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Why Being Told to 'Think Positively' About My Illness Feels Like a Betrayal

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Nothing puts me more on edge than when people tell me I need to think positively, more specifically that I need to think positively about my illness. When someone tells me this phrase, I want to tell them that they should think before they speak. Does thinking positively help? Sure. But who can do that 24/7 in the face of being sick everyday? How can you expect that all the time? Why is that the go-to solution? Plus their positive and mine are very different.

Them: You will be cured.

Me: I will get out of bed. I will not throw up. I will get through the day in one piece.

I don’t know if that phrase is the only thing people can think of when there’s nothing else to say or people think I want to hear it. It’s not what I want to hear. I want to scream when people say it to me. I hate asking loved ones to not say that to me. They always have wide eyes and guilty body language. I can barely look at them. It kills me when I ask, but it kills me more to hear it all the time. It’s a wound that constantly gets ripped open.

When my specialist, who has seen me for six years, looked at my mother and I and said, “You can’t let this stop you from living. You have to think positive and keep going. Don’t let it hold you back,” I had hot tears of shame in my eyes. It felt like a betrayal. This person knows what I’ve done, seen what I go through, knows how hard I try and yet, that stranger’s phrase escaped his lip.

When people tell me to think positive I take it as blaming. Like I’m not trying hard enough, that I’m not doing enough, that I want this to happen. Somehow it feels like even my own thoughts are betraying me like my body is. It’s even worse with good intentions. I can’t get mad when someone is genuinely trying to help, trying to lift me up. I appreciate the gesture but wish for a different phrase. I know it’s probably my own sensitivity, but knowing that doesn’t stop my cheeks from turning red or my teeth from clenching.

I think the problem with positive thinking is that people think it’s the end-all be-all solution. They don’t understand that just thinking positively isn’t going to help me. People may mean well, but this phrase has been warped in my mind from hearing it everywhere I go. It’s generic yet points to me like a disappointed parent. It’s surface but sinks into my very bones. I smile but it scars me.

Originally published: August 8, 2016
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