When you are stuck at the bottom of the hole of depression, it’s hard to see anything as good. Good things may happen in your life, but you’re too blinded by negativity to see them. Your thoughts concentrate on what went badly and you totally miss the thing or things that were positive. This is “disqualifying the positive.” An example is you’re giving a speech and you stumble over a few words, but everyone claps and cheers at the end. You think I screwed up the whole speech. My speech sucked. I couldn’t even say a couple of words. You failed to see that despite your mistake, everyone loved your speech.
When my depression was at its worst, I disqualified the positive a lot. In high school I struggled with depression and bullying. I became determined to prove to everyone I was intelligent, but my mind was at war with itself. I worked hard to get passing grades. Passing meant everything to me. I studied for hours for a test and if I only got a “C,” I berated myself. I’m a failure. They are right; I’m stupid. I’ll never go anywhere with that grade. I failed to see it was a passing grade and all the other grades I got in that class were “A’s” and “B’s”. I couldn’t see past one lower grade.
In college I was passing all my classes with high grades, but when it came to calculus, I couldn’t pass no matter how hard I tried. Even when I got a tutor, it still did not make sense to me. I tried everything to get a good grade, but all I could do was get an “F”. My learning disability made math very hard for me and it made calculus like a foreign language to me. I needed to pass calculus to graduate. I had to go to a specialist to prove I had a learning disability to waive the class so I could graduate. I thought, I failed. I’m so dumb. I couldn’t pass one class on my own. I’m so stupid they had to waive a class so I could graduate. I’m a retard like they said I was in school. What I failed to see was I passed all my other courses with high grades, and I at least tried to pass calculus. I also got to graduate.
When I graduated, I just had a humanities degree, so I stayed at the grocery store where I worked. I started in the bakery, then I moved up to the front of the store as a bagger and later got trained as a cashier. I had planned to go on to a four-year college and become a reporter, but my learning disability and mental illness made going on further in college impossible. I stayed on as a cashier. I still worked on my writing, and I joined a writing group to help me improve. I attended writing workshops and conferences. I even had a few short stories published, but I couldn’t see the positive. I kept thinking, I failed. I’m just a worthless cashier. I’m a nobody. What I failed to see was I got a degree despite my disability and my illness, I was still perusing my writing, and I was working a job when in high school and elementary they said I’d be on welfare. I couldn’t see that I was still following my dream to be a published author and my life had an exciting new path.
Even now I sometimes find myself disqualifying the positive. In my writing group we go around and each of us gives our critique of an author’s writing. Others pick out small mistakes and details that need to be fixed or improved. I have a hard time finding such things in another author’s works. My learning disability makes editing hard for me. When the leader of the group goes from person to person I’m thinking, please skip me. I’m no good. I’m not smart enough to give a good critique. I have no idea what to say. I have nothing to say that will help the author. When I start thinking this, I must fight that thinking. I start to think about what I can say about the story like how much I enjoyed the plot and characters. I have to remind myself that even telling the author about a section I liked and a section I may have misunderstood is positive and good feedback. I can still give a valuable critique even if I can’t pick out the small stuff.
If you find you are disqualifying the positive, sit down and list the positive. Say you made a mistake at work and you automatically think you are a failure. Sit down and list the good things you have done at work. If you got a low grade in your class, list the grades you have gotten before that one low grade. Within all negative things there is a positive. Celebrate the accomplishments you made instead of focusing on the mistakes. So what if you mispronounced a word while giving a speech. Celebrate that everyone clapped and cheered at the end of the speech. They probably didn’t even notice your error.
Sometimes I fall into the rut of disqualifying the positive and when I do I list the positives in my journal. I talk with my support system that reminds me of the positive and I continue to fight the thoughts that threaten to push me back into that hole. Because each day I fight my illness and find ways to see the positive, I stand in the light of recovery.