Silver linings

Looking up instead of down

Ximena Vengoechea
7 min readMar 29, 2024

Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

I consider myself to be a fairly optimistic person, but recently, my positive outlook has been tested. In the past nine months, I’ve gotten several diagnoses for chronic health issues. In many ways, it’s a relief to get a diagnosis. But each one also brings its own wave of stress along with it, along with a deeper worry that there may be more coming my way. It’s like I’m waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Usually, it’s easy for me to see the good things, or at least the potential for good. I’m someone who believes people are inherently good, even though they sometimes do bad and stupid things. I see the horrific environmental impact our collective action has caused to the planet, yet I am still ultimately optimistic about the future of humanity and a life worth living on earth. I even believe it’s worth continuing to write books, a career choice you have to be a little crazy or unrelentingly optimistic about. I’m continuously betting on the better outcome.

Now, I’m no Pollyanna. I’m not going to tell you things are great when they’re not, or paper over your sadness with inspirational quotes and toxic positivity (even if it’s well intentioned). I’m not going to ignore that there are things we ought to be doing to build a better future, and I’m not going to pretend that it’s going to be easy. I think of myself as someone who is naturally optimistic, but not overly naive either. I believe there’s always a better outcome, but I don’t believe you’re guaranteed the best outcome.

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But lately, I’ve been finding it hard not to leap toward the worst possible conclusion. This paragraph from Rachel Yoder’s Nightbitch perfectly captures the health anxiety I’ve been experiencing, a kind of health stress I think many of us can relate to in the age of the Internet:

“The Internet was truly a horrid place, wasn’t it, what with its endless information, infinite search terms, images and videos and articles, databases, discussion boards, quizzes to see whether or not you did in fact have leukemia. The mother had not known prior to the night before that the search phrase looks like I was punched hard in both eyes would produce not only a list of seven common eye injuries but also endless scholarship on traumatic brain injury, concussions, and chronic headaches. Deeper still into the search, she scrolled through allergies, to pollen and food, to solvents, to everyday air pollution, sensitivities and inflammations, and then there she was, at autoimmune diseases, sick women with no discernible diagnosis, pains and bruises and aches and anxieties without cause, women who hurt in any number of ways, who were consumed by their bodies and, at a loss for someone to turn to, turned to each other, each one staring into her own white square of light.”

Honestly, it kind of devastated me to read this. Because it is so accurate, true, and sad — and common. Anyone with an Internet connection and a tummy ache knows it’s easy to find yourself in a similar position. Easy to go down a rabbit hole, to get yourself spun up over the smallest of symptoms and suddenly jump to the conclusion that you may, in fact, have cancer (or any number of serious illnesses). If we weren’t all hypochondriacs before, the Internet has certainly pushed us in that direction.

But when you’re actually sick — when you have at least one diagnosis, and fear there may be others — this kind of digging can get much worse. Because now you know something’s wrong, and that means you were right to worry earlier, which means you might be right to worry now. And you also know that no one cares as much about your health as you do, as evidenced by the dismissive doctors, friends, and family who didn’t take your symptoms seriously before — so if it’s not you doing the digging, then who? If you have mysterious symptoms no doctor can diagnose, or if your treatment plans aren’t working, or if your doctor waves away your concerns, you’re going to fall down the rabbit hole. Of course you would.

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If the easy thing to do is worry, the hard thing to do is trust that things will work themselves out. If the easy thing to do is stress-research, the hard thing to do is to let go. But sometimes, doing the hard thing is exactly what we need to do.

What are small steps toward feeling better? There are four things I am doing to protect my mental health. Maybe they will be useful for you, too, whether you’re facing health challenges or stuck in a different kind of rut. Honestly, I think steps like these are likely to help even if everything is peachy. It could always be better, right?

  1. Looking for silver linings. The coming of Spring. A new bakery in the neighborhood. A better day. Learning to appreciate these moments now without expecting them to continue in the future is a big part of making tough days go down just a little bit easier. If the temperature suddenly swings back to winter weather or the bakery only lasts a month or your symptoms get worse again, okay. Better to enjoy things while they last than lament their short-lived nature.
  2. Less Internet. Specifically, less Instagram. This is really a must, especially if Instagram figures out you have any health issues. My feed has gotten so gnarly since I started poking around and following doctors and advocates for my conditions. There is some good information and advice on the platform, and it is nice to find community in the comments section. But it’s also extremely overwhelming. I just came here to watch Timothée Chalamet dazzle me with his Dune interviews in French, and now you’re showing me all the comorbidities associated with my condition? No thank you. Uninstalling = ease and calm
  3. More social moments. I don’t mean that you have to go on a billion friend dates or organize a weekly brunch or monthly book club. (Although you can if that feels right to you.) It might just mean going to your local coffee shop and befriending the baristas. Or making small talk with the admin at your doctor’s office. Or sharing a smile with a fellow pedestrian, just because. Talking with other people gets us out of our own experiences. It brings us back to our shared humanity. Makes you less a body with ailments and more a person in the world. Neighbor droning on about how much they love their new dog? Great!
  4. Cultivating sparks of joy. A new lipstick. A total switch in genre from what you usually read or listen to. A change in the cuisine you typically eat. Even a change in your routine, just for shits and giggles. Watching the dumbest comedy out there, because even though it’s pretty lowbrow or not your style it’s guaranteed to make you laugh. We don’t need to reach some promised land of Happiness. We can cultivate small moments of joy in our every day.

How do you lift yourself up when you’re feeling down? What little luxuries do you treat yourself to? What affirmations do you repeat? What silver linings do you look for and hold onto?

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May you overcome whatever hurdle is before you. May you feel better in mind, body, and spirit. May you remember that this too shall pass.

  • I’m on Infernal Communication’s season finale podcast episode with the team at Staffbase talking about all things listening. (I’m in the second half of the episode.) I can’t believe it’s been three years since Listen Like You Mean It came out. It’s been a real treat to get to continue talking about it all these years later.
  • Book three officially has a pub date! The new Life Audit Book will be launching into the world on October 15. You can preorder it now. Much more from me on the new book as covers and other details are finalized. It’s going to be a beaut!

📚 What I’m reading

  • The Fury, Alex Michaelides, a slow burning thriller set on a Greek island where the winds howl and an ex-movie star is murdered during a vacation with friends gone wrong. I listened to this on audio and loved Alex Jenning’s narration, which was cheeky and sly. If you want to read a novel with a “voice,” this is it.

💸 Currently coveting

📢 Coming soon

We’re putting the finishing touches on our next episode of Rest Easy, which will feature author, dancer, and quilter Cody Cook-Parrott! It’s a great conversation and I hope you love it. You can listen in the next update from me, and check out our previous episode with Liana Finck here.

💌 Thanks as always for reading along and supporting my work. If you like what you see, hit the heart button, drop a comment, or share this with someone you think will love it, too. You can order my new book or book me for a speaking event here. 💌




Ximena Vengoechea

Writer, UX Researcher, Author of The Life Audit ('24), Rest Easy ('23), Listen Like You Mean It ('21).