Throughout my life, I have told myself, “I can’t do this.” At the worst points, I believed myself. So, I’ve been working on replacing that negative mindset with the belief that “I can!” And it’s been a journey.
I recently reflected on something it seems like I struggle with all the time: self-talk. The way we talk to ourselves has a meaningful impact—on our attitude, mental health, and our ability to achieve stability with bipolar and to even follow our dreams. My own story shows the influence of negative thinking.
Telling Myself “I Can’t”
Sometimes I feel like I live in a world of “can’t.” And it goes back in my history. I can remember, during my college days, many years ago, my negative thinking had a significant impact, especially during those years. Consistently, I went about my daily life with the thought that college was too hard and I would never graduate.
The words “I can’t” went through my mind constantly. And I believed it. I even dropped out of college.
A Turning Point & Realizing “I Can”
Once I started chasing after two-year-olds and bundling kids up in the middle of an Iowa winter, my mindset changed to “I can.” By that point, I realized that I could graduate. Even if my path looked different from what I had anticipated initially.
I returned to college and managed to graduate two years later. This was after a total of 4.5 years of college (including my time spent in junior colleges)—and despite how hellish it was for me to try to memorize information and deal with all of the stress that comes with higher education and bipolar disorder.
One in particular was a therapist who spent countless hours telling me I could get my degree. She put the “I can” thoughts in my head.
I was also blessed to have parents encouraging me along the way.
And from graduating college, I learned to overcome even more “I can’t” roadblocks.
Finding My Voice
Thirteen years ago, I decided to write my bipolar memoir Some Dreams Are Worth Keeping. It took me over six years of writing, as I personally relived my private pain and journey living with bipolar. There were so many “I can’t do this” moments. I lost track of how many!
I was very fortunate because I took a “How to Write a Memoir” class taught by an eighty-year-old man Bob. He encouraged me, along with his wife, my first editor, Rena. They kept telling me to keep at it and that I have talent. Many people have read the book, but what matters to me is that it’s bringing hope to many people and educating them at the same time.
Learning to Stand & Speak Up
Then came the decision to join Toastmaster’s International, which is a worldwide organization that helps people get over their fear of public speaking. The “I can’t” voice came through loud and clear as I took on this new journey.
The “I can’t” voice almost kept me from continuing with my six-year speaking journey. When I first began to speak, I wore long skirts, so people would not see my knees shake. It didn’t work, because nerves got the best of me and you could see my whole body quiver. So, I advanced to using notecards and even sat in a chair.
My “I can’t” quickly turned into “I can.” On January 16, 2021, I will be speaking at TEDxTenayaPaseo, a virtual event “Where Ideas Are Worth Spreading.” I will be sharing my bipolar journey.
When I look back over the years, I see that I have had so many “I can’t” moments that I’ve lost track. My upcoming speech is a 15-minute talk, and it has to be memorized. Having bipolar continues to make it so hard for me to memorize. I am blessed to have a really strong group of friends and mentors from my Toastmaster’s group, who have helped me craft the talk, encouraged me to practice it, and reminded me that it will be a big success.
Now I see that my mindset has changed to “I can,” for the most part. But sometimes I still catch myself thinking with that “I can’t” internal voice.
Supporting Others & Being a Cheerleader for Children
I am an assistant for special education students—kindergarteners, first-graders, and second-graders—and for them, I am a cheerleader all day:
I tell the kids they can do the work.
I tell them they can figure out answers if they try.
I tell them they can learn new things.
I even do special cheers for the kids to praise them.
If I told them they can’t, then they would believe it. So why do I sometimes tell myself that I can’t do something? Do you tell yourself that, too?
We are capable of more than we can imagine, if we have the “I can” voice in our heads instead of the “I can’t” one. We are on this planet for a purpose. Mastering positive self-talk can be a struggle, even years later. I am working on it, though. How about you?
Susan Johnson graduated from Drake University with a BA in sociology. She is the author of Some Dreams Are Worth Keeping: A Memoir of My Bipolar Journey. Since her diagnosis of bipolar I in 1995, Susie's true passion in life is to help break the stigma of mental illness and to bring hope to those who live with one. An accomplished inspirational speaker and guest blogger at bpHope Blog, Susie was the subject of a “This Is Me” Q&A in bp Magazine in 2018. Her writing also appears in the Catholic Exchange, the Kingdom Revelator, and Las Vegas Pet Scene Magazine. Susie co-leads a mental health group at her church and currently works with special education students as an instructional assistant for a school district in Nevada. She will be speaking at TEDxTenayaPaseo in January 2021. And she enjoys hiking, baking, traveling, practicing yoga, spending time with her Goddaughter, and taking trips to Cancun. Originally from Thousand Oaks, CA, Susie now makes her home in fabulous Las Vegas with her husband, Gary, and Siberian cat, Angel-Ann. Visit her website, SJohnsonAuthor.com and follow her on Facebook and Instagram.
Whether you live with bipolar or love someone who does, you can find comfort, wisdom, and strategies (maybe even a good laugh!) in these inspirational books. We can lose ourselves in the power of the written word, compelled by the raw emotions, deep insights, and humorous takes offered by others like us—people who share our...
This past year has been challenging, and the upcoming holiday season is likely to be no different—especially when we’re feeling isolated. To stay out of the holiday blues or bipolar depression, I am approaching this season proactively, tackling loneliness directly and finding ways to be festive and joyful. Feeling Lonely & Isolated During the Holidays...
Times have been tough. But so are we. The end-of-year holidays can be difficult any year, and, this time around, they pose new challenges to our mood and well-being. Let’s not forget: Living with bipolar has taught us how to navigate through uncertainty. Here are the coping skills I’ve been relying on to remain stable...
With bipolar’s depression and anxiety, I struggled to be confident. After growing tired of feeling hurt by every slight, I discovered two effective ways to combat negative emotions. Reacting & Feeling Unworthy I used to find it very difficult to interact well with others. I was often hurt, and I reacted with anger—directed at others...