My surprise discovery

The optimist's view - looking for the brighter days

The optimist's view - looking for the brighter days - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

It's taken a while, but Susie has learned something about herself

It’s only taken me 52 years, but I have made a surprising discovery about myself. I have just realised that I am an optimist. I always thought the opposite – that, because I worried about worst case scenarios and prepared myself for bad outcomes, I was a born pessimist. But, with a flash of clarity and self-awareness, it dawned on me a few weeks ago that I actually always tend to think things will work out.  

The ‘work of worrying’ I do is just a bit of sensible planning – like getting holiday insurance in case you end up having a horrible accident abroad. It doesn’t mean you believe that is going to happen (otherwise you wouldn’t travel), it just means you are prepared for any eventuality. 

This realisation has been weirdly profound. I somehow see myself in a different light – no longer the doomsayer, but the (albeit sensible and cautious) rose-tinted spectacle wearer. 

With this is my mind, I was listening to the adventurer Bear Grylls on The High Performance podcast’ hosted by the Norfolk TV presenter Jake Humphrey. Bear was stressing the need to experience failure, to never give up, to learn how to pick yourself up and carry on. Without those experiences, he said, young people don’t get to use and strengthen the ‘resilience muscle' that is so essential in life.  

Two years into the Covid pandemic, I am acutely aware of how badly children and young people have been affected, probably more than any other age group. I know this from our reporting on BBC Look East, and from my own personal experience as a mother. 

Both my children have suffered deeply. My daughter is taking a year out of school to recover from an eating disorder, brought on by the isolation of lockdown, home schooling and the pressure and uncertainty over her GCSEs. My little boy, who responds best to rules and routine, is suffering from anxiety for the first time in his life. Too much change and ‘unknown’ has discombobulated him. 

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Talk to teachers, mental health experts and paediatricians, and you will find that there are thousands of young people suffering in a similar way. Referrals for depression, anxiety and eating disorders have sky-rocketed. Many others may be masking problems and presenting as fine, with the effects only to appear later down the line. 

But while I worry about the difficulties my children are facing, and how much they have missed out on because of Covid, I also keep thinking about what Bear said, and wonder whether this adversity could actually help them in later life. 

Certainly, I understand my children far better now, as I have tried so hard to see life through their eyes. In a book, written for parents and carers of young people with eating disorders, the experts advise that you see each mistake you make as a 'treasure' that helps you learn and move forward. My treasure trove is overflowing with mistakes I have made with my children – wrong things said, getting upset instead of keeping calm - but they have all made me stop and think “how could I have handled that better?” 

There will, without doubt, be young people who will be scarred by the events of the past two years, and for some it could impact the rest of their lives. But maybe, as life starts to return to some sort of “normal', others who have suffered will emerge with their resilience muscle well and truly stretched. Their comfort zones have been forcibly widened and their ability to adapt has been challenged repeatedly.  

My children have 'fallen' on many occasions but, with encouragement and support, have managed to pick themselves up and keep going. As the saying goes; “You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem…” 

Maybe this is the born-again optimist in me speaking, but I am living proof that learning about yourself is an ongoing process - and is always a good thing!