positive thinking is a coping mechanism for chronic illness, not a cure

Positive thinking is as coping mechanism, not a cure

No one would ever accuse me of being an optimistic person. If you ask me if the glass is half empty or half full, I’d say that it has water in it.  My family likes to tell me I’m like Eeyore because I was depressed in high school (because four years of depression in your teen years apparently brands you for life), but I really haven’t ever been like Eeyore. I like having fun too much.  I don’t consider myself a pessimist, I consider myself a realist. The world isn’t always sunshine and rainbows, bad things happen all the time, but there are many wonderful things that happen as well.

Despite my realistic ways, I think there is a lot to be said about the positive thinking. I always cope better when I’m being positive then when I’m wallowing in despair.  It’s been found in studies that when you are experiencing positive emotions like joy, contentment, and love, you will see more possibilities in your life. So when you’re thinking positively about your illness it’s easier to see that illness isn’t an endgame. That just because you can’t do what you used to doesn’t mean your life is over. It’s easier to see the myriad of options available, even if they weren’t the options you wanted.

However, I get really tired of hearing how positive thinking can cure any ill and if things are going badly, well then it’s because you have a bad attitude. People like to think this because it makes them feel better about their control (or lack of it) of their own life. No one wants to believe that bad things could happen to them. The truth is that positive thinking is a coping mechanism, not a cure.

As a control freak I understand the need to feel like you have to have be in control, but the truth is none of us are fully in control of what happens in our lives. Too many things can happen as a consequence of someone else’s decisions and bad things just happen to good people sometimes. It doesn’t matter if you’re  a good or bad person, or if you are depressed or optimistic. If we could all control our whole lives through the power of positive thinking there would be a lot less sickness, death, job loss, mental illness, poverty, or heartbreak.

How we handle bad situations can and does have a real effect on our life, but it doesn’t change the nature of what happened.  As someone with chronic health problems I can be positive about my altered life and that can help me to cope, but I can’t change the fact that I am in pain. And sometimes it’s even okay for me to be sad about what I’ve lost and it’s okay to be angry as long as I don’t spend all my time feeling sorry for myself. I have to be sad sometimes because I need to get the emotions out so that I can move on. Constantly suppressing all negative emotions will do no one any favors in the long run.  If we deny that bad things are happening and constantly pretend that things are just peachy eventually we are going to crash and burn.

For me what is more important then being endlessly positive is to live hopefully. Despite the fact that I sometimes get sad about my illness and despite the fact that sometimes I am angry, I still carry hope. I don’t have a lot of hope that I will be cured, but I continue to hope for a good and joyful life. I continue to hope that I will find better ways to deal with my illness. I hope that I can have empathy for others because of what I have experienced. I hope that I can still be the person I want to be despite my illness.  I refuse to spend the rest of my life is despair because of what I endure now and will probably always have to endure. Hope, not artificial positivity, is what keeps me going and keeps me fighting.

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