Lately, I seem to get a lot of phone calls from depressed and miserable friends. I'm not sure whether this is just due to the fact that they know I am trapped on a mountain and can't run away, or whether it is because they want me to cheer them up. Possibly the answer is a combination of both things at once.
You see, I suffer from a Pollyanna like state of always trying to look on the cheerful side. I can't bear feeling unhappy and in addition I am an inveterate 'fixer upper'. If something is broken I want to put it right. My friends know this and will ring me when the world feels overwhelming and get me to put it in perspective for them, or I assume that is what they want me to do. Now of course this is lovely, and flattering in a way but listening to one monologue on the misery of life after another is draining. Ironically, this constant stream of people wanting me to cheer them up can get me down a little. It is exhausting being everybody's Pollyanna.
To illustrate two examples at the moment. I have a friend who is a very successful artist, but like all artists I know, she has an ambigious desire to see her work sell but a complete inability to actually sell it herself. Consequently she spends the time bemoaning the fact that the Cork Street Gallery that she sells at won't push her work hard enough, but if somebody came up to her and said 'Can I buy 3 of your paintings please' there is a good chance she would say 'No' and then run away and hide.
I can understand the opposing forces that influence her, and none of it is helped by the fact that she is in the throes of post natal depression. The difficulty is that there are only so many times I can repeat the same mantras to her and if she acts on none of them then I start feeling like Sisyphus and his rock. My will to help evaporates and I dread the phone call. I'm not sure that that doesn't make me a terrible person.
The second example is more local. A girl (well, woman really since she is nearly 40) who lives nearby is about to have her second child and once again the father has left the scene. This can't be easy, though it was very much her choice to have the baby which I think she wanted more than the father. She frequently rings me, or invites me over to supper, and will tell me for hours of how badly the world has treated her, how unkind everyone is to her. In her world she is Cinderella, surrounded by evil relations and courtiers trying to thwart her from her happy ever after. I try and be sympathetic to this as it can't be easy being in her situation. But secretly, I can't help but feel that that attitude achieves absolutely NOTHING to change her life.
I mean, if everything is always somebody else's fault, then you never take responsibility for anything yourself. I do believe that ultimately our own happiness rests on ourselves, not everyone around us. If you start out optimistically and are responsible for your own life, then you can control how you react to whatever life throws at you. Even if you start out depressed then I believe you can force a fixed grin onto your face, and bully yourself out of the worst of it, with your friends there to cheer you on. It is interesting to consider that the people who are happy inevitably make you feel a little happier. Happiness can be as contagious as the winter flu. So, if you take care of you feeling happy, then those around you are likely to be happier, which in turn will make you feel happy. I know that's simplistic but it is also true the majority of the time.
However, if nothing is your own fault then it seems that the general consensus is that you shouldn't be expected to do anything about it. Somebody else should come and pick you up, dust you off and wave a magic wand over you. I don't think life works like that at all; in fact, it's a recipe for disaster.
So, I sit and listen, occasionally I will make some Pollyannaish suggestion about how she could break the cycle, walk away from the baggage and detritus of everybody else letting her down and start afresh in her head. Stop the cycle of saying 'if only they would...' or 'if only I had' and instead take charge of her own life. Be the one who is responsible for her own happiness, rather than hold the rest of the world responsible for her life. I try to put it more kindly than this of course.
I recently read a book called 'The seven habits of effective people'. Excluding the tiresome Americanisms of it, there are some interesting points. First habit: Be proactive. You are responsible for your life and you can control how you approach it (not necessarily what happens in it, but how you react to it). Abandon the past and just look forwards. Don't blame the past, and those around you for what happens to you tomorrow.
There is a lot to be said for this but it is a point that most people seem incapable of absorbing. If you suggest to somebody that they forget the past and start afresh their instant response is 'Oh, I couldn't do that - I mean, my past won't let me' or words to that effect. We cling to what has happened to us, rather than what could happen. It seems to dictate everything we do. So, the artist friend will say 'I've never been able to sell my own work so I couldn't start now'. She never wonders whether perhaps she could if she wanted to. That what happened yesterday doesn't have to repeat itself every day unless she wants it to. In fact, I think that she doesn't like the idea that she could take control of things - if she did do that then she would have to be responsible. God, I'm such a bitch to feel this way.
What is particularly noticeable about these phone calls is that they NEVER ask me a single thing about me. Not how I am, where I am, whether I am happy, sad, insane etc etc. They just give a sigh of relief that I have answered the phone and start in on the free therapy session. This can stop the phone call feeling like a friendship, and make me feel more like the official 'Pollyanna helpline'. I know that this is part of what friendship is, but endlessly repeated you start wondering if it is a two way friendship. All else aside, if they only ring when they are depressed, and never when they are happy, then you end up with a one sided view of them.
So, that is the curse of being Pollyanna. I am now going to take my own advice and cheer myself up by taking the Loyal Hound and the Toboggan out. There isn't much that that can't fix. Thanks for listening.....
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