The poet Ogden Nash wrote the poem ‘Lucy Lake’, about a woman who had an incredibly upbeat outlook on things. She was what some people term, ‘a Pollyanna,’ someone who is overly optimistic. Nash wrote about Lucy: Lucy resigns herself to sorrow/In building character for tomorrow./Lucy tells us to carry on,/It’s always darkest before the dawn. In his last lines, he exhorted us: Let’s go over to Lucy’s house/And let’s lynch Lucy!
I share Nash’s exasperation with the sort of people who manage to tell you, when you’re steeped in emotional pain, when the world is upside down for you, when you are overwhelmed by circumstances—be positive! Don’t worry! Put on a happy face! I share Nash’s exasperation, but I doubt it would be useful—Lucy would probably find some way to put a positive spin on it.
In my last article I mentioned a woman I have never met but admire. She is a bright light in the midst of worldly and personal darkness. She encourages people to look for good in others, to believe in goodness, and some of that goodness she calls God. Lately, I have come to admire her even more because I have learnt, by way of postings she has made, that she is wrestling with depression and anxiety.
Shortly after I wrote that article, I was given a hefty amount of ‘advice’ which could easily have come from Lucy Lake. ‘Be positive, be happy, greet the day with a smile!’ One person posted something to convey her frustrations (presumably with me) because she’s sad and sorry that people go through difficulties and she can’t help them, no matter how hard she tries. Her audience chimed in with such remarks as ‘they can’t be helped because they don’t want to be helped, ‘ and ‘they choose to be the way they are.’
This coincided with a tragedy in the life of a friend—her husband died, and she is understandably distraught and miserable. Shall we assume that my friend is choosing to be sad? A few years ago the home of eleven people burnt to the ground and our worlds were turned upside down. Our perspectives, our attitudes, even our personalities were irreparably altered by this event. The direction of our hopes for our lives was irrevocably changed by external events. Some of us have endured lasting injury. How was this our choice?
There is absolutely nothing wrong with a balanced, optimistic viewpoint. It is undoubtedly more uplifting to see good things, to be happy, and to view events as opportunities for improvement. If you believe in God, by all means put your faith, trust, and hope in Him. If you do not, you have other things in which you can put your faith, if nothing more than statistical probability. A coin, tossed in the air enough times, will eventually come up ‘heads’ 50% of the time, and the prolonged run of bad luck or misfortune you’ve had will eventually run out. Many of those terrible things you experienced may actually turn out to be foundation stones for something positive. There is nothing wrong with patiently waiting for positive change, but that wait may be incredibly painful. You know it, and other people need to respect it.
Those changes and improvements will happen in their own time. Exhorting someone to ‘snap out of it’, ‘pull yourself together’, or a cheery but thin ‘it will be all right’ does not help. In fact, it may cause even more hurt.
When I’ve been subjected to this positivistic counselling, I’ve always felt judged for not being in the same place mentally or emotionally that other people are. The young woman I mentioned is a devout Christian, yet others of her faith criticize her for ‘choosing’ to remain anxious and depressed (despite her depression and anxiety having a physical basis which she cannot control).
No one can possibly feel so bad that they cannot be made to feel worse, as is proven again and again.
It’s a question of balance—how much optimism can a person afford, given the current conditions or events? It’s also a question of timing. Who is insensitive enough to go to a new widow and say, ‘Now you can date again,’ or to someone with depression and anxiety disorders and say ‘your faith is not strong enough. You don’t BELIEVE!’ There is no benefit in blaming the victim.
If it were a simple matter of ‘pulling yourself together ‘ or ‘snapping out of it,’ don’t you think that would have been done already?
Here’s my plan. When we leave Lucy Lake’s house, let’s go over to the house of that guy who came up with ‘don’t worry, be happy!’ and have a serious talk with him.
If you are dealing with PTSD, Chronic Depression, Anxiety Disorders, or other forms of psychological ‘illness’, please be assured you are not at fault, and you are not alone.
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