I’ve been seeing a lot of talk in the chronic illness community about positive thinking and how it can help you feel better. For quite a while, I’d see references and blog posts and think, “they just don’t get it, you can’t just think happy thoughts and suddenly get well.” I thought that all the folks that were talking about positive thinking were nuts when they said that it made a difference in how they felt, but hey, I’ll try just about anything if there’s even a tiny chance it will help me feel better, so I did some research.
What I found out was that positive thinking doesn’t mean trying to ignore the pain (not that it would be possible if I tried,) or even that I can never feel down or think a negative thought. It means trying to find the best in every situation, even when the best is only a little less awful than the worst.
It also doesn’t mean ignoring the bad bits of my life hoping they’ll get better by themselves, or thinking or visualizing what I WANT to happen, then sitting back and waiting. It means doing what I CAN to change things, then focusing on something else. Once I’ve done all I can, obsessing about it will only make me feel bad and make it harder for me to do the things I need to do.
For example: I hate my job. It’s very physical, it makes my pain levels worse, and trying to do everything they demand is impossible (sorry, I can’t be in two places at once) so it’s also very stressful. I have the choice of thinking about all the “crap” that I’m not getting done and freaking out; or doing what I can, then coming home and thinking about other things.
For the longest time, I’d come home and think about all the stuff I didn’t get finished because I had customers, and stress about the fact that I was gonna get grumbled at when I got there the next day. Then I realized that all I was doing was stressing myself out even more about something I couldn’t change, and making my pain levels go up. (And triggering migraines, too.) I decided that as long as I was working on the other stuff whenever I didn’t have customers, there was no point in worrying about the rest of it.
When they bitch at me because something didn’t get done because I had too many customers, I just tell them that, and I don’t let them make me feel guilty about it. When my manager tells me to do something during the evening, I’ll tell him right out, “I’ll do it if the customers give me time,” and if he gripes I remind him that I’m more than happy to stay as long as I need to; but they get bitchy if I go over my scheduled hours. I’ve even told a store manager that his options were to tell a customer I was closed or approve overtime because it wasn’t physically possible for me to wait on the customer AND get the cleaning done and leave on time.
I do what I can, and once I leave, I don’t think about work again until time to go back. It’s made a huge difference, and I’m able to get a lot more done at home, too, because I’m not wearing myself out thinking about “the awful place.” (I haven’t managed to stop thinking of it like that, because it IS awful . . .) On particularly bad days, I may come home and vent to a friend, but after that, I’m done with it until time to go back.
So how do you deal with the bad parts of your life? Do you sit and think about how much you hurt all the time, or do you do what you can to ease the pain and then think about other things as much as possible? Do you think about all the things you don’t have, or do you think about the ones you do?
Do you compare your life to the lives of the people who have bigger houses and nicer cars, or the ones that have less than you do? Do you focus on the things you can’t do anymore, or look for other things you can do and enjoy?
Positive thinking isn’t looking at the world through rose-colored glasses and refusing to see or think about the bad bits of your life. It’s being realistic, doing what you can do, and keeping your focus on the good things you have in your life as much as possible.
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