The Authentic Mindset: Debunking Chronic Illness Positivity MythsAug 23, 2023
I still vividly remember those long weeks in the hospital bed.
An aggressive MS relapse had taken an immense toll on my body, leaving me paralysed. Day in and day out, I'd focus all my energy, trying to wriggle my toes, hoping to see even the slightest movement.
But nothing changed.
No matter how hard I tried to harness positivity, how much I repeated motivational affirmations, my body remained non-responsive.
The fear and anxiety were palpable, overshadowed by the daunting thought - would I ever regain my mobility?
It was during this challenging phase that I had an epiphany. There are times when your body just doesn't cooperate, not because you're wallowing in negativity, but because it's healing in its own time.
Being positive couldn't change my reality during those weeks, but it taught me the importance of authentic emotions over forced positivity.
Busting the Myth of the "Always Positive" Mindset in Chronic Illness
The power of positivity is a mantra we hear often. While a positive outlook is a powerful ally, especially when facing challenges, it's essential to dispel a myth that's been circling the chronic illness community: the idea that you must always maintain a positive mindset.
Understanding the "Always Positive" Myth
The concept seems simple enough. Stay positive, and you'll feel better, right?
While there's some truth in looking for the silver lining, it's crucial to understand that chronic illness is a complex experience. It's not always about being cheerful, especially when living with pain, fatigue, and the unpredictability of one's condition.
The Pressure to Perform Positivity
Often, people with chronic illnesses face comments like "Just stay positive!" or "Look on the bright side!" While many mean well with these remarks, such words can inadvertently minimise the enormity of what you are going through, creating added pressure.
There's an unspoken expectation that displaying positivity equals strength, and showing vulnerability or frustration means giving in to the illness. This mindset can make those with chronic illnesses feel isolated, misunderstood, and invalidated.
The Reality of Emotions in Chronic Illness
Emotions are a natural part of the human experience. When living with a chronic condition, you're bound to experience a whole range of feelings, from sadness, anger, and frustration to happiness, hope, and gratitude.
It's okay to feel down on difficult days. Those feelings are valid and don't negate your strength or resilience. Yet, the pervasive myths about always needing to be positive can cloud our perception and appreciation of these genuine emotions.
The Danger in Suppressing Emotions
Early on in living with MS, I kept having relapses. The reason? I never stopped to 'feel the feels'. In my early 20s, having my life interrupted by a chronic illness meant that instead of confronting my emotions, I reacted to symptoms, sought quick fixes, and continued with life until the next period of poor health.
Forcing positivity can sometimes lead to suppressing genuine emotions. Bottling up feelings can be detrimental to mental health over time. It might lead to increased stress, anxiety, or feelings of isolation.
By not acknowledging and processing negative emotions, we rob ourselves of the opportunity to genuinely heal and find authentic ways to cope.
Finding Balance: The 5 Steps to Authentic Positivity
So, if the "always positive" mindset isn't the answer, what is?
The key is authenticity. It's about being real with yourself about how you feel, giving yourself permission to experience those feelings, and then finding ways to move forward.
Here are some steps to achieve this balance:
- Recognise Your Emotions: Before you can process your feelings, you need to acknowledge them. Regular self-check-ins can help. Ask yourself, "How am I feeling today?"
- Express Yourself: Talk to someone you trust, whether it's a friend, family member, or therapist. If talking isn't your thing, journaling can be a great way to articulate and process your feelings.
- Seek Support: Connect with others who live with chronic illnesses. They can offer understanding, empathy, and shared experiences that can help you feel less isolated. If you're seeking a community that truly understands, message me on Instagram @hurdle2hope or email me [email protected]
- Focus on What You Can Control: While you might not be able to change your diagnosis or certain symptoms, you can control your response. This doesn't mean forcing positivity but finding genuine moments of joy, hope, or gratitude in your day.
- Set Boundaries: It's okay to let people know that you need space to process your feelings. If you're not up for hearing "stay positive" for the umpteenth time, communicate that.
Living well with a chronic illness is about recognising the full spectrum of your emotions, understanding that they're all valid, and finding your unique path forward. Let's shift the narrative from "always be positive" to "be authentically you." Your story, with all its highs and lows, deserves recognition.
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