Don’t Say Anything Negative

Mama said there’d be days like these. Or weeks. Maybe even months. She also said : ‘Don’t say anything negative. It’s Christmas.’

Sometimes the blackness can hit in the middle of a bright, shiny day when the sky is clear. It hit me on Monday afternoon like a battering ram to the chest, knocking the air right out of me.

I discovered my son after school, crying in his room. His shoulders were shaking with sobs. I suspected friends being unkind, disappointment experienced at not getting an award at the final school assembly (actually, it was me who cried over that), maybe even being rejected by a girl he liked. But no, it was his teacher telling him that basically he would never amount to anything, that got to him.

‘She meant it, Mum,’ he said.

As I thought how out of order it is for a teacher to say such a thing to a sixth grader and I felt the rage grab hold of me, I noticed birds singing outside. Their song was so sweet it was as if a little avian choir had come down from the heavens.

The anger left me all of a sudden. It was an odd but fitting switch. But the black dog, that fuzzy little creature I love and hate in equal measure, began barking at the end of the garden path, and he’s been barking ever since.

How can someone say they love the black dog, their depression? It goes without saying that one would hate it, but to love it at the same time….that’s just sick, isn’t it?

When you’re in the depths of depression, when it seizes you, when you capitulate, it has an almost narcotic quality to it. You don’t care about anything. Nothing.  The world is grey-washed. You are numb.

For me there is nothing despairing about a depressive episode, rather there is something affirming about it. It confirms my faithlessness, my belief that things go wrong more often than they go right.

A depressive episode indulges my appetite for self-destruction. And there is comfort to be had in that.

So I went to see my doctor. She was concerned at the level of anger I am experiencing. She should be concerned because I am mad at the world for the appalling way we humans behave. It is shocking, shameless. If we’re not careful we’re going to fuck everything up. Completely.

‘You need to alter your world view,’ said my doctor. She thinks I have compassion fatigue. She thinks I worry too much about things I cannot control. ‘Stop watching the news,’ she said. ‘Stop reading the paper.’

Easier said than done. I just need to step out into the street to gain an understanding of the state of the world.

So I did what I have to when the blackness strikes. Retreat, sleep, walk. Walk, sleep, retreat.

In the park I saw a grandfather with his grandson. They were picking clover. They had handfuls of it, inhaling it the way a chef does a handful of parsley to check for freshness. The grandfather pulled faces and the little boy laughed and laughed. A tinkling sound like the high notes on the piano.

I saw a puppy, all floppy-eared and floppy-footed, gambolling like a spring lamb. Happier than any creature I have ever seen, just to be walking. Such joy to be had in simple things. It brought me close to tears.

I did what I always do when am close to weeping. I counted the boats rounding the bay. There was one with pale blue sails, the same colour of the sky I saw once in a painting by Monet. Try as I might, I couldn’t take my eyes from those sails. Or from the name of the boat.

Mistral wind.

A tiny suggestion of a wind. Soft as whispering. A wind that gently rises from the world of fairy.

As I walked home I caught sight of three birds on a television aerial. Looking as if they were conversing. I wondered what they must think of this world we have built around them. I wondered if they scoffed at the humans they fly above who are capable of so much but deliver so little. I wondered if they would fly away to a better world if given the chance.

The birds twittered and flew off, straight towards black clouds gathering over the gum trees. Without fear they flew, true as arrows. Valiant, sure of wing. Inexplicably, their courage cheered me.

How must it be to be aloft, looking at the world from such a steep height, seeing the black heart of a storm but still flying into it?

Maybe the birds know more about life than we do. Maybe they know that if we trust in ourselves everything will be alright.

Maybe Mama was right. Don’t say anything negative. For the lights are on, guiding, drawing us forward. There will be days like these. Oh, yes. But we plunge and twirl and plummet in the wind, not afraid, for it is only a matter of time until we level out and step once more onto land.

31 thoughts on “Don’t Say Anything Negative

  1. I’d be angry, too! A teacher has no bloody right to say that!

    (A teacher said something similar to me once … it gave me great pleasure, ten years later, to stick my wings in his face!. Karma, or what!)

