Thursday, March 17, 2011

The perils of positive thinking.

“The pessimist complains about the wind; the optimist expects it to change; the realist adjusts the sails.” – William Arthur Ward

A few years ago, when my husband and I bought our modest little house, we met Danya. Beautiful and charismatic, Danya was our mortgage lender. She carried us through the complicated process with ease, bubbling with excitement. I envied her “don’t worry about a thing” attitude.

Danya ran an investment organization, and shortly after our closing, she invited me to her home for a cup of coffee. I felt a little intimidated as I drove up to her “McMansion” with a BMW in the driveway, but Danya made me feel at home.

Danya was living a true American Dream – and she wanted to share it with me. A proponent of investing using “OPM” – “Other People’s Money” – she confided in me that she’d earned $3 million dollars in less than two years by purchasing apartment buildings, fixing them up and selling them. “This is amazing,” she said, bursting with enthusiasm. “It’s like a dream, but it’s true.”

Danya attributed her amazing success to “The Law of Attraction.” Because “like attracts like,” they say, one’s thoughts and emotions actually impact reality. It’s positive thinking, but not in the usual sense. Anyone knows that if you’re always pessimistic, you’ll be miserable. Or if you go into a job interview expecting to blow it, you will.

But the Law is different. It’s cosmic. One’s thoughts are actually “requests” to the universe, and everything that happens to us – good or bad – is a result of those thoughts. With thoughts of wealth and success, Danya had become a millionaire. She invited me to stay and watch the film, “The Secret,” in her home theatre.

Here was the good news: Danya wanted to collaborate with me! She would even lend me the capital, knowing that I didn’t have a spectacular income. Between the OPM and the Law, she said, "There is literally no risk, Alizah. If you allow positive spiritual energy to come into you, you can do this too. And you’re just the kind of person who would be great at this!"

There are many believers in the Law, and I truly don’t mean to offend. But I couldn’t help but wonder, what about people in Africa who are starving? Or small children who are abused by their parents? Did they think negative thoughts, which resulted in their misfortune? The idea of making extra money certainly appealed to me. But a little voice inside my head said, “Finish your coffee and tell her you don’t have time to stay.” So I did.

I kept her offer in the back of my mind, though. I checked for her online every few months and saw Danya’s success grow exponentially. She was named a “Success Story” in a financial magazine, and her testimony about the Law of Attraction showed up on a number of websites. I started wondering if I should take her up on her offer after all...

Then the housing bubble popped. The economy tanked. And my own field of publishing began to collapse. I became sick, very sick. I attempted suicide. And in recovery, Danya and her Law were the furthest thing from my mind.

Today, while writing an article about mortgages, I was reminded of her. I dug around a little and was stunned by what I found. Danya’s out of business. She’s declared bankruptcy. And her properties – including her personal residence, where I had coffee that day – are in foreclosure.

So what happened? Did Danya stop thinking positive thoughts? Or was she simply another casualty of America’s financial meltdown?

I have to work at being optimistic. It doesn’t come naturally. I’m well aware that seeing the glass as half-empty makes me feel discouraged and sabotages my mental health. Because I make optimism a conscious priority, most of the people who know me see me as a cheerful, upbeat person – and would be shocked to know about my battle with suicidal depression.

But I feel like I dodged a bullet here. My innate skepticism – my rejection of “think yourself rich” – may have saved me from financial ruin. You see, there is a difference between looking on the bright side, and being blinded by the light.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

You want my help. But you don’t want my help.

“We fear violence less than our own feelings. Personal, private, solitary pain is more terrifying than what anyone else can inflict.” –Jim Morrison

I’m standing outside your door at night, in the freezing cold, ringing you on your intercom.

Who is it? You ask.

It’s me, Alizah, I say. You called me five times, and told me you needed to talk. So here I am.

An hour goes by; an hour of you and me and the intercom and the cold. You have a different answer each time: I’ll come and let you in … Who is this again? … I think you should go to where the people are … I’m out of cigarettes … I can’t push the button, something bad might happen … I’m not home, I’m out of town … Why aren’t you in your car if you’re so cold? … Don’t come in, it’s dangerous here.

I begin pushing buttons at random, until someone in the apartment finally lets me in. When I get to your door, it’s open. You greet me with indifference, wearing a thick winter coat, pacing slowly around the room and muttering to yourself.

You wanted me to come talk, so here I am, I say. So can you tell me what’s happening?

You respond with sarcastic rage: Well, if you don’t know what’s happening, then you don’t know much of anything, do you? You should know by now what’s happening! You talk to them behind my back. You post mean things on my Facebook page. You’re trying to turn my daughter against me. Why are you here? Who is paying you to be here?

I sit down and keep my voice low. Hun, I’m not talking to anyone about you. I didn’t post anything on your Facebook page. I’m here because I’m worried about you, and because you called me and asked me to come. So here I am. Will you talk to me?

Two more hours pass. I ask questions, gently. Have you talked to any of your family? When is the last time you saw your doctor? Did he prescribe any medication for you? Are you taking it? Are you sleeping? Are you eating?

Your responses vary. Sometimes you break out in tears. Sometimes you stare at the wall. You pick up a magazine and pretend to read. You look in the refrigerator. You turn your head away and mumble. Then you attack, accusing me of conspiring against you with people I don’t even know, saying that you had faith in me and I betrayed you.

But you don’t answer any of my questions.

You tell me your daughter is ignoring you. During my visit, your daughter pops by. She says she needs to run an errand but will be back later. When she leaves, I say, See, your daughter is talking to you. When? You ask. Just now, I say. I don’t remember that, you say. And you start digging through your purse.

Is there a doctor I can call? Do you want me to drive you to the crisis center? Wall. Refrigerator. Mumbles. Then more accusations.

I’m very concerned about you, I say. I don’t like to leave you like this. I want to know that you’re going to talk to a professional about this. Do you remember that this happened before? And you went to the hospital for a while, and then you were better for a long time? Do you want to feel better again? If not for you, for your daughter?

You’re just like everyone else, you snap. ‘Get help, get help.’ I know how to drive to the doctor. I know where the office is. I don’t need help from you. I thought you would help me, but you won’t. I don’t know why you came here. But I want you to leave. Now.

It’s gotten very late. I apologize. I say that I’m willing to help mediate between you and your daughter, but you have to work on her own recovery before I can do anything more. (I make a mental note to call NAMI this week to get advice, but I already know the answer: If you don't want treatment and you're not an immediate threat, there is nothing anyone can do.)

So I come home, after three hours. Last time you were this sick, family and friends did this dance with you for six months. Tonight, I did my best for you. And at this moment, that's all anyone can do.