What the negativity in my head looks like today

illustration by Melissa Toldy

What the negativity in my head looks like today: People don’t like me; because I’m not smart enough; because I don’t have interesting things to say; because I make conversation awkward; because I don’t wear nice enough clothes; because my hair is limp; because I don’t smile enough; because I’m boring; because I’m not accomplished for my age; because I don’t say funny things.

I’ve been thinking about going to see a therapist. I’m pretty sure it could be helpful, but I don’t know how to go about finding a good one. I’m also considering some kind of medication. Taking maca has been really helpful, but there’s also not enough research on possible side effects. Although, it’s probably safer since it’s a natural root as opposed to a formula from a lab.

Today I watched an episode of Rectify on Netflix and one of the characters said that her brother died over a decade ago in an auto accident and that even though time had passed, it “still sucked.” She said she talked to a therapist and it helped. I know it’s kind of silly, but today happens to be the anniversary of Matty’s death and I have specifically been thinking about seeing a therapist to talk to someone about the deaths of both Matty and Nick.

This negativity is just a way of thinking and I know I can change it. But sometimes when I get back into this negative thinking, it feels as if I’ve never left and I’ve made no progress. It’s a very defeatist and indulgent perspective.

I wrote the above in May 2017, when I was a few weeks shy of 34 years old. I did end up seeking out a therapist, when my brother-in-law died in 2018. Three deaths, seven years apart. Two brothers, one brother-in-law. How does anyone digest so much grief?

My therapist helped me a lot. And she helped me, specifically, with negative thought patterns. A revelation came one day when she gave me the following task: For the next week, when you have “negative” thoughts, just write them down.

On my way home from that session, I was walking in my neighborhood, and I heard a loud honking noise from a car passing by. Immediately, I felt a “negative” feeling arise. And so, in order to write down the thoughts surrounding the negativity, I tuned into my inner voice.

“Ugh. That car is annoying.” That was the thought I had, when I heard the loud honking sound.

And already, I understood the power of my therapist’s exercise. When I noticed and identified my reaction, I saw that my perception was off. I wasn’t being “negative” by disliking the honking. The negativity came from not allowing myself to feel annoyed by the loud sound.

My thing is, I’m constantly policing myself, judging myself, diminishing myself. Some of this stems from how I was raised. I attended a strict private school where every movement, every gesture or attempt at self-expression, was scrutinized for its adherence to biblical principles. That’s a lot to take on when you’re a kid.

In my journal entry, I worried that I wasn’t making progress, and I was looking for ways to alleviate my anxiety.

These days, I get the most relief from “negativity” when I stop judging and instead, notice what’s happening. Instead of buying into these ideas that I’m boring or that people don’t like me because my hair is “limp,” I ask myself: What is really bothering you?

If I can identify something, in the moment, that’s making me uncomfortable or dissatisfied, then I can work on addressing that specific thing. Like with the honking car horn, I can recognize that my irritation is a normal reaction — not a sign that I’m being “negative.”

What is really bothering me? Maybe I’m just tired. Maybe I miss a friend. Maybe I need to sit and meditate for a few minutes, to give my mental state the attention it deserves.

Shitty things happen. Annoying things happen. And there’s no reason to feel “positive” about them. We feel things, and we think things, and sometimes, we judge those thoughts and feelings as “negative” or “positive.” But it’s just a judgment. The thought itself isn’t negative. Neither is the feeling.

The negativity comes from trying to stifle or discredit ourselves, instead of listening or expressing ourselves.

I wrote, “I don’t smile enough” and “I don’t say funny things.” Most people who know me would disagree with these statements. People have actually told me that I’m “always smiling.” And several people have told me that I am adept at sarcasm, deadpan, wit, and all around silliness.

I come across more seriously on the page, I think. And in my mind, I’m a very serious person. But in social settings, when I’m afraid that “people don’t like me,” my perception is often limited. Not only do people like me, some people think I’m amazing. Wonderful. Perfect.

It’s that first fear that really gets me: “I’m not smart enough,” I wrote. This is my greatest fear. I’m not smart enough. But what does that even mean? Smart enough for what?

Maybe I will figure that out one day.

is a writer living in Brooklyn, NY. Sign up for her free newsletter, . Looking for a book to read? Check out the bookshop.

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