    But, like you, I take a little walk … I see birds; I see kids playing in the park … even a driver who stops and waves me across the road, even though there isn’t a pedestrian crossing. And, I can’t stay mad for long.


  2. That poor little guy, try as we might it’s so hard to see the world try to bring our children down. It makes very very angry. What could possibly be gained by telling your son that he’ll never amount to anything? (I’d be tempted to talk to the principal about this. This is far more than just an academic issue… Christmas or no, that’s not right.)

    I can’t give up the news, no matter how sad it makes me. This time of year, you’ll see the stories of hope, of people helping… the good side of humanity.

    Your bird story reminded me of this…
    (I can’t find the actual short.)


  3. I’m so sorry your dear boy has such an ass for a teacher. That kind of thing never goes away. But, I have faith in him that he’ll go far, because I know you’ll be right there for him, encouraging and cheering him on to great heights. Byt the way, when I was in high school a guidance counselor told me that for me, college would be a waste of my time and my paretns’ money. Niiiice. When I finally got to go to college (at age 39), I ended up on the honor roll. So there, Mr. Wazzizname.

    As for the depression, yes, yes, YES! Loving and hating that damn black dog at the same time makes perfect sense. Sometimes it just feels better to not feel anything at all. That dog keeps EVERYTHING at bay. Maybe it isn’t exactly depression as it is a lack of emotion.

    I’m glad you were able to take a walk and see some beautiful things. It is so easy to worry about what we’re doing to the world, but I still have hope that some day, someone with enough sway will stand up and say, THAT’S QUITE ENOUGH! And allow those of us with some sense to help put things to rights again.

    This was a lovely post, Selma. Thank you for sharing both your black mood and your walk. Now, I must go put out my new suet feeder for the little birds in the apple tree as a long-distance ‘thank you’ for helping my friend across the ocean…


  4. I cannot believe that a teacher would actually say that to a little boy. That person is not teaching at that point in time. If she truly believed that (which she should not because every breath can change who we are and our future), she should have worked harder with him to help him in the areas where he may need it. It’s an awful and unfair thing to say to a boy. It’s just not right.

    I too suffer from compassion fatigue and often wonder why people can’t just stop and be wonderful. The incessant fighting, backstabbing, painful things that happen just right here in my tiny world let alone the big world? Immensely frustrating. Sometimes I feel the oddest comfort in my depressive episodes because it means I still feel. Of course, once I take a minute to recognize that, I try to fix it cause uh…depression. 🙂

    Lots of love to you…


  5. Oh Selma… I’m always lost for words when you allow me into this part of your world, your life. My words fail me, but my desire to reassure you and give you calm and hope is as strong as ever. So here goes…

    This post, as bleak as it is in parts, painting a picture of depression that relatively few of us ever get to see or appreciate, also shows a great deal of hope.

    The part that caught my attention was the birds on the antenna… and the way they flew off into what looked to be an unpredictable and even darker place than where they were. But Selma, I know where those birds went, I know what they did in their courage… they came directly to me and crapped on my head, turning my happy day into a shitty one. In much the same way a teacher might do to a young boy.

    I had such a teacher, teachers, and not confined to the classroom either, but I managed to wipe the crap off and prove them wrong.

    I really think your son will be fine… I mean look at who his Mum is for a start.


  6. I was down on Monday too. And my son had a bad day that same day.

    I had a similar experience with a teacher. Not on Monday. About a year ago. Although fortunately the teacher spoke to me not to my son. But she was very negative about his capabilities. My youngest son this was. It had the effect of rallying me actually. I am very laid back about my children, but hearing her say that, made me determined he would prove her wrong. And a year later he has. So maybe it was a good thing. It didn’t feel that way at the time, for sure.

    You do sound more sombre than me. I was like that once. No idea how I broke out of it. But I have. I have my down blips but they are fleeting and a result of hormones or concrete occurrences. I hope writing helps?


  7. TRAVELRAT – there’s no excuse really. Nick can be a little cheeky but he is certainly not like some of the real troublemakers at the school who are bashing kids in the toilets. I was surprised how much it affected him.

    I am glad you got to have the last laugh with your teacher. I hope he had the good grace to congratulate you. I’m with you completely – thank goodness for walks!!!

