“Perseverance is the hard work you do after you get tired of doing the hard work you already did.” (anonymous, see link)
“Mommy, do you realize I am about to have my year anniversary at school?”
“Uhhh, yeah girl, of course I do.”
You have actually been gone 444 days, but who’s counting? I AM honey. I am.
84 days of facing herself even when it was torturous. 360 days of hard core therapeutic work at school. Getting up when knocked down - growing, regressing, continuing to push through. Finding the bravery to feel her feelings and re-interpret them. Retraining her brain. Trying and never giving up.
444 days of missing her. And she was only turning 12.
Our daughter struggled with a mood disorder - a baseline of irritability, coupled with anxiety. If you were to ask her about her day, her first impulse would’ve been to share what she DIDN’T like about it.
How do you turn negative thinking into positive? How do you REALLY change perception? Self-esteem? And how do you develop the perseverance to make it really stick?
Two prongs to the therapy – the power of “positive psychology,” and perseverance.
“Positive psychology is concerned with three issues: positive emotions, positive individual traits, and positive institutions…The easiest and best possible way to increase one's happiness is by doing something that increases the ratio of positive to negative emotions.” (Martin Seligman, see link)
· Avoid saying negative thoughts out loud during the day.
· Write down something you have done well, something positive that happened, and something you are grateful for every evening.
· Let the staff rate you on a number scale (1-5).
· Keep this up in your journal without reminders.
Violet had done similar exercises before. However, as soon as she felt a little better, she would falter. She was yet to grasp that consistency ensured success.
Perseverance: (def) steadfastness in doing something despite difficulty or delay in achieving success.
In this case, success meant being “steadfast” in using the tools to feel better, even when it was hard, boring, a pain in the butt.
There have been many times that I KNEW how to make myself feel better – meditation, exercise, dancing, writing, reading, even crying. Yet, actually doing any of them felt daunting. If I could push through, I WOULD feel better. But that old self-sabotage would creep in and I’d take the easier, lazier route of instant gratification. I was not steadfast. I STILL do this, and I am 39.
So, how do you instill perseverance in a 12 year old? The strength to continue something difficult because it does make you feel better, if not immediately, in the long run?
In Violet’s school, she is surrounded by support, which affords her constant reinforcement that I could never have been so diligent about. House meetings where peers and staff tell you how you’ve done well and how they feel when you haven’t. Group therapy, social skills classes, “how to be a good friend” talks, self-esteem group, conflict resolution help, leadership opportunities. Her own therapist meets her once a week and is also available daily for whatever comes up. The team of people keeping her on task is huge. No judgments, just reinforcement.
Weeks passed of her practicing these tools – gratitude, positivity, consistency. Her scores went from 3s to 4s and 5s. The tone of our phone calls changed. She was chattier. I could detect excitement. She was cultivating more genuine friendships, not allowing disappointment to throw her off. Gaining healthy perspective. Imagine how powerful it is to be affirmed every evening that you have shown your best self? Has to feel awesome.
We have hour-long family therapy calls once a week. Violet joins for the second 30 minutes, after my husband and I get a run down of the week from her amazing therapist.
“You know Miss Amie, we are having a bit of a hard week again. She was doing so well when she was working on that assignment. Without me driving it, she slacked a little. Now, we talked and I reminded her. She decided she wants to continue it and we are starting again this week. I encouraged her to remember how good she felt about herself when she WAS doing it and that she needed to take ownership of doing it for herself. Not for external incentives, but because it made her feel good.”
“When individuals start a daily gratitude journal, they begin to feel a greater sense of connectedness to the world…Thankfulness may launch a happy cycle in which rich friendships bring joy, which gives you more to be grateful for.” (Psychology Today, see link)
I also started practicing positive psychology. I wrote notes of appreciation, sometimes it was not easy. I DID feel something. Like the negative loop in the background of my consciousness was quieting. Left more brain space to “hear” gratitude and it was making my general sense of being - BETTER.
“Studies show that we can deliberately cultivate gratitude, and can increase our well-being and happiness by doing so. In addition, gratefulness—and especially expression of it to others—is associated with increased energy, optimism, and empathy.” (Psychology Today, see link)
Violet had now been doing her gratitude journaling for weeks, completely self-propelled. I was stunned by this dedication to her own well-being. So impressed. And it was working. Violet was scoring all 5s. Her pride, her hope - she actually sounded lighter.
“Mommy is there somewhere I can work when I come for visits? I want to earn money so I can buy stuff on my own. I just want you to know that when I ask for things, I don’t expect them. I am really grateful for what you and Daddy have done for me. I know how expensive all of this is (school, therapy) and I don’t want you to think I am being ungrateful when I ask for things like books or clothes or whatever.”
Huh? I am sorry, is this Violet? Do you have the wrong number dear? She was not ever entitled, but this new level of appreciation was completely unexpected.
I FELT her blossoming in my bones. However, we were still waiting for some indication that all of this would stick. I didn’t even know what that might look like. Happiness? Was that too optimistic? Maybe contentedness?
Happiness: (def) A state of being that ranges in emotion from contentment to immense joy. Happiness is the feeling that comes over you when you know life is good and you can't help but smile. It is the opposite of sadness.
"Well, Miss Amie, we have had an AWESOME week. I am just moved to tears watching your daughter. She has done SUCH an incredible job. She has taken her work and been doing it all on her own. You will hear, she has pages and pages of positive thoughts to share with you. She has been self-regulating. She has been a true leader, helping other girls when they were struggling. She has gotten along with her teachers. It is just incredible to watch. She really seems happy. Even right now she is laughing and playing with her friends with a giant smile on her face."
My heart skipped. Was this it? Was this the next milestone of progress?
I have seen my daughter have fun. However, the joyful feeling of “fun” would not have lasted more than 5 minutes after the fun occurred. I can also very clearly say, we have NEVER heard Violet say she was happy and mean it. Not once in 12 years. It was such a point of sadness for me.
“Violet, why don’t you tell your parents how you’re feeling.”
“This is the best day ever. I am in the best mood and having the best time!”
Silence. Emotion. Her voice was light. Unstrained, genuine.
It is one thing to help her not be miserable. It is a totally different thing to hear your child, who has NEVER seemed happy, say they were. I rushed to write it down in my journal so I would never forget it. Glorious.
Positivity, gratitude, appreciation – all amazing concepts. But they are nothing without consistency. AND THAT TAKES SO MUCH STRENGTH, so much will power.
Perseverance is the glue that holds all that positivity in place.
Don’t move. Pretty please stay right there. Fingers crossed it sticks.