I just want to remind you of something that may have slipped your mind this morning, or this week, or this month since the seasons of life are changing and the colder months can cast a darker, colder shadow at times.
Each morning, you might want to start fresh, and leave the past behind you, right? But please, friend, don’t forget everything you’ve overcome.
Don’t forget the challenges which seemed impossible…when you said “there is no way I can get through this” but you did, and you are. Don’t ever forget.
Don’t forget when you ran out of every last molecule of energy you had left to give, and you had no idea how you would keep going another moment longer…. but instead of giving up, you found something else inside of you that carried you forward. Don’t forget that driving force within you.
Don’t forget when you had experienced all of the torture you thought you could shoulder. Don’t forget when heartbreak, physical pain, and sleepless nights pushed you past your breaking point. You said, “I can’t endure this nightmare for one more moment.”
Remember when you were ready to forget it all?
How are you still here after everything you’ve been through?
Don’t forget how you made it!
Don’t forget that force inside of you that begins when you’ve reached the end of yourself.
As seasons change, as life continues to surprise you, carry yourself as the OVERCOMER you are.
Links to the featured artist: The Last Sparrow (artistic home furnishings on Etsy), Follow Voilet D’Art on Flickr, Twitter
What is the difference between positive thinking and healthy coping?
“Keep thinking positively!”
“Keep your chin up!”
These are very common cliche responses we hear from society as individuals with ongoing health difficulties. They aren’t incorrect responses, but when those responding seem to believe this is truly how we handle the horrible pain/illness, terrifying future of further health concerns, and crushing regular losses which all come with long-term illness, then encouraging “positive thinking” alone can have quite a negative fallout.
For example, if one is in severe pain (meaning pain worse than a fracture or pain worse than childbirth, but constant, daily, and indefinite) after years, with treatments only failing, and close friends continue to say, “stay positive” as their only source of inspiration, will those words be uplifting over time? No, the attempt at encouragement over time will add to your feelings of isolation, making you feel increasingly deflated, rather than the intention of making you feel more positive, optimistic, and empowered.
Would you say, “suck it up” to a friend who is grieving over the loss of a parent? I certainly hope not. Essentially, this is the idea surrounding “positive thinking.” The concept that the more we “suck it up,” the better off we will be, and the stronger we are.
PS, Our bodies work exactly the opposite of this construct.
The more we avoid pain, the more we distract ourselves from our true emotions (not negative emotions, but real emotions), the more likely our bodies are to feel the stress fallout and rage against us. One with a chronic disease would do well to minimize stress; we know this from immense research (and I can tell you this from my own personal research on chronic pain and chronic illness!).
Minimizing stress is not equal to avoiding difficult emotions or distracting from pain. We have to face our pain and emotions, recognize them, meet them, and accompany them through our lives. They won’t allow us to abandon them, and we know that trying to do so only causes added difficulty down the road.
In Positive Thinking, saying “sure, I’m doing fine” may make others more comfortable temporarily, but it is not necessarily “healthy” for you or for the relationship. Positive Thinking encourages us to become more closed off, in turn others also allow more distance to grow until the relationship diminishes. They realize everything is far from “fine” but both take part in a ritual of pretending everything is wonderful because it’s far more comfortable than confronting the reality.
“Healthy coping… differs from the popular notion of “positive thinking.” It implies the capacity to tolerate and express concerns and emotions not just the ability to put anxieties aside. Being able to discuss the anxieties, uncertainties and fears, losses and sadness that usually accompany severe illness is generally helpful, despite the pressure commonly exerted by family and friends for the patient to always “keep a positive out-look.”25 “Positive thinking” may represent an attempt to avoid confronting the distress of chronic illness, and doctors who care for these patients and their families are not immune to such patterns of coping.” Quote from a study in -Emotional Demensions of Chronic Disease
So often during the course of chronic disease, we have to make choices between the temporary comfort of others, and protecting our own welfare. Regularly, our bodies make that decision for us and force us to miss out. Especially then, healthy coping is paramount! It helps us re-gain some footing again. The openness in healthy coping encourages sharing, allowing others around you to understand where you are, what happened in the situation, how they might play a role in being there for you, and how you can be there for them. It lets others know you aren’t too fragile to listen to them and what they are going through, either. Most likely, those around you are feeling helpless, and would like to be there for you, but don’t know how- or how to ask. Being specific in our needs can help us find our own voice, and being more open also can help others who care about us join in on our “support team.”
Fair warning, most will not know how to respond appropriately, but you may be surprised who is game to see how they can be there for you in big or small ways. In being more open, you may also find that your example sets off a chain reaction in others to become more open with you in how they are doing as well. Healthy coping is so much more contagious than positive thinking, because it encourages support, connection, and community!