    NAT – it’s the end of the school year here. Nick had 4 days left of school and just didn’t go back. I was mad about it because he is off to High School next year and won’t see a lot of his friends as much as he used to. He really didn’t get a chance to say goodbye to them. However, I couldn’t bear to have him anywhere near that woman. She said a similar thing to my friend’s son when he was in the 6th grade. She doesn’t like independent thinkers. Anyway, my friend’s son has just been accepted into Law at Sydney University after she told him six years ago that he would be stacking shelves in the supermarket for a living. It’s poetic justice, I guess.

    That clip is just fantastic. I hadn’t seen it before. The guys at Pixar are just so talented, aren’t they? The little birds were so cute. And I really liked the message. Thanks for including it!

    KAREN – you look after those little birds for me, my dear. They have saved my soul many a time. The good news is that Nick never needs to see that sour-faced old bag again. I thought about going to see the Principal but as it is his last year I just decided it was pointless to do so. Sometimes I do get tired of making a fuss (can you believe I just said that? Me, Queen of the Troublemakers). Sometimes it’s nice to just slip away and let things go.

    HILLY – I won’t say Nick is perfect, because he isn’t. He is a smart ass when pushed but is always respectful and does all of his work. His teacher has had it in for Nick from the first day he was in her class. Her style of teaching is to belittle certain kids and Nick pulled her up for picking on some of his friends and making them cry. She has never forgiven him for it and has given him a hard time ever since. An adult might be able to take that negativity for an entire year but after a while it breaks a 12 year old down. I hope she contracts a disfiguring disease like leprosy. If I knew her nose had fallen off I would feel much better. LOL.

    I’m with you on the compassion fatigue. Totally. There is no need for all the fighting, violence and hatred in the world. It does upset me. But people like you help. More than you can know. My love to you too.

    BEAR – that is a beautiful story. It has cheered me so much. My Italian neighbour always says that if a bird craps on your head it means you are going to have a lucky day. I am lucky to know people like you. Thank you for always making me feel better!


  8. RELUCTANT – I am glad you were able to prove the teacher wrong. Sometimes things like that can be a call to battle and it does motivate us to try a little harder.

    I am in a bit of a dark spot at the moment, I must admit. It is passing – slowly – but it is passing. It has been a tough year for me in many ways. Writing helps me so much. I really thank God for it. I fear that without it I would have jumped off a bridge long ago.
    And I also thank all of the Gods (or whoever is actually up there) for giving me the ability to write. This is the longest bout of depression I have had in years. It has lasted for the entire year. My therapist tells me I am a fully functioning depressive which I suppose is better than a fully functioning heroin addict or a fully functioning nymphomaniac. It is good to have all one’s shiny bits (and not so shiny bits) in fully functioning mode. Makes me feel part human, part computer. Therapist speak always makes me laugh. 😆


  9. It’s a good thing I don’t live there. I hear this stuff and it makes me physically ill. One cannot look at a child and know his/her future, unless he/she is God. Next time you see her, tell “God” hello for me, since she obviously thinks she is. *Rolls eyes* Cheek or no cheek, the woman needs to be fired, esp. since this is a repeat offense. Even if he’s moved on, I’d still say something to the schoolboard. THAT’S a problem. Independent thinkers are the ones that will save the world – not mindless sheep. Grrrr….

    Two yrs ago I was in your boat. In fact, after my parents visited this last time I had another spiral, but in my case, it wasn’t just thoughts, but chemicals too. I took serotonin and it helped so much I can’t even begin to tell you. I would have enjoyed your walks – I can’t imagine being so close to boats! That’s so cool. 🙂

    Anger is a funny thing – it can spur one on to action, or pool until it turns in on itself. I think that is what your therapist is concerned about. You’re doing the right thing – find joy and love in the world, and realize that for every evil thing there are twice as many good ones… we just forget how to find them because they aren’t shoved in our faces all the time like the other.



  10. What kind of a crappy teacher does your poor son have? Wow, that’s just plain mean. And so unprofessional, that goes without saying. When I think back to the teachers I had, I know I was truly blessed, judging by some of the horror stories I’ve read recently. Some bad apples in all professions. So sorry about this Selma, so very very sorry.

