The last couple of weeks have been tough — a monster headache last week, and this week, I had the worst fibro flare I’ve had in a long time. I’ve spent all week just trying to get through each day. On days like these, it’s really hard to feel very optimistic, but one of the building blocks of my HOPE plan is optimism, so I need to find a way to be optimistic even if I don’t feel it.
Why would optimism be important to living well with chronic pain, or any chronic illness for that matter? The definition of optimism on Dicitionary.com is this: “a disposition or tendency to look on the more favorable side of events or conditions and to expect the most favorable outcome.” I’m not talking about unicorns and glitter here — I’m talking about feeling that I can do something to improve the way I live my life. This quote by Ramez Naam explains it better than I can:
“There are really two kinds of optimism. There’s the complacent, Pollyanna optimism that says, ‘Don’t worry – everything will be just fine,’ and that allows one to just lay back and do nothing about the problems around you. Then there’s what we call dynamic optimism. That’s an optimism based on action.”
It’s not always easy to feel optimistic, but I can choose to be optimistic, no matter how I feel. So how do we remain optimistic even if we don’t feel it? For me, it’s been a matter of remembering my ABC’s:
Accept that you may not be able to change your circumstances. This may sound counterintuitive to staying optimistic, but realistically, sometimes we can’t change our circumstances. What we can change is how we think about or deal with those circumstances.
I’ll give you an example of why acceptance can be so important. When I was first diagnosed with fibromyalgia, I was convinced that I was going to beat it, that I would be that one person who was cured. It was my will against the fibro. As you know, it just doesn’t work that way, and by putting such unrealistic expectations on myself, I set myself up for failure and discouragement. Once I was able to relax and accept that fibromyalgia is part of my “new normal”, I was much better prepared to deal with the things that come along with it, such as an unexpected flare.
Believe in who you are. You are a unique person, created for a purpose only you can fulfill. It’s easy to forget that when you’re in the middle of a flare, or things just aren’t working out the way you thought they would, but the truth is, sometimes those very things are moving us toward our purpose in life. How many of us have found our purpose because of what we’ve gone through?
As a Christian, I firmly believe that God never wastes any experience we go through and that He’ll use my fibromyalgia in some way. That helps me remain optimistic even on those days that I’m sitting in a puddle of tears because of pain and frustration with my body. It makes me want to work that much harder to do whatever I can to learn what it takes to live well in spite of my circumstances and help others do the same.
Choose to be proactive in your care plan. Sometimes just having something to do and something to give us focus is enough to help us be (and feel) more optimistic about the future. This is the dynamic optimism Naam was talking about in the quote above. We may not have control over our illnesses, but doing the things we do have control over can be a huge boost. Things such as working with your doctor to map out your treatment plan, eating well, exercising…. All these things can help us feel a little more in control and give us focus, which in turn helps us be more optimistic.
Optimism has been an incredibly important component of my self-care plan. I realized early on in this process that I have a choice; I can be bitter about my circumstances, or I can let it make me a better person. I choose better. I choose to use this experience to learn, grow, and hopefully, help others along the way.
How do you remain optimistic even when you’re not necessarily feeling it? Please share!