“For me, a positive attitude doesn’t mean that I hope my pain goes away; it means that I hope to be able to cope with this pain even better.” —RA Guy
Over the many years of blogging as Rheumatoid Arthritis Guy I have received many messages from readers, more so than most people might be able to imagine. A majority of these messages can easily be divided into two groups. The first are from people who appreciate the sense of humor that I continually apply to my life with RA. (Because sometimes, a wicked sense of humor is the only way forward!) The second are from readers who tell me that they are inspired by my ability to maintain a positive attitude, despite the challenges that I face on a daily basis.
While I make it a point to respond to each and every email personally, I must admit that there are times—especially when my rheumatoid arthritis symptoms are at their worst—that some of these messages start to slip through. So I would like to take this opportunity to respond publicly to the one question that I am asked most frequently: How do you continue to stay so positive?
I continue to stay positive because I know, firsthand, the consequences of not doing so. Years ago, I was stuck in a very dark place full of depression and suicidal thoughts. If you had told me then that I would one day be the person who I am now—a person who not only lives with pain and disability but who also has a hopeful outlook—I would have said that such a thing was completely outside the realm of possibility. As long as my rheumatoid arthritis did not go away, there was no way that I could even come close to being happy…or so I thought.
Luckily, I eventually proved myself wrong, one day at a time. After many years of moving forward, I was finally able to realize that I was no longer stuck. I do not think that I will ever be able to communicate fully the horror of that place where I once was, but I think others who have been there themselves or are currently there now know exactly what it is that I am talking about. Having been there, and never wanting to go back, is one of the reasons why I continue to stay positive, despite the challenges that I continue to face.
I continue to stay positive because, when a person lives with this type of chronic pain and disability, it can often seem like a complete nervous breakdown is only seconds away. (I sometimes liken living with rheumatoid arthritis to a marathon that never ends.) As long as I can stay a split second ahead of the madness, frustration, fear, anger, and every other emotion that living with chronic illness often invokes, I know that I’ll be okay. I also know that if I make a wrong turn anywhere along my thought process, that if I focus on the negative rather than on the positive for just one second too long, then I will quickly become overwhelmed and start to fall behind.
If I reach this point, then I will stop living with rheumatoid arthritis, and will instead be struggling with rheumatoid arthritis. This is something that I definitely do not want to do, which is one of the reasons why I continue to stay positive.
I continue to stay positive because doing so allows me to more easily face and accept my reality. Many people tell me that they think maintaining a positive attitude means ignoring anything and everything related to their illnesses, that the “bad” stuff has to go. I could not find such a statement further from the truth. For me, a positive attitude does not mean that I hope my pain goes away; it means that I hope to be able to cope with this pain even better. It means that I am happy with my life, exactly as it is. It means that no matter how much it seems like everything is going wrong, I can always find something that is going right. In the end, it is this positive attitude that helps me find a way to continue moving forward, especially during those moments when it feels like my world is falling apart. I continue to stay positive because it really does work!
The last reason why I continue to stay positive is that doing so creates a snowball effect, not only in my life, but also in the lives of others. It surrounds me with many others who approach life with the same hopeful and optimistic outlook. This in turn makes me even more positive than I was in the first place; it inspires me to continue to figure out ways to implement such a positive approach in all aspects of my life. This cycle repeats itself, and grows strong each time around. This positive outlook develops a momentum of its own; it becomes a force that continues to gently nudge me forward, even—and most importantly—on those days when I feel like just giving up.
Staying positive while living with chronic illness is not always easy, but it is always possible. I have reached a point where maintaining a positive attitude has become second nature. I often practice it without even really knowing that I am doing so; it has just become—from experience—the one method of working through problems that I know will always work. I have learned that no matter how big or frightening the challenge that is right in front of me at any given moment might be, there is only one way through it, and that is forward. When I start to look at the good that can come from working through this challenge, rather than focusing on the challenge itself, I know that I have once again won.
This is why I continue to stay positive.