Positive thinking seems to be in the news a lot lately thanks to the new book by Barbara Ehrenreich called Bright Sided; I haven’t read this book, but I’ve read articles about it and heard the author interviewed on the radio. Although there were times after my diagnosis of cancer in 1986 when I had similar thoughts to the author, I’m happy to say that I’m long past that mode of thinking. I believe I would not have been cancer free for the last 22 years if I continued to think along those lines.
I agree with one of Ms. Ehrenreich’s statements which is that “artificial positive thinking” doesn’t work. In order to think positive, we need to let go of negative thinking and BE positive. I spent many years with depression and negative thinking, so it wasn’t easy for me to make that switch. After cancer I spent time with a psychiatrist, and did a course in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy to help me change my unrealistic, destructive thoughts to those which are constructive and life giving. I will always be grateful to my support team for helping me to stick with it when the going got tough.
I know people who mean well when they say “Think positive” to someone facing a life threatening illness, but it’s unreasonable to expect people to smile when they’re feeling down. It doesn’t make sense to pretend that cancer and cancer treatment are positive experiences when we’re feeling miserable and facing an uncertain future; I had a huge range of negative thoughts and emotions when I was going through surgery and chemotherapy. I now know this is a normal reaction, but at the time I felt alone with my fears.
It’s important to recognize and respect the way people handle their individual journey and support them in the best way we can. When I faced my mortality I put myself in a pine box; it was the people around me who helped me to get out of it as I didn’t have the energy at the time. With help I learned to take one day at a time and with baby steps I gradually regained the strength I needed to turn my life around.
It helped me to live in the moment, to find something positive every day, no matter how small, to be able to look beyond cancer treatment, and see something to live for. My family and friends helped me a great deal as I learned to think about me and my purpose in life.
I know my life has improved as a result of the valuable work I’ve done to become more optimistic and resilient. Some people may choose to resist positive thinking but I’m happy that I changed; my quality of life is so much better.