Why I am (finally) studying psychology
Updated: Jun 3, 2019
At the grand old age of 35 I decided to return to education and learn more about a passion of mine, psychology. The decision to study again took me over 6 months to get my head around and involved numerous conversations with university tutors, my husband, my family and friends and most importantly myself.
As someone who has an anxiety disorder, I routinely loose hours mentally weighing up situations, repeatedly examining evidence and running through all possible outcomes of even minor decisions, their potential meaning and impact. Despite the emotional (and time related) cost of this and because of the help of a very good therapist, I have been able to finally see this strength in myself that I wouldn’t necessarily have developed had I not been battling a mental health condition.
I have always been interested in all things medical and regret in some ways not becoming a medical doctor. I certainly got the grades at school and had the motivation, but it is telling that I was put off by a single conversation with a family member who echoed back to me my own doubts whether I would be able to ‘cope with it as a profession - so best think about doing something less challenging’. Off I went to do something ‘less challenging’ which led to depression, anxiety and lots of experience as a service user.
Fast forward to now - I have become a mother, wife and relatively active member of my local community and I am much less easily persuaded away from my own innate interests! I can’t think of any purpose more worthwhile than trying to understand why as humans, we think how we think, we feel how we feel and we do what we do. And (this may or may not surprise you as readers of this blog) I am starting with me, with the hope that I can one day help others. Do not credit me with any altruism here!
When I heard about positive psychology (PP) I was at put off by it’s connotations with happiness research, happiology and positive thinking…what do these have to do with the life I am living as I struggle with depression about my privileged, first world, relatively comfortable life? However, upon a second and deeper look it appeared that ‘PP’ was a bit of a misnomer and I may have found my tribe (as Oprah would say).
What I described above as seeing a positive outcome (a strength of judgment) arising from a negative experience (anxiety) is exactly what the field of PP is evolving to be about imho. Research into why some people are happier than others, whether searching for happiness is in fact looking like not being the answer to achieving wellbeing and the benefits of negative emotions are topics we can all relate to in one way or another. This is true whether you have been diagnosed with a mental health issue or if you are mentally healthy (or on the border) and are wanting to understand yourself and others a bit better and get more out of the life you are living.
I have enjoyed and found relevant so much on my MAPP course (Masters of Applied PP course) that it is impossible to summarise it here. Now when I look back I can see a direct line from my mental health challenges to my appetite to learn, my growth mindset and my love of learning about all things human. I wouldn’t say I am grateful to have a mental illness as it impacts my family, friendships and health but I do wonder that if seeing the benefits and being able to use them as strengths sometimes is part of accepting who I am, making peace with myself and translating that into meaning and purpose.
As Socrates is attributed as saying ‘The unexamined life is not worth living’. I am not sure I agree fully, but in my experience the kind of self-insight that helps you tolerate negative experiences where you need to and able to see the benefits of even the hardest challenges (in time) is hopefully the journey I, and others, can take with PP.