Are you an optimist or a pessimist by nature? Or do you fluctuate between the two? Most of us have an idea of which one we are but in recent times, that may have changed due to the pandemic. In this blog, I’m going to look at both optimism and pessimism to see how things change for us when we’re living with a long term condition, either physical or mental.
If you have read my blogs before, you’ll know that when I first found out about my condition, I ignored it all and was in denial. My brain decided it was too much to take in and that the best thing for me was to pretend it wasn’t happening. In hindsight, I realise that I had such a pessimistic view of life, and that coping with an illness on top would have been too much for me. We often think that people who are in denial need to be ‘fixed’, but this was part of my process and I’m actually glad I went through it because my mindset changed during my recovery, and in looking back at my denial, I can understand my process and learn from it.
It’s probably quite normal to have a pessimistic view of life when you’re struggling to hold down a job, run a household and cope with an illness. There are no days off from an illness, whether it’s physical or mental, and this is sometimes where the problem lies. You can’t switch off the pain, the anxiety and the feeling of ‘why me?’. I’m afraid that being pessimistic became natural to me at one point, I was always waiting for the next bad thing to happen, for the hospital results to have the worst outcome and even when results were better or even good, I couldn’t feel happy about it, I was stuck in a pessimistic world.
I changed this through my self development journey, and whilst it didn’t change overnight or even quickly, once it did, I didn’t recognise who I used to be. One of the things I did was to use what I call my ‘light switch’, and this is how it works. When I want to switch a negative thought to a positive one, I visualise a light switch above my head and I see myself switching it from negative to positive. I then turn the negative thought around, put a bit of a spin on it and turn it to a positive. Even in tough circumstances this can work, if there’s something negative you can’t change, look at what’s right in your life. For instance you might say, ‘I am suffering from a condition/anxiety, but I have supportive family/friends which helps me to see that I’m a valuable person’.
Let’s now go onto optimism. Being optimistic very occasionally has its downsides. Now that my mindset has changed, my optimism means that I shine, and on days when things aren’t so good, I usually see a bright side. However, if we’re being overly optimistic it sometimes means that we aren’t being realistic. An example of this was an occasion when I’d been to hospital – I had had a scan on my leg where I’d had the blood clots and was awaiting results, hoping that I could have surgery which would mean that my leg wouldn’t be as painful and it would actually look normal – it would have been a game changer for me. The results came back and I sat there in silence whilst the consultant told me that my femoral vein was so damaged that surgery would be extremely risky and not advised. He told me it would never get better and my leg would just get worse and worse over time. I felt like I’d set myself up before a fall by being over optimistic and not realistic enough. I’m grateful for his honesty and advice because now I know what I’m dealing with, but at the time, it was difficult. I remember sitting in the car park sobbing loudly. I’d gone to the appointment on my own because I thought it would be fine and that I didn’t need support. In fact I had to pull myself together because I was aware that my parking ticket was about to run out and I had no more change. I needed to leave the car park but was in such a state that it took all my strength to drive out of the hospital and into a side road where I could get myself back together so I could safely drive home.
I told my husband what the outcome of the appointment was, then shut myself away and didn’t give anyone the full details – I couldn’t bear to go through that again. I recognised that I was putting my head in the sand again but that’s what I needed to do at that stage. Once I’d accepted what happened, I realised that I hadn’t been realistic, I’d been way overly optimistic and gone as far as imagining my life with a ‘new leg’, it was everything I could have dreamed of. So I had to look at my mindset again and consciously slow my thinking down to be realistic as well as optimistic.
However, optimism is a powerful tool and can set you on a good course for the future. It helps you to look forward positively and feel such emotions as excitement and exhilaration, plus being enthusiastic can rub off onto other people and positively impact them.
If you’re facing a challenging time try not to see what could go wrong, or if you do, challenge yourself to stop, take a moment and think of what could go right instead. Once you change your thinking to ‘glass half full’ instead of ‘glass half empty’, it helps form a positive thinking habit.
Next month – P is for procrastination. It’s something we’ve all suffered from at times and difficult to shift once it becomes a habit, however I’ll share what I do to help myself when procrastination hits. Out at the beginning of November!