Isn’t positive thinking the same as optimism? No. Optimism has more to do with responsibility, letting go of guilt, and looking to the past, present and future without seeing yourself as a burden. I recommend reading the book, Learned Optimism by Martin Seligman.
Healthy Coping differs from Positive Thinking in that healthy coping requires us to lean into our feelings- both physically and mentally. Checking in with ourselves periodically, and then making minor adjustments to our lives to course correct for better balance. This may mean you need more rest, more exercise, more time with friends, another visit to a doctor, see a psychologist, open up to a good friend, eat differently, spend more time focused on your spiritual life, take better care of yourself, etc. Chronic illness requires us to make these adjustments frequently instead of thinking everything is going to work itself out until the ignored symptoms or stress build up. Healthy Coping may be the more deliberate, mindful path, but it is the path of self care instead of conveying a false smile.
To start making these adjustments, we can ask, “How are you?” instead of “Are you ok?” A yes or no question forces us to choose only negative or positive, however, healthy coping encourages others to share and touch base with one another and ourselves- this is how support and compassion are built. We don’t have to choose sides in healthy coping. Try not to think of your days as being good or bad, black or white, suffering or overcoming, but instead- working to find balance every day, always learning from your body and those around you, and doing the best you can now, in this moment.
I never thought a car wreck that did damage to my elbow
would stop me from walking an entire year later. I never thought you could get a disease from a car wreck.
I never thought I would have to depend on anyone else
to get me through tough times in my life.
I never thought I would face an uncertain future
without the ability to answer the tough questions.
I am by nature a very opinionated, strong minded, determined and focused individual. Having my life turned upside down by an unforeseen event is not in anyone’s plans of course, but, the thought of it was always something I thought I knew exactly how I’d handle as a ‘strong and independent woman’. Little did I know that my ultimate undoing would also be the one thing that allowed me to become more whole as a person.
Looking back on last year’s thoughts on how this disease impacted my life over the first year of learning to deal with it, I was already at a place of seeing the blessings that came with the pain and the horror. I make it a priority to find good in all things or at least as many as possible. I don’t believe things are one way or another in life. I believe that things are the way we interpret them to be. Our perception and reactions to life determine what we take from each instance and whether or not we count it a blessing or a curse or in this case admit it is equal parts of each.
There are still times where I try to convince myself that this is all a bad mistake and that I’m really ok (when I feel good it’s easier to lie to myself) and the pain was just a figment of my imagination trumped up by my brain somehow. I still have those moments or days of denial where I really do want to refuse to believe that I will have to deal with this for the rest of my life. There are also days where I think I have it under control and manageable and that I can handle it. I fool myself into thinking that I am the one in control, not the disease.
I am learning that there is more to it than drawing hard lines, coming up with definitive answers or even being able to list symptoms. Everything is so fluid and ever changing with CRPS. Life equilibrium. Balance has never been so important and never meant so much to me as it does now. I’m learning to live in a state of seeking my own level the same way that water does. When my pain levels are up, my activity levels go down and vice versa. When I am frustrated with my limitations, I find ways to realize the gains that they have brought me in my emotional life. My physical life has forced my emotional life to do some very large sacrificing….and what I thought was me becoming weaker is turning out to be me learning to become stronger.
You see….. when life begins to strip you down to your core and bend and stretch you to your breaking point, you have to adjust and adapt and learn new methods. There is more to it than that though. You can get caught in the label, in the diagnosis, in the symptoms, in the daily rigor of the battle and forget that you have a life to live beyond the disease. You can forget to choose to take in the beauty around you, to find new strengths, new outlets, new hobbies, new friends, new resources, new paths to use your talents on. It is so easy to get stuck in the mud of the issues that come with CRPS/RSD….but we who have this disease have to learn to rise above and be water and flow and seek our own level. We have to learn to live differently. Life may never look the same, but that doesn’t mean it cannot be beautiful, or full of adventures. It just means we have to change our definitions and more than that we have to push ourselves to make new expectations, focus our perceptions and define our interpretations in a way that helps us grow and find positive experiences in the struggles that we face. If we don’t adapt we become stuck in that mud and the weight makes us feel like there is too much work involved in moving forward we become depressed and despondent because our expectations are still tied to our old life and our old abilities. I’m learning now to flow, to adapt, to change my focus away from what life was, what I used to think, expect, want, etc so that I can still have dreams, still have goals, still accomplish things. Now I do so as part of a team, with the help of friends, family and loved ones. The disease brings its own challenges, but if we accept our lives are not determined by external circumstances, but rather by our mental approach, we can and we will triumph despite the challenges, no matter what they are. Rise to the top, find balance, seek your own level and don’t stay stuck in the mud. Make the choice to look for a new perspective.
