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  • Writer's pictureJonathan David Cain

Divergent Thoughts, by Jonathan David Cain

Photo by Bcny on Unsplash

Get ready. I’m going to take you down the rabbit hole and get really personal with this one, hoping it speaks to someone who needs it.

Emotions are just thoughts put into action. Thoughts can be empowering, or they can be consuming. Our thoughts can lift us or crush us - motivate us or hold us back. They carry the power of life and death. I’ve had a few magical moments where I was centered enough to speak boldly and deny the creeping thoughts of inadequacy, worthlessness, and mediocrity…. All the diminishing things. On rare occasions, I managed to pull daring out of thin air and walk into jobs when I most needed them. Amazingly, boldness and self-confidence are like kryptonite to being unemployed. But that boldness has been a rarity for me. More often than not, I fight tooth and nail, eyeball to eyeball, with spiraling thoughts – the ones that lead to the next dark place until I end up convinced that I am undeserving of anything good and am taking up too much room. Those negative thoughts make me shrink. It has taken many years to understand that thoughts only have the power I choose to give them. They can be acknowledged, examined, and dismissed. Once I identified my pattern of negative thinking, I (sometimes) can mentally say, “Yep. I see you. Now you can just go sit over there and hush.” It’s a work in progress. I’m a work in progress. We all are.

Thoughts have been stumbling blocks for me. I have dealt with varying levels of depression since I was 12 – if you’re doing the math, that’s about 40 years now. On good days, my thoughts kept me from reaching out for life or daring to try. On the worst days, my thoughts hunted me, whispering, ‘You aren’t good enough,’ ‘You don’t deserve that,’ and ‘You should just end it.’ Those were some incredibly dark days. I can’t explain how many ways I’ve considered ending my life. It is a daily fight – some days are harder than others. When your adversary lives inside your head, there aren’t any places to hide. People that know me are probably surprised to hear that acknowledgment. I’m a joker – quick with a one-liner and a laugh. Sometimes it’s genuine, and sometimes it’s rehearsed camouflage. In the counseling world, that’s called a maladaptive coping mechanism — academic jargon for ‘you found a way to ignore the situation and survive.’

I’m no poster child for suicide prevention, and I’m not seeking to be some saint on a hillside. I am everyone you meet. Everyone has struggles, and many of them are private and unseen. Our society has not normalized the struggle of mental illness or anxiety or allowed people to admit out loud that they are having a really overwhelming moment. It’s still viewed by many as an unforgivable weakness or character flaw. In the South, we are trained not to make anyone uncomfortable and reply when asked how we are doing with, “I’m fine! And you?”; no matter what we may genuinely be thinking or feeling. I swear I could have a severed arm hanging on by a thread, and I would probably respond with, “I’m fine…can I get you a glass of tea?”. As someone with a degree in Clinical Mental Health, I’ll let you in on a little secret…to a counselor, ‘FINE’ means ‘F’d up, Insecure, Neurotic, and Emotionally unstable.’ So yes, I feel quite ‘FINE’ on lots of days. You can compound those challenges for men. As men, anger is the only socially acceptable masculine emotion we can publicly express. We have all got to help each other to end that. Everyone deserves to be able to express their thoughts without having to resort to compacting them into a ball of anger. Along the way, spiritual teacher Iyanla Vanzant’s words taught me, “Anger is just another emotion that got buried alive.” There is a mighty truth in those words.

So, why did I go down this particular rabbit hole with you? I hope that someone somewhere reading this realizes that they are not alone. That whatever their feelings are, they are valid. Many of us walk around fighting in our heads while we smile. There is a better life, and we were born worthy of it. In its fullness, the Universe wants us to have all good things. I hope we realize that the struggle with negative thinking is real and seek help to learn how to move through those thoughts. I hope that, for a moment, someone realizes that all those thoughts they pushed down, boxed up, and ignored can return in unanticipated ways – health issues, sleep disruption, anxiety, poor social interactions, etc...… So, be kind to yourself and others in your actions and thoughts. Be intentional.

Ask people how they really are, and then hush up and listen. Everyone is struggling with something. Try to think better of people. As Spiritual Truth Teller Teacher Mother Iyanla Vanzant says, “Think higher!” So, when battling negative thoughts, stop and ask yourself a few things – Have I eaten? Have I slept? Have I taken a moment to be still? Have I considered all of the things I can be grateful for? If the answer that comes back is ‘No,’ go do those things.


Jonathan Cain is a native of Florence, Alabama, and has been the current Curator for the Tennessee Valley Museum of Art located in Tuscumbia, AL, since January 2020. He functioned in that role previously for several years before leaving to pursue a career in education. He holds an undergraduate degree in graphic design from the University of North Alabama and graduate degrees from both the University of Mississippi (MFA – Sculpture) and the University of North Alabama (MA – Clinical Mental Health). He is an eclectic artist who likes to pursue many different media.


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