    Compassion fatigue, I think I have a big bad case of that too. Loooooooong story, suffice to say…I hear ya. I feel your pain. 😦

    Hang in there. A candle burning bright, sent back to you.

    Big hugs, G


  11. TEXASBLU – there is definitely a God complex thing going on with my son’s teacher. Ex-teacher, I should say. It feels good to say that. She is definitely not God but you my dear, possess many angelic qualities. I cannot tell you how often you cheer me. How do you do that?

    I am so glad you were able to get a handle on your depression. It worries me how widespread depression is these days. I think our world is very stressful. Thank you for always finding a way for me to let the light shine through. You really are a special lady.

    GERALDINE – it is worrying when teachers behave like that. Sometimes that’s what you have to put up with in the public system.
    I am sorry to hear you are going through a rough patch. If there is anything I can do to help, you know I will be more than happy to. Take care of yourself.


  12. So teachers in Australia are also psychic? I mean really. But you’re right Selma, we must pick our battles. I’m a fighter myself. I’d a been in dragging the wench into the headmaster’s office by her hair. But it’s true, if he’s never going to see her again what’s the point. In 6th grade who actually looks like someone with potential for anything? Are we supposed to? This world has wiped away childhood- damn them.

    I grew up with a mother who was a manic depressive schizophrenic so my sisters and I are always waiting for the black dog to get us. I’m more cautious as I picked up my mother’s writing gene so I fear I’ve inherited the rest. I’ve lived my life in the middle as much as I can, dodging extremes for fear they’ll take me over that edge. But at 45 (less a few weeks) I’m beginning to think I’ve been too cautious. Suddenly I want to feel the sharpness. I know depression is not nice but Selma I think it’s okay to go there sometimes. How can you truly feel happiness if you don’t know real sadness? Feel feel feel.

    Because of my same history, I’m not a fan of therapists of any sort (funny now my daughter is saying she wants to be a psychiatrist) I don’t think hiding away from the world will help. I think you can deal with your compassion for humanity with action. Write, speak, act. I feel depressed and lost when I can’t find a way to do something.

    You’re a strong loving woman and I know you’ll find your way through. And always there is something much better that side just for having passed through.


  13. ‘He’ll never amount to anything’ – Father, concerning his son Winston Churchill.
    ‘He’ll never amount to anything’ – lecturers, concerning the student Charles Darwin.
    What do THEY know?


  14. LAURI – you are absolutely right. Forcing oneself out of the mire really is the way to go. I have a history of depression in the family. My sister is bipolar. My cousin, Patrick was too. So was my Aunt. Sadly, my Aunt and cousin are no longer with us. They both committed suicide. I worry about that a lot. When a depressive episode hits now I often panic. But talking about it really helps. And writing. And seeing the sun shine. For Christmas I would like the angels to grant me a few months without the blackness. That would be better than any material gift. I will get through it. I do know that. Thank you for your encouragement.

    ANTHONY – you really are such a kind person. I also heard that Albert Einstein failed Maths. I bet his teachers were surprised when he came up with the theory of relativity. Your words have cheered me!


  15. i can only speak for myself… but i know i do the best i can never to seem depressed.. i am the happiest person you will ever meet in a public place.. or at work or whatever… but my heart is black and my soul is quicksand,, and the happy face mask i wear is just because i don’t want you to know…

    it has never made it any better just caused me to bury it more deeply and punish myself privately for being such a sniveling coward….

    here.. in the blogshpere is the only place i bare my soul,, but were we to meet in person chances are you would never know how broken i feel inside… it is my guess that you would come away from such a meeting saying,, wow,, she is not at all who i thought she was…..


  16. We become so accustomed to that black dog following us around that it seems like there’s something wrong when it’s not there. I guess in some respects losing it is like losing a little part of ourselves – it’s taken time to shape and mould us and when it’s gone there’s still an empty space to fill, no matter how much or little we want it to be there. I don’t know how much sense I’m making, possibly not a lot, but that’s kinda the best I can do right now.


