What do you pay attention to in your life? Is it the 5 people who say, “I hope your pain levels drop soon,” or the one who makes a nasty comment like, “fibromyalgia doesn’t exist, you just don’t want to have to work like the rest of us?” (Yes, I’ve actually had someone say that to me.)
I’m going to tell you something you already know, and you’re likely to think I’m sort of nuts until you read a little further.
You can only see the things you look at.
Yes, it sounds stupidly obvious, of course if you don’t look at it you can’t see it, but there’s a point to this statement that is directly related to living as well as possible with your chronic illnesses. It took me a LOT of years to make the connection (I’m a little slow,) and I’m hoping I can help you catch on a little quicker than I did.
Lets go back to the question I asked you at the beginning. Which one do you focus on? I have a little exercise for you to try.
Think about something nasty someone has said or done. Focus on it, and let your mind play with it. Pay attention to how it makes you feel, whether your muscles tense or your teeth clench, if you feel angry or sad or defensive.
Now think of something nice someone said to you, or did for you . . . It doesn’t even have to be recent, it can be your 3rd grade teacher telling you your handwriting was the best out of all her students. Focus on that thought, and pay close attention to how it makes you feel. Really notice the emotions, and the physical reactions.
Okay, now think about how that made you feel. When you were “looking at” the bad experience, did you feel good? Could you “see” the good experience, or did your mind drag in even more bad experiences to go with the first one? How did your body feel? Did you have tense muscles, or breathe more quickly and shallowly? How about your face? Did you frown or clench your teeth?
When you switched to thinking about the nice thing someone did or said, did it take a few minutes to get your focus to change? Did your mind keep trying to go back to the first experience? Once you got your focus changed, what happened? Did your body start to relax, your heart rate and breathing slow back down? Which focus made you feel better?
Too often when you have a chronic illness you slip into only “seeing” the bad parts of your life. The pain and fatigue, the financial difficulties, and all the things you can’t do any more. You only see the losses, because that’s all you’re looking at; and the more losses you look at, the more losses you find. Even when something good happens, you don’t really notice it because your mind is only looking for the bad parts of your life.
This is a horribly difficult hole to crawl out of, but every one of us who is diagnosed with a chronic illness falls into it at some point; usually in the beginning, when we’re dealing with the grief and pain of losing our selves and the lives we’ve known. We all fall in, but not all of us find a way to climb out again; and climbing out of that deep, dark hole is the only way to have a life that’s worth living; a life that is good in spite of our illness.
The ladder to climb out with sounds simple to build, just start focusing on the good parts of your life, and let the bad parts fade into the background, but it’s not that easy. A big part of the problem is that this is all controlled by the subconscious part of our brain, so we don’t really know what’s going on, other than the fact that there seem to be more and more negative experiences in our lives.
The first step is simply figuring out what’s going on, and that’s not very likely unless someone else shares their experience with you or you see a therapist that points it out. Once that happens, you can start working on changing your focus and noticing more of the good aspects of your life.
In the beginning, this can be pretty difficult, since your subconscious keeps steering your attention to the problems you deal with. When you’re in that dark hole, finding good things to focus on can be hard, and the more negatives there are the harder it is to find positives.
One of the ways I did it in the beginning was by reading blog posts and talking to people, looking for the good things in their lives and recognizing which of those good things I also had in my life. I learned to look for things that were “not as bad” in my life, and started a gratitude list as a reminder I could refer to when my head just wouldn’t let me see anything good. I also learned that re-framing my list as things I was grateful that I do have was more helpful than being grateful that I didn’t have something, but that both versions work.
Because I know how hard it is to find things to be happy about when you start, I’ve created a short version of my gratitude list for you to look at. (The full version is pages and pages, on scraps of paper and notes in files, scattered through diaries and notebooks, posted on the refrigerator or tucked in drawers and hidden in pockets for me to find later.) You’re welcome to borrow any helpful bits to use for starting your own list, and be sure to let me know how it goes.
Remember that the more you practice, the easier it gets; and if you just can’t find anything actually good about a situation, look for something that’s “not quite as bad” to start with and work your way up from there.
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- The Four Secrets Of Optimism by ThirdAge.com (theboldcorsicanflame.wordpress.com)
- Gratitude Heals (aurablog.org)
- 6 Easy Mood Boosters (massageenvycentralfl.wordpress.com)
- gratitude list (donnapeach.com)