I’ve just spent the last five days with my grandma in North Carolina.

She will soon be 79. I am 32.

When I mentioned to my therapist last week at the end of our session that I was going for a visit she asked me what my grandma was like and I laughed, then said, “She’s a character.” When she asked me how so, I responded, “She’s pretty negative.” Then my therapist asked if she was supportive of me and I said that although I know she loves me, we never talk about me, always her, so she doesn’t know what is going on in my life. A few minutes later our session ended.

grandma negativityBeing beautifully bipolar, I am sensitive to other people’s moods. I have trouble being happy when those around me are unhappy. I dwarf in the presence of someone’s anger. So how did I spend a week with a Negative Nancy and not come down with it? Here are my five tips:

1. Turn the conversation around.
While we were driving my grandma complained about the drivers in North Carolina, herself being a fairly recent transplant from Ohio. She complained about the cost of gas and on it went until I said, “Grandma, do you like North Carolina better than Ohio?” And suddenly she focused on the good things, like the mild winters and flowers still in bloom. That is all it took. One question and the mood was lifted.

2. Be patient.
In my experience, negative people lack attention and get it by complaining and boy can she complain – to the garbage men and the cable guys and AT&T and her granddaughter. Sometimes all they really want, all she really wants, is for someone to listen. I didn’t always agree with her, often I didn’t even add my two cents, I just listened because that is what she needed.

3. Do something kind for them.
Living alone, it is a rarity for someone else to make my grandma a home-cooked meal so I offered. I brought my cans of beans and corn and frozen veggie meat and used her crock pot to make chili. Was it difficult? Hardly. Did it make her happy? Yes. And by making her happy, I was happy. It is a glorious cause and effect.

4. Tune it out.
I hate to say it, but by Monday afternoon I was going a little nutty with all this depressive talk. So, as we sat on the front porch and watched the world go by, I did what I had to, I pretended to listen. I still heard her – how the neighbors leave their trash cans out, how she hated the basketball hoop in the street, but I let my mind go somewhere more comfortable. In my mind I held my boyfriend’s hand. In my mind I was having a lovely chat with my mother. I wasn’t ignoring her, simply reminding myself of the good things in my own life.

5. Take a break.
As I mentioned above, by Monday afternoon I was in desperate need for some space from my grandmother, so luckily my uncle came and picked me up. He took me out for sushi and drinks and we talked and caught up. I didn’t feel the heavy weight of my grandmother’s attitude. I felt light again, free again. Maybe you don’t have an uncle to come to your rescue, but you can take a walk alone or call a friend – something to give you a break from the incessant negativity of that person. The visit with my uncle reinvigorated me for the remainder of my stay. He easily reminded me that not everyone is so cynical of the world.

I love my grandma – always have, always will – but in order for me to stay mentally healthy I distance myself. I limit my phone conversations and visits. I do the above five steps when we are face to face. Negative people see more bad than good and I don’t want to live in an ugly world. I fight hard not to get depressed and I simply will not allow anyone else to make me so.