Like most people, my teenage years were stressful, angst-ridden, and at times downright horrible. One minute you are overjoyed and the next minute you want to lock yourself in your room and hide under a blanket.
As an introvert, I wasn’t very aggressive with meeting new people and making a lot of friends, so as I moved into my college years, I never formed as large a circle of friends as I left behind after graduation.
My last few years of high school were also under a lot of economic stress. My father had been out of work for a considerable length of time, facing much the same problems I faced over the past few years. He found some work overseas and left us behind for months at a time. That gig ended and he was back to reading the classifieds and knocking on doors.
By the time I was in my freshman year of college back in Wisconsin, he finally found work in Missouri and eventually landed in the Kansas City area. I stayed behind in Wisconsin for a number of reasons, but that left me without much of a support network at all.
I struggled through my freshman and much of my first sophomore year. Yeah, I had two of them because I hadn’t learned to take things seriously yet. But that struggle I had, growing up, really, made a big difference to me down the road. I learned a lot about how to keep myself motivated, and how much power there is in a positive attitude.
Throughout my life, I have often been forced to be the anchor of stability because I watched other people breaking down around me–even when the bad happening was happening specifically to me. It’s very difficult to be both the person suffering and the person who has to stay strong to keep other people from breaking down. Thankfully, I have built up that kind of strength over the years, and while it would be nice to have a shoulder I can cry on from time to time, I rarely have that luxury because other people are crying on mine.
This isn’t an attempt to hedge for sympathy points. My reaction to that is usually along the lines of, “Oh, please….” Rather, I’m trying to make a point that attitude makes a difference. Staying positive makes a difference, it can change a life.
There have been studies (see here and here and here) that show that just the simple act of smiling makes you feel better. It’s difficult to force a smile when the world seems to be caving in around you. I know, I’ve been there. But I’ve done it, and it really works.
Forcing a smile doesn’t make you suddenly cheerful, but in my experience, it can push the gloom and doom back just far enough you can continue to function–continue to face the world and fight on for one more day. That’s why being with somebody who knows how to make you laugh helps so much. It causes the right chemicals to be released in your body to help you cope with the dark mood.
Trying to face things on your own is a much more difficult task, but keeping a positive attitude certainly makes that task easier. Belief in self is the keystone, and that doesn’t happen overnight. It takes a lifetime of focused effort to build that belief and to maintain it. That’s particularly true when successes are few and far between. It’s part of why so many people say they want to write a novel but so few actually finish one.