By Joyce Raw
Many of you will have read previous blogs on what it is like for Steve (www.leadershipintheraw.org) and myself to be Bettina’s mum and dad. Our blogs have always aimed to inform and enlighten others on what it is like to be the (proud) parents of a daughter who copes with autism, epilepsy, a complex communication disorder and a learning disability.
For her part, Bettina is a wonderful teacher. Bettina is able to demonstrate, through the way she lives her life, on what is important in this world and what is unimportant. However, Bettina’s ability to do this has largely been down to having the support of confident and positive parents (not forgetting her amazing big sister, Jennifer!) who have always seen Bettina’s difficulties as a “glass half full” situation rather than a “glass half empty”. With this sort of attitude we have all been able to accomplish much. Over the years we have nudged many professionals working with Bettina out of their comfort zones by persuading them to take risks and push Bettina’s knowledge and skills forward, on the basis that until we do this we will not know what she is capable of achieving. By showing them that we had confidence in their skills, and were optimistic on what the results could be, Bettina achieved a level of education to be proud of and which she still builds on everyday.
However, Bettina is not the only one who has benefitted from our optimistic view of the world, although admittedly I am probably playing fast and loose with the word “benefitted”! It is well known amongst my circle of friends and family that I am rather prescriptive with my advice, but I feel that less digging around the roots of the problem and more watering produces better results and a more positive outcome. Steve’s ability to help others lies in a knack of being able to appeal to their desire to change their circumstances by hard work and stamina, with the added bonus that Steve is able to acknowledge their difficulty. Two very different styles, but both based on our being “ogres of optimism” who know no other pathway! To this day we still have people we have helped along the way over the last thirty years thanking us for help; support; advice and, most of all, for our optimism.
This is not to say, of course, that we are totally oblivious to how some people might find this very irritating! People who have had a lifetime of erring on the side of pessimism do not wish to see or hear anything nearing optimism. People who have had a lifetime of having their self-esteem chipped away, or who have lived in trying circumstances, find it difficult to be optimistic. We are not all the same and life does not work that way. I also recognise that some people will assume that an optimistic person has probably never faced adversity, or slipped on a banana skin, so what do they know about life? But if life teaches us anything, it is that adversity or struggle can mould how we live and our view of the world.
So what are my five golden rules for remaining optimistic? They are:
- If you can, start each day with the mantra “yesterday is gone, today is a fresh start”. Do not write the day off before it has begun.
- Keep moving forward. Whilst it is good to reflect on what has happened before – which is how we learn life lessons – do not let it weigh you down to the exclusion of all else.
- Do not absorb too much of other peoples angst. You can listen, you can advise, you can sympathise but you cannot live their life for them, nor should you disable them by taking over. (Please note that I am not talking about family situations where it is impossible to detach yourself from the situation).
- Look after yourself. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle – eating right, moderate alcohol intake (if you must!), no smoking and regular exercise is vital to a good sense of wellbeing which promotes confidence and optimism.
- Engage with the world. Isolation and boredom are the enemies of optimism! Going for a walk, chatting to people and volunteering are all free activities.
And one final piece of advice. Are you going to live forever? No? Then why not make this the best life you have ever had!
Note: I am not, nor claim to be, a qualified psychiatrist, counsellor or mental health professional. All opinions are my own based on a spectrum of life experience.
You can also find me at: Twitter: @JoyceRaw1 @livelikearaw Instagram: joyce_raw and www.livelikearaw.wordpress.com