I never look forward to the pains I know the next year might bring, but I do actually anticipate with high hopes the new horizons and the new vantage points that come on the other side of the valleys. I plan to enjoy my journey no matter what, for as long as possible!!!
I am so honored to have Rikki as a guest writer for us 2 years running! I have revisited her post from last year “Broken Things can be Fixed” several times throughout this past year and it still chokes me up. She has so much wisdom, insight and vigor, it is easy to forget she is in her second year of Complex Regional Pain Syndrome. Thank you to Rikki for lending us your voice today and allowing us to share your end-of-year reflections on your ever-inspiring journey. Rikki has many hobbies including traveling with her family, uplifting others around her, and she has a passion for Celtic Mythology. Check out her fascinating Facebook page: Celtic Lore and Mythology.
To see more RSD/CRPS articles, artwork, and poetry, visit the Categories menu for “RSD/CRPS” or click here.
My sister manages a student property center near one of the best universities in the country. It is known that more students from that school will withdraw due to psychological breakdowns and will have more suicide attempts than any other area college. She has already had several incidents this year at her property alone that ended with students being checked into the hospital for said reasons. They are all the most elite academics, but now, they are in competition with one another. Once the valedictorian of his high school is currently struggling to pass his college courses. So why are even the best and brightest failing to cope with the pressures of life?
I’ve been reading the book Learned Optimism by Martin Seligman. There was an entire revolution in psychological treatment called “Positive Psychology” which began after he wrote this breakthrough book in 1990. Before that, psychological practices were geared toward treating mental illness. Seligman asks the question, why aren’t people fulfilled and thriving when we know more about human behavior than ever before? Now, psychologists and counselors help people to become more than just not-sick, but actually thrive.
In his book, Learned Optimism, he theorizes why there is more depression, anxiety, suicide, and drug addiction than ever before when we live in a happiness-driven society. He believes it is much, much more than public awareness of mental health driving diagnoses. Children were once taught how to overcome obstacles and persevere, but teaching practices have shifted to the current focus of boosting self-confidence regardless of efforts. He proposes that individuals of prior generations were raised to believe they were surrounded by various types of support, and that sense of community has been lost today. In the past, people realized that their support system shared responsibility for every success, failure, and overall person they became. Because there was an awareness that outside forces contributed to their lives, when their hard work paid off, they were sharing their triumphs; when they failed, they wouldn’t fall too far or stay down too long as they had a safety net.
In the past, Americans valued country, faith in government and patriotism. People were raised connected to a personal faith in God, organized religion provided a community, connection with family was the cornerstone of society, and people were inclined to make close connections inside of their local communities. Just the sheer idea that others believe in you can be the difference between a devastating pitfall that derails your life and a curve ball which you can bounce back from. Today, we don’t grow up ingrained with the same surrounding support system, lasting connections, or faith in God and country.
Society teaches that your successes are your own to take pride in and celebrate. You are paving your own way in this world. There is a great focus on self-determination, but the tools for coping with inevitable life failures are incredibly lacking. We are taught that personal responsibility and success is everything, but when we fail (as we all do), the personal fallout can be devastating.
I was already planning to write this piece on Learned Optimism when I happened to read an article on Resilience and was surprised to find that the number one quality suggested in becoming more resilient is to create the same types of support that past generations grew up with (as in Learned Optimism). Surrounding yourself with close connections, friends, family members, becoming more connected to faith, plugging into community, and making permanent, lasting relationships with “people who affirm you, recognize your strengths, natural, innate abilities, and provide the support and acceptance you need” will increase your resilience [Mary J. Yerkes].
Other ways to become more resilient: accept good enough, focus on what you can control, find meaning in life, accept advice from your loved ones, take care of yourself, ask for/accept help, don’t be surprised when life changes suddenly, expect things to eventually get better, set goals you can achieve, laugh. Being resilient isn’t about silencing yourself through turmoil or ignoring your emotions, but resiliency is a method of utilizing multiple positive coping strategies along with a mindset that is postured to “roll with the punches.”
The author of Learned Optimism says, “If we habitually believe, as does the pessimist, that failure is our fault, it will undermine everything we do.” Pessimists feel personally responsible in all success and failure, and helpless to make changes. This thinking leads to tendencies for depression, anxiety, and chronic pessimists are more likely to have health troubles later in life. Does this mean that society’s focus on self-reliance and self-esteem is creating generations of pessimists? The good news is, both resilience and optimism can be learned!
Learned Optimism by Martin E.P. Seligman, Ph.D.
Chronic Resilience: An Interview with Danea Horn by Toni Bernhard
10 Tips for Building Resilience in the Face of Chronic Illness by Mary J. Yerkes