  17. “How must it be to be aloft, looking at the world from such a steep height, seeing the black heart of a storm but still flying into it?”
    What a seamless way to write about seeing those birds flying–what a tremendous tapestry of words you’ve woven, Selma.
    This is a true look inside that “black dog” as you call it, and yet, it feels “redemptive” by the time one reaches your quote, above…

    As for your lovely son’s “teacher”, I feel pity for her. Either she is so unhappy with herself, she must put-down others(and children! It’s despicable!), or she has some mis-guided, pathetic notion her angry, hurtful words will “motivate” him(!). I’m so glad he’ll be in a different classroom, with different teachers, soon!
    He sounds like an independent thinker, and an artist(musician). Bravo for him!


  18. PAISLEY – I am also very guilty of adopting the public, happy persona. For many years most of the people I know were unaware I suffered from depression. Some of my recent co-workers have been shocked to find out. There is still a stigma attached to depression, unfortunately. Most people do alter the way they view you unless they suffer from it themselves. If we were to meet in person I would be so delighted I wouldn’t be able to think of anything else but “I’m meeting Paisley. I’m meeting Paisley!”

    VIC – you are making perfect sense. It’s true – we do become accustomed to its presence. When I don’t feel the black dog I do feel something is up. It’s as if I am denying myself the right to function without it. I know you get it, Vic. Thank you so much for your insight!

    LISA – it is an odd thing to find redemption amidst the anxiety. It is there. As Lauri mentioned before, it is as if by experiencing the lows you experience the highs more acutely. The sun still shines even when all is black. You just have to remember it’s there – beaming.

    My son will be fine. He’s already planning his next film project. Thanks for your kind words.


  19. Give this to your son…

    Dear friend, I do not know your capacity, your intellect or your spirit. I do not know where you will go, what you will become, or what challenges you will rise to beat, or get beaten down by. What I do know it this…no one else does either. NO one knows who you can become, who you can be, what dreams you will cause to happen. Only one person can know..and he is the one who is driving you to be something…that person is you. When you are told you cannot do will be the you inside that will decide if they are right, or get angry and committed to proving them wrong. When someone tells you that you will be you, you my sensitive friend, who will rise up with ferocious holler and declare with one strong and unwavering voice that you will be, do and create whatever you damned well please. Only one person can make you a failure, and that is the person you look at in the he brave, is he strong? was that whisper a yes? I hope so..Are you going to let someone tell you your destiny? Are you going to listen to words of people who cannot know your truths, your lessons, your inner convictions? Are you realling taking crap from someone who doesn’t see your potential?..I hope that was a no, but you might want to say it louder…NO..thats right! NO. No one can take who you are from you…one day you will look back and say thank you to that foolish woman..for she will have been the one who decided you on your path..a path YOU one else..just you! I believe in you believe in you?

    Love always,


  20. “Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.”

    I’ll cut your hair for you that’ll be good for a giggle.
    Our black dogs should meet in the dip between our houses and we’ll exhaust them into submission with that ball chucker thing that Alistair bought.


    ps got a boy here waiting for the story you’re going to tell about the boats……


  21. BEKKI – you are an absolute gem. How kind of you. I will treasure that letter. So will Nick. XXXXX

    KATE – as long as I don’t end up looking like Phil Oakey from Human League with that lop-sided do, you are on. I know that you have a fine, steady hand. Let’s round those dogs up and chuck things at ’em – absolutely. I am writing every night. Tell Moofus something is on the way. XXX


  22. I don’t suffer from depression, but I do have other medical issues that are toughies. I feel for you. (Many friends I know battle depression and it is NOT as easy as “don’t say anything negative!” In fact, I think that type of advice buries one’s feelings and prevents healing!

    As far as that teacher, she needs a remedial course in promoting self-esteem. I speak as a professional educator and as a mom. Deflating people’s (of any age), image or expectations of themselves is harmful and has effects far reaching…as you know.

    Selma, my dr. never advised turning off the news, but she did not in approval when I told her I do not watch it. It’s too bleeping depressing. I keep up with the world, but I don’t need to know about the next _______ or _______. I’d much rather take a walk, catch a sunrise or sunset with or without my camera, listen to the birds, smile at strangers, slooooow way down and yes, sleep more, not sleep to exclude but to build up energy. I find exercise also helps and reading books I enjoy.

