Thinking Happy Thoughts

The Power of Positive Thinking. Think It, Believe It, Achieve It. Unicorn power. There are a lot of mantras out there that focus on optimism, and there’s no shortage of inspirational quotes or motivational speakers. But unless you really connect with a particular message, it can be difficult to internalize the message and use it to change your outlook. So turn that frown upside down: we’re going to explore the sunny side of life…

I’m not sure how I’m perceived by my friends and family, but I perceive myself as Realistically Pessimistic. To put this in iconic childhood cartoon terms: I’m not Eeyore, moping around thinking grey thoughts, but I’m certainly not Tigger, exuberantly forcing my optimism down everyone’s throats. I’m somewhere in between, but I lean towards pessimism. I’d make a terrible cheerleader. In fact, I unsuccessfully tried out for cheerleading my freshman year of high school, thinking it was a requisite rite of passage for all girls entering high school. I choreographed my own moves–yeah, I’ve got moves–but I couldn’t keep a smile plastered to my face for the full five minutes after my performance. So be it. I got into Bauhaus instead.

So for someone who has a natural tendency towards realistic pessimism, such as myself, it’s important to monitor your level of pessimism and to be aware of slipping towards Unrealistic Pessimism–the inconsolable, disproportionately glum Eeyore-state.

Living with a chronic disease like lupus automatically increases the likelihood of becoming depressed, so it’s especially important for me to check in with myself when I’m feeling particularly down. I ask myself questions, like: Am I PMS-ing? Because as much as I’d like to slap people who ask me if I’m on my period whenever I tear up over a dumb commercial or lash out unexpectedly over something fairly trivial, the truth is that 85% of the time, the answer is yes. I also ask myself if it’s really as bad as I feel like it is, or if I’m just due for a good cry. Sometimes all I need is to Netflix a weeper, cry it out, and get on with my life.

But even factoring in PMS, chronic pain, fatigue, and/or fill-in-the-blank symptom, life tends to throw unexpected wrenches into your well-laid plans. Currently, I have enough wrenches in my life to fill a shiny-red Craftsman toolbox, so why can’t I find the right tools to keep my mood in check? What I need is some Unicorn Power (thanks, Glee).

Well, I found it in a surprising place: an article in a humorous, well-rounded men’s blog written by a husband/wife team, Brett and Kate McKay:  http://artofmanliness.com/2011/10/09/this-too-shall-pass/. While the entire article is worth reading, there’s one passage in particular that caught my attention:

“You gaze all the way to the horizon and the path ahead looks so long, so daunting, you feel like collapsing under the weight of that huge burden.”

The McKays then acknowledge that this struggle is all fine and well, but what folks really want to know is how to handle it. So they quote a character in David Foster Wallace’s book, Infinite Jest, who describes his method of coping with detox. When enduring detox from one minute to the next becomes too much, the character zeros in on the moment between two heartbeats. The husband-wife bloggers summarize the lesson as follows:

“Don’t look over the wall and think about the future. Just make it through that day. And the next morning get up and do it again. Live in that space for awhile.”

In other words, life is tough right now, but it will pass, and you’ll bounce back. It’s Unicorn Power minus the glitter. This is advice I can live with.

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Comments
8 Responses to “Thinking Happy Thoughts”
  1. lupusadventurer says:

    This is a very good discussion of the pendulum swing between the emotions of lupus in the up and down days. In addition to the pain, one of the additional symptoms of CNS lupus can be depression, when the lupus attacks the emotional seat of the brain. An inexplicable physical depression can accompany a CNS flare.

    My rheumy says that non-lupus depression cannot be corrected with steroids, but lupus depression vanishes very quickly after steroid injections, and that it is the best way to diagnose the cause. I have experienced physiological depression like this when I was otherwise feeling awesome and joyful about my life and the stuff going on in it.

    That’s why the depression from CNS lupus stands out so starkly, because it can happen when there are absolutely no circumstances that cause it. If you find this type of depression hits you, and you can’t figure out anything that caused it, make sure you talk to you rheumy about it.

    • lupinelife says:

      Just when I thought I’d learned everything I could about lupus… this is the first time I’ve heard about CNS lupus! I had to look it up (thank you, Google). For anyone else who’s curious to learn more about it, here’s something from the Lupus Foundation of America’s website:

      http://www.lupus.org/webmodules/webarticlesnet/templates/new_donatenow.aspx?articleid=459&zoneid=43

      The article touches on the effectiveness of steroids for stopping seizures when anti-seizure medication didn’t work in a lupus patient. So it makes sense that steroids would also help treat depression when its directly caused by lupus.

      Personally, I have enough things going on in my life to explain intermittent bouts of depression without CNS lupus being involved. And I think that for a lot of people with lupus and other chronic diseases, it’s easy to fall into a funk. But no matter what the source of depression may be, it’s important to communicate symptoms with your doctor.

  2. J-dog says:

    I have a wife with lupus. I know what your saying. Some times I feel her wanting to cry. I just want to be there for her. I hope I am. I love my wife.

  3. This is a really great post Amber. I love how you express yourself so clearly. I agree, nothing beats positive thinking. You ever see those interviews with centenarians? One thing I noticed is that they all seem happy and easygoing. Maybe that’s the secret. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0zOfLDHWjxc

    They look pretty damn good for triple digits too!

    • lupinelife says:

      Thanks for sharing that video–there must be something in the prune juice at the old folks’ home, because some of them look decades younger! There’s truth in what you wrote, though; I need to practice being more flexible, both figuratively and literally. BTW, thank you for the lovely compliments. I’m amending my gotta-have list to include flexibility and love–and I get lots of love from you!

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