people”. I would try to hang out with friends but it was nothing more than a temporary patch that would peel off the moment I got home. At the last location I worked, people clearly hated their job and made zero effort to hide it; everyone sounded like they hated their life when talking over the walkie-talkies, people always had a sarcastic (but negative) response to “how are you today?” and people even looked unhappy! This naturally would rub off on me and even if no one was directing their misery directly at me the simple atmosphere of negativity would bring me down! Their negative mentalities gave me a negative mentality just like how being at a party where everyone is laughing and having a good time will probably make you laugh and have a good time. At this new location there is none of that negativity! People sound happy, everyone has a smile on, people get along with each other and just the same it rubs off on you and when you are positive it tends to rub off on everyone else. It’s a perpetual “emotional machine”.
Now I get it. Now I have experienced it both in black and white. Surrounding yourself with people who are actually happy makes it a lot easier to see things in a positive light than when you are surrounded by people being nothing but negative. You might find a positive solution to a bad situation that you would not have found in a negative environment because it is literally like looking at the same thing with two different lenses! It literally seems like feeling/being negative creates roadblocks along your neuro-pathways hindering your ability to seek out every possible solution to a problem in life.
It’s pretty obvious that Multiple Sclerosis can cause depression but what a lot of people don’t get is that there are really two different forms of depression. You have the biological kind (that is a chemical imbalance that you can’t really control without the use of the right medication to bring those chemical levels back into balance) and then you have the situational kind that medication really won’t affect; you have to learn how to see a bad situation differently. I have found the right medication for me (just like the disease modifying drugs for MS, what works for one may not work for another) so my biological depression is pretty well controlled. Controlling situational depression, however, is not as easy as taking a pill but I am pretty good at it now after years of learning to cope. Finally being able to see first hand how being around two different groups of people (while having to do the same exact thing) can greatly affect the way you look at your life situations, has definitely opened my eyes and I think it will definitely make life easier. I can see how it has changed my “problem solving skills” when it comes to the curve balls that life tends to throw at us when we least expect it.
When dealing with depression, sure, medication can help, and yes, there are a lot of things you can learn to try to better manage it, but some things? Some things are not as easy to learn from a book or online and require some sort of first hand experience. For me it was the simple act of doing the same job with two different groups of people; it can hardly get closer to a scientific experiment. The control was the job and the variables were the positive and negative moods of my coworkers. I was able to see how simply changing the variable completely changed me and my outlook on life. Once I was in a more positive atmosphere, those roadblocks in my brain? They were lifted and my outlook became a lot better. Thinking more positive helps my physical health and so? I am starting to do better in life and starting to think of simple solutions to problems that just a couple months ago I felt could not be easily changed.
So though I still don’t like the phrase “just be positive” (because it is not that simple) I can now see how (in the right situation) being around positive people can allow you to think more positively and help eliminate depression.