Learning Optimism

Thursday, 29 March 2012

A friend came to coffee – deep and enthralling conversation for two hours. She made the interesting observation that when she needs grace or strength from God, she never asks for it.

“If I ask, He sends me a tough situation that makes me demonstrate my strength to myself. Instead, I thank for it.” Then she finds she gets it.

Reminded me of the wartime food parcels from Canada. The beleaguered English were not allowed to ask for specific items (all overseas mail was censored) – that would betray how desperate the situation was. Instead, my mother would thank for razor blades or whatever she needed and in the next parcel, they would be included.

Also that one should never plead, for example, a sore throat as an excuse – sure enough, the body will obediently produce one.

She then asked me how I got above pain etc., could I give steps. Which bewildered me – it doesn’t feel as orderly as steps, more a lumpy plod uphill. Yet, I am further ahead than last year and I am almost always happy, with periodic plunges into despair. Yes, I sometimes weep with weariness at dragging my morale out of the mud, but most of the time now, I am deeply happy.

Sure, there are lots of things I can’t do. A friend said casually, “Next time come to us.” So simple, yet so difficult: what’s her furniture like? Can I sit on any of it without my back going out? If it hurts too much, will she have a sofa I can lie on? How many people will be there? Will they be occupying the sofa? What food will she serve? Will there be anything gluten and milk-free? If not, can I bring something that will blend that I can eat? Will everyone else eat it or contaminate it before I get any? How can I do this without being a nuisance or too difficult, so next time I get left out?

But, rather as I found after several gluten-free months I didn’t miss cookies and cakes, I don’t really miss many of the activities that fill my friends’ lives. (Yes, I know there are gluten-free cookies etc., but my digestion has been so damaged that I can’t digest them.)

So, what could I answer her? It is not so much what I did, more how pain tempered me, beating sparks off me, moulding me. But I have learnt that to survive and have a life that is meaningful to me:

I must watch the place where I am, where I have my being. It is not so much forcing myself to be positive, which just doesn’t work – feels like being bullied – but positioning myself psychologically in a place where I am not thinking in negative terms. It is vital that my self-talk is not allowed to meander into misery. Important not to ruminate. Sometimes difficult as I can’t do mood changing things like gardening, turning out a closet or even burying myself in a computer.

And always remember that in this actual moment I am not unhappy. If I look inside I am not unhappy. It is only if I tell myself how bad it is, how it has always been bad and always will be – stretching away and murkily downhill into the future, that I am desolate.

Which takes me down another path, the work of Martin Seligman on optimism. He points out that pessimists think things are:

  • Permanent – this will never end
  • Pervasive – everything has gone wrong
  • Personal – it’s my fault

And that’s precisely what I have to avoid. Optimists, on the other hand think:

  • This is a one off, temporary setback
  • There’s lots of areas in my life that work
  • I am bright enough to deal with this

in spite of my father who was a triumphant pessimist, stating that when something went right it was such a pleasant surprise, I try to live on the optimistic side. And I am content.


About UntraveledRoads

Fascinated by life, looking for answers to chronic pain and finding unexpected gifts. Interested in people, ideas, healing and humour. I am very happily married with three children and a kitten. As English born immigrants to Canada, we have family spread overseas, a daughter in South Africa and one in England. We also run a charity in South Africa to educate black, rural South African Women. Our first girl from a rural township has just graduated as an accountant from Johannesburg University and got a good job in a bank.
This entry was posted in Finding our way, life journey, life lessons, LLLT and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Learning Optimism

  1. Pingback: Welcome | Pathway through Pain – Journey to Joy

  2. Pingback: WHOLE BLOG IN CHRONOLOGICAL ORDER 2012 | Pathway through Pain – Journey to Joy

  3. Pingback: Easter Sunday – Rising above Pain (or trying to) | Pathway through Pain – Journey to Joy

  4. Pingback: How do I Cope? Let me Count the Ways | Pathway through Pain – Journey to Joy

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