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Phoenix Rising

Embrace the Bright Side

Embrace the Bright Side


I was a teenager when I started my career of self-loathing. In some ways I am sure that many of you can relate to this, given that such self-loathing practically defines adolescence. But I was aware of an additional layer, one that seemed impenetrable. I became aware that my feelings for boys were uncommon, and I heard jokes from friends and family implying that such feelings were laughable or, worse, sinful. In that place where I felt I was alone and that my feelings were somehow dangerous, I retreated into a world of emotional isolation, preoccupied with how I was different and therefore flawed. My outlook, as much as I protested and tried to change it, became one of self-neglect as I atoned for what I perceived to be fatal flaws excluding me from the company of people who deserved and received acceptance. I recently had an epiphany. On a sunny summer day here in Chicago'and there's nothing quite like a sunny summer day in Chicago'I found myself morose in bed, dwelling on what's wrong with me, what's wrong with my life. I asked myself, What would it be like if I looked at this situation from a more positive, glass-half-full perspective? How could my life be different if I focused on what's going right? And so, in what sounds very Hollywood but I assure you was very real, I got out of bed and went for a bike ride. And I smiled. In that moment I was able to notice my pessimism and ask myself whether it was working for me. Clearly it wasn't, since I'd been in my bed on a beautiful day bemoaning my life, which is actually pretty good. The pessimism and self-blame made perfect sense when I was 15 and doing my best to make sense of things. It doesn't make sense now. I live in an affirming city in an affirming neighborhood and have affirming friends. Life is good. Certainly not perfect but good enough for me to find gratitude and contentment at least in some moments. I believe--especially as a therapist--that the past is important, since it provides some of the raw material for the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves. It also introduces kindness and compassion, especially in those moments when we judge ourselves harshly. However, as I age I recognize the importance of focusing on the here and now because that's the only place where I can truly bring about change in my life. It's also the only place where I can enjoy it. Self-care is something that all of us can improve on. For those of us with HIV, self-care is especially important. T-cells come and go on the basis of how well we tend to our needs. As I move forward, I keep with me the thought that how I look at my life is as important as what I'm facing. And I feel a little better knowing that I can apply this same thinking to other areas of my life so that things that feel bleak are balanced with a more hopeful, more realistic outlook. Fransen is a licensed clinical social worker and is in private therapy practice in Chicago.

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Thomas Fransen