Positivity: Counterbalancing The Negative

balanceI’ve been cruising along at the same altitude since my last blog post a couple of days ago. No, I haven’t gotten any better…but more importantly, I haven’t gotten any worse. This most recent uptick in symptoms shouldn’t be too much of a surprise for me, as it coincided perfectly with the end of a  Prednisone push that I started in mid-December.

One of the things that I have learned and continue to learn is the importance of turning negative thoughts into positive thoughts. A couple of days ago, wanting a change in scenery during the afternoon, I transferred myself from the king-sized bed in my bedroom to the twin-sized fold-out sofa bed in my home office. (My three small dogs — cairn terrier, terrier/chihuahua mix, and pug — also thought it was quite a novel concept…each one quickly worked on staking out his or her spot on the “newly” appeared mattress.) As I lay there and put down my digital book reader to take a break, I marveled upon the literally thousands of books that I have amassed in the past decade and a half, since I was in college.

Then, right at eye level, I saw Out of Joint: A Private and Public Story of Arthritis by Mary Felstiner. (I have read this book from cover to cover many times, and have previously written about it here on my blog: Out Of Joint and Out Of Joint, Pt. 2.) I pulled out this book and flipped to a random page. I was struck by the fact that my landing page discussed the importance of turning negative thoughts into positive thoughts.

In a weekend class of volunteers I train to lead a “self-talk” assignment. I’m to write patients’ negative thoughts (“My hands are so weak,” or “My ugly legs are limp”) on the blackboard–except that I’m unfit to write on blackboards; they’re my farewell to arms. Then the self-talk point hits home: transform those nasty insults. “No blackboards for me,” I chirp aloud. “Scribble your negative thought on these 3×5 cards. Then flip them over and rephrase.” My card trick proves a success. We’re speaking to ourselves brutally until we flip sides. My card says:

Negative: I’m so tired. I stupidly nap while everyone else gets stuff done.
Positive: Naptime! I’ve adored it all my life.

And that’s when it hit me–the thought that had been racing around my head all morning was a negative one: I’m not ready for the pain to come back! No wonder I felt so anxious and on edge. I was operating not from a perspective of confidence, but from a perspective of fear. While it was hard from me to tell myself that I was ready for any level of pain or disability that might present itself (especially knowing what I experienced only a couple of weeks ago), I spent the rest of the afternoon doing so.

Slowly, my fear melted away and I started to notice my confidence. I AM ready for whatever might come, good or bad. Even though my pain persisted, being able to experience this type of feeling was absolutely wonderful. Now, instead of the dread of  wondering what the following day might bring (sometimes it’s oh so easy to chalk up an entire day as a point for the “loss” column before it even starts, isn’t it?), I actually felt a little bit of curious anticipation. I wonder what tomorrow might bring? All of a sudden I was looking forward to the following day, because I knew it would be an opportunity to allow my newfound confidence to rule…and to put my fear to rest.

At times the negatives are so strong, that it’s difficult to imagine there being an opposite positive…but it’s always there, even if it’s a little more difficult to find. Case in point: Mary Felstiner, just a page or two after the extended quote that is included above, shares her own personal experience of participating in another self-help workshop. When asked what she wrote on the negative side of her card, she responds with “The fear of pain”. When asked what she wrote on the positive side of her card, she answers with “That I can see it coming”.

My past few days have included lost of time resting, some periods of extreme pain where my whole world comes down to my breath, and what can officially be considered my first “arthritis fall” (when getting up from the sofa bed in my home office the other day, my left foot slipped inward underneath me, causing me to tumble to the floor, but not before landing on my left knee–already one of the parts of my body experiencing the most pain–and my left wrist)…but each one of these items has been counterbalanced with a positive, enjoyable event. I cooked dinner last night. I’ve been doing more reading that usual. And last but not least, I’ve actually made a significant amount of progress in the design of a Healing Center–I hope to have something to share in the near future!

My rheumatoid arthritis continues to present negatives, but it won’t get the best of me. I will just have to continue finding the positives…and in the end, this is a good thing. I AM ready for whatever might come.

Stay tuned…for the next adventure of Rheumatoid Arthritis Guy!

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Two Steps Forward One Step Back

‎”Without the life I live I’d miss one last thing. Whenever pain lets go a little and stiffness releases, the sweet plain world comes nearer, more intense and eager, like stillness touching the ear after cries and shouting.” -Mary Felstiner, Out of Joint: A Private and Public Story of Arthritis

Today is the fourth day of the new year…it’s also the third day in a row that my rheumatoid arthritis has worsened. The good news: at least 2011 got off to a good start! This current backward slide is lasting longer than I had hoped, but I’m not losing hope. I continue to take things day by day, and am giving my body the rest that it continues to ask for. (Luckily, I don’t return to classes until the first week of February.)

I continue to be surprised at how quickly I am able to forget about my recent episodes of intense pain — not so much in the sense of denying their existence, but more in terms of emptying my mind of the actual sensation of severe pain. Whether I like it or not, I am currently being forced to remember what this pain feels like. If from this day on I only had to deal with my chronic pain in terms of memories it would still be quite a challenge, but I need not concern myself with this hypothetical. Pain is once again part of my reality.

Which makes me realize, that this pain never really goes away. Sometimes it gets better, sometimes it gets worse. I feel fortunate that, while it is definitely noticeable at the moment, it is not yet overwhelming. I can focus on my deep breaths without too much discomfort. I will continue focusing on these breaths, and hope that they carry me to a place of less pain.

Stay tuned…for the next adventure of Rheumatoid Arthritis Guy!

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