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How I Developed a Positive Outlook After My Chronic Illness Diagnosis

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A study completed in 2008 and published in the International Journal of Evidence-Based Healthcare confirmed among other things that: “Constructive coping with chronic illness requires the development of a positive outlook and ways of focusing on what he or she ‘can do’ as opposed to constantly comparing themselves to ‘what others can do.’”

I can pretty much guarantee that anyone of us could have told the researchers that and saved them a little time. But perhaps my perspective is too harsh.

Developing that positive outlook while in the midst of pain, discomfort, medication side effects, anxiety, self-consciousness, sadness and perhaps guilt is a pretty tall order. We are uncomfortable, both physically and emotionally, all the time with ourselves, our bodies and our place in the world.

It’s especially challenging when that person may also face the disbelief of employers, colleagues, friends, family or even medical providers. Many chronic illnesses also tend to be invisible, which further complicate the mine field patients have to navigate.

Nothing for us is the same. Our pre-diagnosis lives are no longer viable. What we previously worked for, sacrificed for, bled and fought for, has vanished in what feels like the snap of our fingers.

Top this off with a healthy dose of financial insecurity because some people with chronic illnesses are unable to work, if not entirely then at least not in the same pre-diagnosis capacity. That challenge just became even more strenuous.

So what can someone with a chronic illness do to develop that positive outlook? What can you do?

Well, I can state with certainty that each person’s experience is unique, extremely personal and inherently complex, and only you know what brightens your day and what puts a smile on your face. I believe that is the exact place you need to start. It’s where I started.

It’s so easy to slip down the rabbit hole of everything negative. So very easy. It takes mindfulness and discipline to redirect thoughts away from the physical, immediate needs that we each must address on a daily, perhaps even hourly, basis.

So start small. Start simple. Pay attention to what makes you happy, what makes you relax. Create a list or somehow keep track of things you enjoy. It can be anything — a book series, a Netflix binge, learning a new recipe, recording the birds you see in your yard, beating opponents in an online game, reading a Bible, learning how to paint or knit or making miniature wood carvings. It can be absolutely anything.

Do not limit yourself. I make candles. I write. I make cards and other paper crafts. I read. I watch my dog frolic in the grass while I sit on my porch. I cook. I watch endless TV. I paint. I take photographs. Certainly, some things are no longer possible, and I must make adjustments and adaptations to do be able to do other things now.

Know that all of it — every bit of it — is OK.

Do not limit yourself. Absolutely anything could be the thing that sparks joy.

It’s OK because any one of these things directs my attention away from my persistent symptoms. It’s OK because any one of these things brings pleasure into what could otherwise be a very bleak existence. It’s OK because each of these is productive and helps me to create a positive self-image and perspective.

I no longer push myself to be a high-powered insurance manager, something that my body can no longer tolerate. Instead, I am and can be a writer, self-taught chef and inspirer of others. Each has value. Each is worthwhile. Each can make a positive impact.

So, I believe that is where you need to start, too. It takes tiny steps, baby steps. But if you can discover what you enjoy in the midst of all that your challenges, then that is where you begin. That is where your journey starts. That is where you lay your cornerstone – and you build from there.

Lead photo source: Thinkstock Images

Originally published: September 22, 2016
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