A very important aspect of living a happy life despite a chronic illness, is to challenge any negative ways that you think about the illness and how it affects you. Quite simply it’s about choosing to think positively. Obviously this isn’t as easy as it sounds. Nobody can be positive all of the time, sometimes we need to feel fed up and sometimes we need to grieve. But when you are ready to accept life as it is, you can choose to do something about it.
Positive reframing is about taking something that you don’t like about life and finding a different way to look at it that gives you some control.
For example ‘my life is awful because I have a chronic illness’ can be reframed as ‘I need to learn how to manage this illness better’ or ‘I need to learn new ways of finding happiness that don’t involve huge amounts of energy’. You then have a goal; something to work towards; a challenge which allows opportunities to attain achievement. But you may also need to reframe your idea of achievement. Instead of being based on the quantity of tasks you get done, perhaps achievement can be measured in terms of a reduction in the intensity of a symptom such as stiff, sore muscles or getting through a whole day without getting frustrated. I also find it really important to break down each goal into really small steps and value each step as an important achievement. Without each step the goal could not be achieved, so each step is just as important as the end result!
I find it useful to have the general goal of improving my quality of life. This goal can be broken down into different areas, for example minimising my symptoms, improving my energy levels and general health, learning to appreciate the little things, finding laughter every day, contributing to my family and society. All this is hard but positive reframing has helped me value all my tiny achievements. Another goal is to find balance, so that nothing is left out and doing one thing doesn’t impact negatively on another. For example it would be so tempting to focus all my energy on contributing to my family and society, but I know that the reality is I need to focus on my health too. So I reframe and I value the fact that loving thoughts and wishes make a contribution, my contribution doesn’t have to be an active one.
Positive reframing can be really useful if you are feeling overwhelmed by a feeling of obligation, or if you feel that because you have to do this, you can’t do that. Remember you do have a choice. It may be really frustrating that your energy is so limited that you have to make a choice, but that frustration will tire you. Grieve when you need to, but aim to reach an acceptance of the way things are so that you can focus on the positives of the choice you make.
You may hate the fact that taking a shower means you have nothing left for the rest of the day. But while your energy level is as it is, it will help to focus on choice. You don’t have to have a shower every day but some days you will choose to feel clean and fresh.
Instead of hating the fact that you have to rest, chooserest as a positive action to help manage your energy levels. Turn it into something enjoyable; indulge in some light hearted viewing or some soothing music; listen to a relaxation tape or a guided meditation; use essential oils to bring pleasure to your rest period and help you relax; enjoy that wonderful moment of comfort as you surrender to an afternoon nap. (if you don’t want to sleep when you rest and are worried about drifting off, set an alarm just in case you do!)
Instead of hating the fact that you have to do the washing up instead of doing something fun, positively reframe this obligation as an act of love to your family or yourself. Remind yourself that basic hygiene serves an important role in preventing disease. It is an important fact of a healthy lifestyle. Choose to make this important contribution. Remember how nice it is to prepare food in a clean and tidy kitchen. You could also set yourself a challenge: How can you do it so that you use minimum effort? Break it down into stages and do it little by little. You might find it rewarding to write the stages on a list and cross them off one at a time. If you need to spend a lot of your day resting, remember that even resting needs to be paced. A short burst of washing up could serve as an important change of activity, helping to prevent stagnation in your circulatory systems. There are a variety of ways you could choose to look at it positively.
Of course it’s extremely tiring to force yourself to think positively all the time. It’s important to allow yourself to feel and to be. But a great weight can be lifted by tackling the things that are an everyday fact of life; that drag you down day in day out. Positive reframing is a tool to help tackle the constant drudgery that result from a particular way of thinking about life. I’m pretty good at positive thinking but from time to time I get fed up, or a sense of grief revisits me. I usually find that by allowing these feelings to be, they will flow and change. It is when I get stuck, because of a fixed way I am thinking about things, that I find positive reframing most useful.