We've all heard the phase, "words have power." It's been bandied about in various forums, from bullying to presidential politics, but until recently I didn't realize that the power could be harnessed and used to my benefit.
You see, a year ago, the depression which I've suffered for more than two decades got the better of me. It became so overpowering that I ended up in the hospital. Yes, it was that bad. At that time, I wanted to be dead, for sure, but I didn't want to do myself in. Like many people who end up in a "bad place," I wanted to die from a cancer that would rapidly take me away, or in a sudden, painless car accident.
I've heard many people with depression say they just can't "take the pain any more." The funny thing is, after years of despair, hopelessness and humiliation, I had entered a period where I literally felt nothing. I was actually devoid of emotion in any form. That was the point at which being alive just didn't seem worth it.
I credit a compassionate nurse practitioner and skilled holistic therapist in the hospital with turning my life around. Kristin, the therapist, was particularly insistent on focusing one's mind on the positive while turning away from the negative. I remember thinking, "what good will that do me?" Well, I had nothing to lose, and thought it was worth a try. But how do you do it?
What I did was take a book of daily meditations I found in the patient lounge and begin to list all the positive words I read. Nouns, verbs, adjectives, I didn't really care, I just wrote them down in a cheap composition book — the one they give you for "journaling." Before I knew it, I had more than 100 words, and the very act of writing them down and re-reading them began to shift my mood. I could kinda feel it in my gut. It was visceral, it was actually physical!
After I was discharged, I began to write a book on positive words. It's still a work in progress, but I've begun to spread the word. This resulted in a recent invitation by Middletown Councilwoman Deborah Kleckowski to speak to a class at Middlesex Community College. Her class has challenged kids — some immigrants, some with learning disorders, etc. — who are working on writing skills. As an exercise, we chose the word "determined" and began to discuss its meaning, its effect on us, etc., and then we examined some synonyms.
These included words like resolved, unwavering, undaunted, persevering (among many). As I wrote them on the board and spoke them aloud, I could actually see the students begin to sit up straighter. Several of them smiled. I asked them how it would make them feel if they were "determined" to accomplish something, as opposed to just "wanting" to. As we gathered more input, we started to feel a sense of optimism enter the room. It began to seem brighter, the air a little crisper. At that moment, it seemed we all felt good.
Switching gears, we went to a word that applies to most of us at times, but especially to struggling students: frustrated. Although it was a sunny day, I swear you could see the light in the room diminish. We wrote the litany of synonyms: infuriated, annoyed, angry, disheartened, depressed. . . I actually saw several students begin to slump forward and look down at their desks. Smiles disappeared. Discussion seemed to slow to a crawl. People avoided eye contact.
We closed with a lively discussion of how the words one chooses to write or speak may color or influence our very endeavors. The students could see that being determined could mean anything from obstinate to undaunted, and that the words even had an unconscious effect on their body language.
Debbie Kleckowski drove me home after class. We were pleased at the students' input and hoped the exercise would help them in their studies, and maybe even get them to open a thesaurus! I was honored to be asked to contribute, and glad that in a simple classroom exercise I could once again experience the magical power of words.
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