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When Positivity Becomes Pressure to Overcome My Illness

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I often hear positive comments and read inspiring stories, only to find that they weigh quite heavily on me. Rather than the desired effect — to uplift, inspire and encourage — I sometimes find such positivity to be more like a pressure, an unattainable goal I can’t even hope to achieve.

When I first saw a stoma nurse after my surgery, or when I’ve spoken to a specialist about my chronic fatigue, I’ve regularly heard the phrase “others like you,” followed by something intended to be encouraging… “People can recover so quickly, so-and-so is now backpacking around Australia, you’ll be back to your usual activities in no time, one patient I know has now written a book and is a successful writer about his/her health problems,” etc. There are heaps of stories online from and about individuals who have overcome great adversity, survived various life-threatening illnesses or accidents, to do amazing and wonderful things.

At times, depending on my mood, hearing and reading these things can feel comforting, because it reminds me that recovery and getting on with your life is possible. It tells me that in fact things can get a lot better and that I may be capable of more than I anticipate, because if someone else can do it (often struggling with far worse than myself) then surely I should be able to as well. At other times, however, it feels as though there are such high hopes and expectations to recover in a certain timeframe or do something spectacular with my life that I’m suddenly overwhelmed with pressure to do so.

This pressure leads me to reflect on my situation. I’ve not done anything amazing and don’t see myself doing anything of the sort any time soon, if ever. I don’t always cope brilliantly. I’m not always positive. I get down about things a lot, I get fed up, I have a lot of self-doubt, and I still hold on to the past more than I care to admit.

Realizing these things and coming face to face with such positivity usually leads to one thing: I feel like a failure. I can’t measure up. I’m far behind everyone else. And this line of thought can spiral until I feel more demotivated and less positive than I did before.

What I am trying to learn and develop is a true appreciation for knowing yourself, your own goals and your own time frame. It’s totally OK to be who you are, where you are, and coping the way you are. It’s good to have inspiration in times of feeling disheartened or despondent, or when you just need to get another perspective on your life, but such comments and tales are not there as a prescribed way of being. You don’t need to try to measure up or compete. Your journey and what you are dealing with is a unique experience to you as a one-of-a-kind individual, and it goes without saying that the path which follows is equally as unique and tailor-made.

It’s also likely that those success stories you hear, those tales of wonderful things people have achieved, haven’t been easily accomplished. They may sound effortless but that’s unlikely to be the case. And the notion of how quickly you “should” recover, the things you “should” be doing and what you “could” do in your situation are all suggestions usually based from the view of a medical profession, not from someone with hands-on personal experience.

No one else has lived your life, and no one else can make you feel as though you’re not good enough. Take your time — Recovery and/or coping is not a race, nor a challenge. It is a personal experience that varies hugely from person to person, so let up on yourself a bit and rest assured that wherever you are on your journey, you’re not the only one at that point.

Follow this journey on Invisibly Me.

Originally published: September 20, 2016
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