both/and – on being positive

“Things fall apart, the center cannot hold .”Yeats was not talking about getting older yet he could have been. T had his first eye surgery this week. He still cannot see out of the operated eye and needs to go back next week to check; if it hasn’t cleared he likely will need a corneal transplant. This is all the news we have right now so we wait and try not to worry. I am hoping and praying for the best.

Meanwhile I had another two hour appointment at the dental clinic where they took many photos of my teeth and then using a 3D printer will turn it into an impression. If it wasn’t my teeth we were talking about the whole thing would be fascinating. It translates into many hours and visits of dental work ahead. Well over a year they tell me, so at least the pain and expense will be spread out. I feel oddly accepting of this calamity in my mouth.

Within this time of recovery and anticipation we have lots of things to do. One of the assignments we have for V’s group house is to provide the staff a Top Ten List of things about V. Although we postponed getting it completed, it’s an excellent exercise I recommend for anyone. Quick, what are your top 10? If you’re anything like I am you might struggle to come up with ten and when you do you might not want to write it down and share it for a group of strangers to see. Yet even if you tear it up afterwards, it’s worthwhile to consider doing. It’s like learning to accept compliments, from yourself.

For V, I often feel like I’m trying to make a case for why – despite, or even with his challenges – he is still a great guy. With most neurotypical persons those positives are a given. I just think of B and the superlatives flow. And though I try to be as positive as I can about V, the attributes and challenges go hand in hand and it can be hard to uncouple the two. He loves to walk. Sometimes that’s all he wants to do when he’s restless. He has more language than he lets on and often surprises others by what he has absorbed. Still, he often cannot express himself when he is frustrated or disregulated. The two go together and for just this once I need to stick to the upside, to let go of the difficulties.

Though having that both/and way of thinking, that two opposing things can both be true. is one of the most useful tactics I learned when I did dialectical behavior therapy. DBT has some similarities with cognitive behavior therapy yet it’s more multi-pronged. It helps develop skills of mindfulness, distress tolerance, emotional regulation and interpersonal effectiveness. I found it really helpful, as do hundreds of thousands of other people. 

One of the things it helped me to recognize is how easy it was to frame circumstances in a way that downplayed the positive, which is what the word “but” does.  The yard is big and beautiful but the house is too small and cramped. I write regularly and keep a blog but my book ideas stay in untouched files.  By replacing “but” with “and”, separating out two sentiments and letting them both be true I was able to appreciate the positive aspects more. Try it sometime when you find yourself using “but” about something in your life. Or even another person. She’s really sharp and witty but sometimes she’s a little insensitive. He’s kind and sweet but he’s painfully shy. Replace with “and” and you have two separate statements, and both can be true. 

It’s also good practice to lead with the positive and minimize the negative in how we see others, or the greater world. At least I’ve been trying to do that where lately there’s been such a string of ghastly tragedies: shootings and racist attacks let alone ongoing wars – it’s easy to feel despondent. And there are so many of us who are frustrated, whose hearts ache, who want things to change. Among them are the bravest who will get into good trouble, as John Lewis called it. So I let myself believe in both: the tragedy and the hope of human connection and response to injustice.

It’s been a tough week all around. I am going for long strolls and trying to replace all my buts with ands, as best I can. I am trying to be as positive as the list we finally came up with, which veers from statements about his (often unappreciated) areas of intelligence to his love of potato chips. V’s List of 10 Things includes: He is musically talented. He has a great sense of humor. He’s curious and observant. And he loves to walk

2 thoughts on “both/and – on being positive

  1. I’m trading my buts for ands. Can I throw in a couple of what ifs, not yets, and for nows?
    Hope all are healing well.


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