In the past week I’ve seen 2 phrases that have confused the bejeezes out of me. First, a lady in my department has a sign on her cubicle wall that says “eat all your frogs first”. Is this from a song, book, or movie? Since she smokes like a chimney I won’t stop by and ask. Hopefully someone that reads this will recognize the phrase and let me know. The second, and more important phrase, comes from a Tweet I read. Someone was talking about, complaining, bitching, arguing, bad mouthing (I don’t care what you call it is my point) people who are positive. Specifically, this person said “I’ve tried to think myself well but it didn’t work.” WHAT???
Over my career as a chronic patient I’ve been described by many as being a positive person. Yes, some of these people have to say it by law, i.e. my family, but most of the compliments have come from places like Social Media. Usually these compliments come from athletic accomplishments like skiing 8 weeks after total hip replacement surgery, however, many are for my ability to continue to work full-time, own a house, earn a second degree while needing 4 surgeries in 2 states, or becoming a Medx epatient advisor. I’m definitely humbled by these kind words but also have much gratitude for those that continue to feed my ego with their generous words.
Now thanks to my strong and healthy ego, I still have a fair amount of fight in me despite my conditions. I don’t always arrive first to the finish line, my talent and skill are better suited for dependently arriving at the finish line regardless of my current circumstances. However, this does not mean I don’t have bad days or have never sought help for mental issues. I have a depression diagnosis, I have a PTSD diagnosis from my rock climbing accident, I have been on multiple mental health medications just like many of you. I think the major difference with me is that I don’t find the mental health portion of my patient story that interesting. I’m much more interested in continuing to move forward in my life than what diagnosis I have. Maybe I should share this part of my story more often in order to become a better advocate. Nah, my self-care prefers to concentrate on making excellent ski videos for your viewing enjoyment.
Since I brought up my skiing let’s talk about it for a second. There is an abundance of new and current research that scientifically proves positive thinking (attitude) and even prayer (meditation, good thoughts) can and does help patients. This becomes evident on the mountain for me every time I ski.
First, I used to go skiing because I wanted to be the best ski instructor/skier who ended up in magazines and movies. Powder magazine and Warren Miller films were as close to a bible as I’ve ever come. This changed, of course, after my rock climbing fall and when I got the disease portion of my diagnoses. Now skiing is a tool I use to continue to enjoy a high quality of life. I use skiing both as a way to change the trajectory of a horrible pain day while at the same time looking for long term fun and excitement, to put in another way, I want a high quality of life.
Yes, skiing is an excellent tool for flipping a bad day into a feel better weekend for example. It forces me to change my attitude because the mountain demands that I do it. You can’t be distracted or preoccupied while skiing (sounds like meditation or prayer to me), toboggan rides are not that fun trust me. Not only do you have to change your attitude to match the terrain but skiing is spiritual when you smile. I know everyone is not cut out for skiing. I’m certainly not advocating that. My point is that there is that there is an activity, sport, or project for anyone that seeks it out that will help them change the arc of a bad day into a fun day.
The Medx Scholar part of my brain would like to point out that I receive the same type of arch changing attitude adjustment from reading, photography, writing, blogging, eating, reading other people’s stories, and attempting to be a friend that gives as much energy as I take. I know patients that are amazing painters, actors/actresses, students, and published authors. Some are nannies that have changed the lives of kids all around the world. Many are still searching for their “it” thing but even the strength and commitment shown by these patients can bend the arc of a bad day for me. All of these “it” things are being performed while in tremendous amounts of chronic pain remember. These people, myself included, wake up every day and choose to try and still be badass in order to still experience life despite chronic pain, disability, and yes even mental health issues.
Finally, some of the most powerful and generous patients I’ve had the honoring of meeting and becoming friends with started their journey’s as kids. It took me longer than my ego would have like but I think I’ve started to figure out their secret. First, as kids we have the ability to forget almost anything that doesn’t interest us 20 seconds ago. Kids have a remarkable ability to bounce back from almost anything too. For some reason, adulthood or maturity requires us to lose this particular skill. However, kids that grew up with Arthur seem to have retained this ability to forget when needed. As adult’s chronic pain forces us to live in the past too often I believe. For these patients though, they cope when they have to then get back to life’s business of smiling and enjoying its curiosity as soon as they can.
These powerful and generous patients also have learned the reality of problem solving differently than healthy people do. They know that their rheum is going to force them to achieve differently than most and they accept that. Those that complain about positive people miss this fact entirely I believe. Everything from brushing our teeth, to dressing, to skiing, to eating usually requires a different set of skills than it does for healthy ones. In my honest and humble opinion, that is the way it should be too. Yes our challenges might be harder because of our health issues but the flip side is our rewards for simple things like getting out of bed will be greater than most. Attitude is often simply remembering that there is at least 2 sides to every coin, sometimes too you can find hidden sides if you are creative enough.
I understand as well as anyone that pain talks loudly, rudely, and constantly. However, I know that most of my success as a relatively high functioning patient comes from an attitude of yes pain talks, but it is up to me to determine who wins each day and more importantly, my life. I’ve lost many, many days to pain. The trick is to realize that things like mental health, chronic pain, deteriorating joints, shots, or surgeries are just a part of my life just like skiing, writing, or my friends are. Once you do that choosing the right attitude to fight the bastard known as Arthur becomes easier and leads to a higher quality of life.