If you ever meet me in person, you’ll likely think the following pretty quickly: I’m very positive. And I am. You might think other things as well. I’m pretty tall, pretty thin, pretty quiet. I listen far more than I talk. I have a slow but constantly growing smile. If you pay attention, you might notice my subtle humour. Maybe you’ll even notice how good looking I am!
Mostly, though, people notice how positive I am. People regularly call me the most positive person they know, and many others have commented that they appreciate my up-beat personality. My closest friends and family have used me as a pillar of strength, someone who can prop them up when they are feeling low. My happiness can be infectious, or so I’m told.
But here’s the thing: though I appear positive, I’m not always positive on the inside. Sometimes, I’m not even close.
In some ways, being positive is my natural setting, my default state if you will. I’ve always been a dreamer, happy-go-lucky, someone who can get lost in an idea or a book or a thunderstorm. I gravitate towards good things because I like good things more than bad things. That said, I’m not an optimist. By the Goddess, no. I have more than my fair share of worries and doubts, maybe more than my fair share.
In particular, I dislike change. Absolutely hate it. If something works, it works, and heaven and earth would have to move to make me change the status quo. Even if the status quo is terrible. Especially if it’s terrible. If you change something, it might not work anymore. Something not working is about the worst thing that could ever happen. Much better to keep going. The devil you know is better than the devil you don’t.
You see, I always assume change is for the worst. That’s just the way I am. It’s not logical or rational, and I don’t pretend to understand it, but that’s my default mindset. Change makes things worse. That’s why I’m so slow to adapt to new trends, new technologies, new ways of doing things. I will fight change relentlessly, up until it proves that it’s a good thing. Then I’ll reluctantly accept it.
You might be confused at this point. I started by saying I’m a positive guy … who isn’t an optimist and constantly fights change, even change for the better. I know, it’s funny, but the two aren’t contradictory. When it comes to other people and the future in general, I’m very positive. I will encourage you to chase your dreams and do whatever you want to do. If you desire change, then I will cheer you on. When it comes to myself and the present, though, that’s where doubt and insecurity set up shop.
It’s complicated. Life, and people in particular, don’t always make perfect sense.
Still, by and large, I’m a positive guy. You won’t hear my bringing up negatives very often. I might object to your plan and point out hardships, yes, but I’ll be very positive about it. That’s just who I am. Even when I don’t feel positive. Even when my insides are in extreme doubt and I can’t find a single strand of personal hope to cling to. I stay positive, at least on the outside. I fake it if I have to, fake it until it comes true, fake it until I make it.
This has been the case all week. I’ve been slightly down. Or more than slightly down. A lot down. I’ve been fighting it. I suppose I’ve been depressed. It’s been a downhill slide, subtle but always in the same direction. It’s not as if any one thing happened. That’s not how depression works. It’s a great big smothering nothing, a nothing that threatens to consume everything in its wake.
The worst was Friday, where I didn’t want to do anything, didn’t want to speak to anyone, didn’t want to taint anyone with my presence. I felt empty, but empty like a blackhole, in the sense that I was consuming everything near me and turning it empty as well. I taught my classes like I always do, smiling and upbeat, but I felt sick inside. It was a great night, filled with fun; the classes went well and everyone had a great time … and I thought about quitting as I walked home. Why? Because depression makes you think funny thoughts.
The next morning I was back, still feeling miserable, a misery I didn’t let anyone else see. Why should I make anyone else feel bad just because I do? I smiled and laughed; I gave high-fives; I told jokes. I filled every movement and action with purpose. I taught the best damn class I could, and people laughed with all my bad jokes. As that first class shuffled out, none realized my laugh was hollow, my actions as authentic as a plastic tree.
I don’t know how long this continued. Despite all my positivity, I was going through the motions until the fitness class. Unlike the other classes, I teach this one alone. It’s pretty simple: I do a warmup, then we have a quick skill-training segment, then it’s the set workout according to the schedule and then whatever I want to fit in the last 5-10min. Honestly, the class mostly runs itself, as everyone knows what to do by this point. I’m mostly there to encourage everyone.
I did all the same things: I smiled and laughed, gave encouragements, shouted slogans, told jokes. I mostly do bad puns, for the record. I like making people laugh, especially when they are holding a plank, say, a static movement. Laughing uses the core muscles, which makes the exercise harder. Laughing also distracts you from the exercise, making it easier. It balances out.
When I started, everything was an act. I didn’t really want to teach today, but nobody else could do it, so here I was. I still did my best, even with my mind endlessly squeezing the joy out of everything. Nothing was good, but I kept smiling, kept laughing, kept encouraging … and then something happened.
I had just invented a new game. It was a wall-sit version of hot potato. Each person had a partner facing opposite of them, and they each had a medicine ball. You needed to roll, bounce or toss your medicine ball to the other person. We did this for time, and if had the ball when the timer went off you were eliminated. Those still in found a new partner and kept going until we had our final hot potato champion.
I literally invented this on the spot, just as a little thing to do before the final cooldown and stretch. It sounds silly, and I suppose it is, but they still took it seriously. Nobody wants to lose, after all, and people laughed and cheered as various people were eliminated. It became competitive, and we all clapped and cheered as the final two went head-to-head for ultimate hot potato supremacy.
Somewhere during this little game, something happened. Colour returned to my world. I wasn’t just laughing because it was time to laugh; I was actually laughing. I wasn’t acting like I was having fun; I was actually having fun. I wasn’t wearing a mask of positivity to hide my inner emptiness; I was actually feeling positive.
When I went home today, I felt as if a huge weight had fallen from my shoulders. I was no longer crushed by doubt and despair and the bleakness of before. I was happy again. I felt normal, I suppose, even ordinary, but it had been so long since I felt this way it was extraordinary. Maybe I still have a ways to go, but finally, the clouds seem to have lifted from my soul.
I faked it until I made it.