Life isn’t always filled with roses and unicorns. We know this all too well as parents of a chronically ill child. When we are in the middle of a challenging part of life, it becomes easy to have thoughts such as “Only bad things happen to me!” or “The universe never gives me a break!”. We start focusing on only the negative and we lose perspective forcing us further into despair.
Imagine a painting that had one dot in the middle of a giant canvas and beautiful flowers around the edge. If you stand up close to the painting and only stare at the dot, you would lose perspective. Standing back and looking at the entire painting would allow you to appreciate a beautiful work of art that is created by a combination of a boring dot and incredible flowers.
Life is equivalent to this beautiful artwork. It is full of good things and bad things leading us to feel both good emotions along with uncomfortable emotions. This is the full human experience. We don’t appreciate this, though, if we don’t stand back and see both the good and the bad.
Pretend for a moment that life is only full of good. It would be boring. We would never be able to cherish or appreciate the good because we would only know one side. Instead, life is 50% good and 50% bad allowing us to experience an entire spectrum of emotions. The contrast between good and bad gives us the opportunity to intensely feel the good and fully appreciate it.
My youngest child has struggled with anxiety and depression. As a parent, my child’s chronic mental health diagnoses have caused me to experience the same cadre of emotions as the physical diagnoses of my daughter. I have been filled with worry and guilt along with being overwhelmed with how to help. When I have sat tearful in an emergency room talking to psychiatrists about my child’s suicidal thoughts, I have wallowed in the bad part of life. I understand through coaching that part of processing emotions is allowing yourself to truly feel everything even when it isn’t comfortable. Sadness from watching your child suffer is not comfortable to feel, but it is a necessary part of being emotionally healthy.
When in the midst of a bad time of life, the concept that a full, beautiful life is both good and bad provides hope. No parent wants to watch their child struggle, but I am comforted by my belief about life being both good and bad. Fully experiencing the negative emotions now allows a full experience of the good emotions later. I was able to process my sadness around my child’s struggles and I was able to maintain perspective that this is just a boring dot on a beautiful piece of art. So much good came from that emergency room visit: it opened communication about mental health with my child; it taught my child that I would have his back no matter what; it allowed us to create a better treatment plan to improve his symptoms.
I am glad that life is not all bad, but I am just as grateful that life isn’t all good. Life is a roller coaster with ups and downs, but this is exactly what makes it exciting and worth the ride. Cherish the good, but don’t forget to appreciate the bad. It is all part of the journey.
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Maureen Michele, MD
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