Have a positive attitude!
How many times have we heard that one?
While our emotions cannot cause FM, they no doubt affect our symptoms. But how can we maintain good thoughts when we feel so lousy? This challenge, of course, does not exclusively affect FM patients, but to any time when things do not go as we wish. But in our case, seeing the positive presents a continuous struggle.
Yet our moods are not necessarily in tune with our physical state. You can probably recall times that despite much pain or fatigue, you were able to cope and even achieve high spirits. Perhaps the weather was perfect, good friends visited, you just accomplished something or helped somebody, making you feel good about yourself. Other times, depression seems to take hold even when our physical discomfort is at a manageable level. Why is this? Answering this question is the key to finding optimism.
FM can feel like a swim in the ocean – sometimes it is dark, grey and turbulent, and it seems you have fallen and the waves continue to crash over you, as you struggle to rise, only to be knocked down yet again. But that same ocean sometimes allows us to find a wave we can ride smoothly to the shore.
What can we do when we feel under the waves? How can we find the strength to climb back on top, and the patience to know that we will?
There are 10 cognitive exercises you can use to maintain a positive attitude. So I don’t overload you, today I will only present 4 and the remaining exercises will continue in tomorrow’s post.
1. Expect bumps!
It is important to acknowledge that we will sometimes feel down. Who wouldn’t in our condition? But by expecting rather than dreading down time, such periods become more tolerable. In addition, recognizing that we will have blue periods helps keep them in perspective. You will be able to say to yourself, “I was depressed before, and got out of it; this time, too, it will pass.” It is easy to forget that before our illness, there were times we felt down. Now these periods are wrapped up in our medical problems; but everyone gets depressed some of the time. After accepting that you will sometimes feel sad, and even experience self-pity, you can concentrate on ways to shorten these periods and make them fewer and farther between.
2. Track the changes.
Keeping track of moods helps put ups and downs into perspective. During your best times, make a conscious attempt to capture the feeling. Leave notes on your wall attesting to the way you feel. Living with FM easily creates a Jekyll-and-Hyde persona, where your optimistic self and your flare-up self may as well be two different people. When we feel bad, it becomes quite difficult to imagine that things can be otherwise.
Similarly, during times of improvement, it’s amazing how quickly we may forget how bad a previous period was, making subsequent flare-ups not only intolerable but shocking. Counting and measuring the duration of the bad times – as well as the good ones – can put them into perspective. It may be that over time, our worst occurs about once a month, although it feels much more frequent. This knowledge is empowering, because we can remind ourselves that a bad flare is, for example, our monthly temporary setback, and find ways to ride it out until our baseline returns.
3. Stock-pile fun distractions.
What things make you happy? We all need to keep lists of the things that make us happy. One of the cruelties of our condition is that when we need distractions most, we are least equipped to seek them out. For this reason it is important to compile a list of your favourite activities when you are feeling optimistic to be used when you most need them.
People with FM often describe how even their worst pain can be put on a back burner, so to speak, when they become engrossed in an activity. This is not only a psychological but a physiological response: your brains can only process so much input at once. When you are engrossed in a beautiful movie, talking to a good friend on the phone, or listening to your favourite music while lying on a heating pad or in the bathtub, you can trick your pain receptors into leaving you alone!
4. Shape your perspective.
Is the glass half empty or half full?
Perspective determines, quite literally, how you view the world.
In Western culture, much emphasis is placed on independence, individualism, and achievement. Through this lens, developing a condition that makes us feel dependent and less productive is likely to be a huge disappointment. You are forced to adapt to a sudden, new condition by adopting a perspective that accommodates change. Your perspective is shaped by the comparisons you make and the expectations you create.
Consider, for example, the immigrant who had been practicing medicine in his home country, but flees to the US to escape a repressive political regime. Here he works as a janitor; after years of medical study, he has lost a prestigious and rewarding occupation. Yet he is thankful for the opportunity to work and wakes each day driven by hope, perhaps, of a better future for his children. Yet his difficulties are also quite apparent. What keeps his spirits up and makes him thankful rather than bitter? His perspective.
…to be continued tomorrow…