    The past couple of years, I’ve actively worked to build new circles of friendship because I live in a very transient area. It has been a whopping downer when dear friends move yet again. It’s the worst thing about the area I live in,but I can’t change it. Recently, I’ve found other new ones to the area, or long time residents like my husband and me, who want to socialize and we’re having fun getting to know each other.

    Yes, dream like Kate says above. That quote by Goethe ( I think)is on my desk plaque.



  23. I would have been FURIOUS beyond anger.

    But I have to say when I read this:

    “As I walked home I caught sight of three birds on a television aerial. Looking as if they were conversing. I wondered what they must think of this world we have built around them. I wondered if they scoffed at the humans they fly above who are capable of so much but deliver so little. I wondered if they would fly away to a better world if given the chance.”



  24. your son’s teacher must be in a pitiful state of self-loathing to have so much venom to direct out – what a terrible way to live – it is a blessing that your son has you, feels able to tell you about such despair, having support in times like that can make all the difference

    i think the narcotic an addictive quality of depression you have written about so well here is too seldom given adequate and frank voice – giving in and allowing ones self to be subsumed in the floating numb gray is seductive – difficult not to give over to – also depression comes with things to tell us – hard to listen often – but always the two sides of every cloud exist – critical to keep perspective on this i believe – thanks for the great piece

    sending blessings that you find the peace of calmer seas soon


  25. Hi Selma,
    I just want to slap that teacher. What an awful thing to say to a student, especially at such an impressionable age. Sixth grade is the beginning of the tough years for teenagers. I have a grandson in 6th grade this year and he is beginning to be a handful. But I have hope as my grandson like your son has good parents to help them get past the idiots of this world.
    I also want to thank you for sharing a bit of your dark world. I recognized it immediately because I am a charter member of the world of depression. The holidays seem to bring out the worst, which is so sad. I found Paisley’s comment interesting. It must be a pact of the sisterhood of depression to put on a happy face for the public and to drown in our depression in the darkness of our room. I will have to say that reading this post with its many comments has helped me a great deal this evening. Sometimes it is just nice to know you are not the only one.
    I do hope you enjoy the Christmas holiday. I find if I focus on its true meaning, it goes much better. And please assure your son that not all teachers are good teachers – some barely received their teaching certificate with D’s, but of course they still qualified for a job. Merry Christmas Selma!


  26. GEL – I am very grateful for your kind words. You give some excellent advice. I would have thought a teacher would be seeking to ensure her students self esteem was in a healthy state too. Some of the teachers at my son’s school seem very jaded. It’s a shame. I wonder if they have any idea of the impression they leave on the child. Glad to hear you’re getting out and making some friends in your neighbourhood. It’s important.

    MELEAH – initially I was furious, but then I just felt really sad about it…
    I am really glad you liked that bit about the birds. I often sit and watch the birds around here. They are intriguing creatures!!!

    KAYT – I do think that depression has something to teach us – usually about our place in the world. It can be enlightening. I must admit that I always take something positive away from my bouts with it. I’d rather not have bouts with it, but I’ll grab pieces of self-knowledge where I can!

    CRICKET – I am sorry to hear your grandson is experiencing something similar to my son. I hope it all gets sorted out.

    I am really pleased this post and the comments could help you. I feel so glad. It is always a comfort to know you are not the only one, I agree. I hope to have a lovely Christmas. HAVE A VERY MERRY CHRISTMAS, DEAR CRICKET!!!!!


  27. It’s far better that you’re involved in your son’s life and care enough to get upset about this sort of thing rather than denying it and not facing up to what’s happening. Perhaps the positive/negative thinking dichotomy is a false one. I think we’re better off trying to be realistic and looking at both the good and bad aspects of life. This will lead to both sadness and happiness as the situation warrents.

    I tend to take a grim view of human nature as well, yet it couldn’t be all bad considering we’re still here.


  28. RICHARD – you have actually hit upon a very important point. It is crucial to be able to accept the good and bad things that happen. Life isn’t a box of chocolates, after all. Not everything will go right, just as not everything will go wrong. Thanks again for a wonderful insight.

    ROSHAN – if I had my way she’d be sweeping the streets for a living, but for now, I’m glad to not have to see her again. You are kind to respond like that. Thank you.


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