Sunday, 12 August 2012

The Power of Negative Thinking

I like to think of myself as a reasonably positive person. I try not to let all my medical bother get in the way of having fun, and I also try, on the whole, not to continually go on about my bloody pituitary tumour to other people (unless they are foolish enough to ask, of course). That's one of the nice things about having this blog. As well as a place to vent after my third phone call to the hospital in a day, and a lovely way to get into contact with people going through similar medical fun times, it provides the option for those of my friends who give a shit about the details of what's going on inside my head to keep up-to-date, and enables those of my friends who don't to… not.

Not that I judge those guys, but if you're reading this, you're one of my favourites. SHH DON'T TELL ANYONE.

One of the things that gets my goat* a little is being told to "stay positive". This only happens very occassionally, but when it does it kind of grates. A) I am trying and B) the nature of reverse psychology gives me an uncontrollable urge to shout "screw you, I can wallow if I damn well want to!" Everyone needs to be allowed to feel blue without being made to feel guilty, and for the most part a hug is all that is required to cheer me up. I should point out that I know the people who say "stay positive" mean well and I do not hold it against them, because it can be hard to know what to say to a persistant offender of the unhealthy variety. But it gets me pondering.

Indeed, I was pondering about this the other day and realised that actually, I would argue that when you're sick, negativity has a useful part to play (as long as you're sensible about it and don't just end up depressing yourself). Take my current situation, for example. I knew that even back last winter when my thyroid blood tests were coming back within the normal range and my endocrinologists were excited that I might be cured, I still felt a bit symptomatic. I could have stayed positive and said "I'm sure it's probably just a bit of a hangover from spending a year and a half ravaged by thyroid hormone. The blood tests say I'm fine so I probably am. Hurrah, I can forget all about this horrible tumour business!"

However if I had done that, then the news that I am not cured and that the tumour has grown back and that I need more surgery and possibly radiotherapy would have been even more crushing. Instead I always tried to keep in mind that more surgery was a possibility because I knew I didn't feel 100% right. And consequently when I got the news, it was less of a shock because I had already prepared myself for it.

Equally I think always taking into account the worst case scenario can not only make the negatives less unpleasant if they finally do hit, but also makes the positives more uplifting. If you go around staying positive all the time, then when you get good news it's not so much of a hurrah-moment, because you're really just getting confirmation of something that you were trying to convince yourself was true. If you're prepared for the worst, on the other hand, even slighty-bad news can seem like an improvement.

I actually think it's really sad when you read articles in magazines (usually in doctor's waiting rooms…) that extol the powers of positive thinking to heal. It really does just pile on the guilt. Feeling sad or worried is a perfectly normal response to illness and to me it just seems healthier to accept that and deal with it and move on. Being constantly instructed to feel positive all the time is only going to make the person feel guilty when they can't manage it. (And please, show me the healthy person who manages to be positive 100% of the time. If moments of negativity caused illness, we would all be sick). When you then compound that by saying that positivity will heal, it creates even more guilt. If the person doesn't get better, it's their fault for not being positive enough. But they're not better so they find it harder to be positive. And so on.

So acting like Eeyore all the time has its benefits.

As long as you don't turn into such an unrepentant cloud of gloom that no-one can stand to be around you.
*N.B. if you find my goat, please return him immediately.


  1. Wow, a lot of mean and nasty stuff seems to have happened to you since i last checked in :( many many internet-hugs, i do hope that radiotherapy doesn't become necessary, it sounds like an awful faff which would make you really low for a good while. But I am confident of the cheering-up power of walruses and hugs! Walrus!

    1. Thank you! And hurrah for the power of the jolly walrus (which I believe is the official flag of obese pirates everywhere)

  2. For what it's worth (and I only know about you via this blog) I think you're handling things pretty damn well. For me the key is information, so long as I know what's going on, I can deal with it. And yeah, sometimes you just know your body best, despite what the blood tests etc say.

    And actually, damn the "battlers" and the "positive-thinkers". They may mean well, but they just make sick people feel guilty for not trying hard enough to not be ill.

    1. Aw, thank you! I try my best :D I totally agree about information, I just hate being in the dark. Even bad news is better than nothing at all.

  3. I guess they just don't know what to say so they start talking in clichés.

    I think part of the reason things like cancer are so taboo is because of the ridiculous notion that you caught it because of negativity and stress and you could also cure it by positivity. It implies you could develop a tumour just by thinking the wrong thing and that makes someone who enjoys good health scared to even think about it.

    1. I think that's definitely true. It's like when someone dies and people struggle to find the right words to say, and occassionally just come up with horrendously awkward statements instead. I guess at least it shows they care enough to say something :P