Pain, Disability, & The Importance Of Positive Thinking

RA Guy Adventures of RA Guy

“For me, a positive attitude doesn’t mean that I hope my pain goes away; it means that I hope to be able to cope with this pain even better.” —RA Guy

Earlier this year, I shared this quote (shown above) on my Facebook page. I wrote these words in response to numerous comments and messages that I had previously received, which went something along the lines of:

“Positive thinking doesn’t work. I tried it, and I still have pain.”

When I first read these replies, they transported me to a few years into the past, back to a time when I too believed that if I just practiced positive thinking, all of my pain would go away. All I had to do was think good thoughts, and I would be properly rewarded.

And while this previous statement still holds true, I was really off the mark when it came to my ideas of what I thought such a reward should be. No, it’s not going to make all of my pain go away, as I had previously hoped for…but I now know, it will make it much easier to cope with the pain. It will teach me to always look for the good, no matter how challenging a situation might be. It will give me the emotional strength to keep moving forward; my future will once again be something that I look forward to, and not something that I fear.

Two and a half years ago, in one of my first blog posts titled ‘Redefining Victory‘, I wrote these words: “I pledge to work on making my feelings of personal well-being less dependent on the presence/absence of pain and mobility limitations in my body.”

I still remember clearly, a few days prior to that day, waking up and telling myself that I shouldn’t have to declare my day as ‘bad’ just because I was in a flare. Yes, the pain hurt more than words will ever be able to describe, and I struggled to move around…but there was still so much good that could be found in each and every one of my days, and I had to make it my goal to focus on the positive. And the bad? Well, I had to accept it, as denying or ignoring it would only make things worse. More importantly, I had to be realistic: the pain wasn’t going to go away; it would be a part of my life forever…the sooner I accepted this, the better off I’d be.

I’ve recently started going back and reading some of my earliest blog posts. (A couple of weeks ago, I received a message from a young lady who told me that she was currently in the process of reading my entire blog, from beginning to present!) As I came across this pledge that I made myself, two and a half years ago, I immediately recognized that this was probably one of the best things that I’ve done for myself during my long and never-ending journey with rheumatoid arthritis. Nowadays, looking and focusing on the positive, on the good, on what I can do–no matter how much pain I might be in–is no longer something that I have to force. After years of practice, it just comes naturally.

There are many different resources that explain how to modify negative thoughts and behaviors; for me two of the most useful have been “The Anxiety & Phobia Workbook” and “Living Beyond Your Pain“. It was only when I made a dedicated effort to eliminate such habits did I realize how pervasive negative self-talk had been, both in what I said and what I thought. I won’t go into detail about the specifics of turning negative thoughts into positive self-messages (this can be found in many books, such as the two mentioned above) but I do want to share the following paragraphs from “Living with Rheumatoid Arthritis” (another excellent and comprehensive resouce on–just as its title implies–living with rheumatoid arthritis!):

“When a new problem develops, it is tempting to indulge in negative thinking. After all, negative thinking is part of human nature, and we all fall victim to it on occasion. Because RA is a chronic condition and the problems it poses often appear overwhelming, it is only natural that negative thoughts will occupy you from time to time.

Conversely, it can be hard work to maintain a positive attitude. When we’re in the middle of a thunderstorm, it is difficult to focus on the sun hidden behind the clouds. While acknowledging the difficulty of maintaining a positive attitude, let it be said: Persistent negative thinking is harmful. Persistent negative thinking can be our worst enemy. For one thing, negativism is often irrational in that it is based on emotions more than facts. Focusing on negative thoughts can lead us to take negative actions, alienating the people we love and need. Finally, negative thinking does not lead us to develop solutions to problems or help us to accomplish goals. In other words, it doesn’t lead us to where we want to be.”

I know that there will always be people who deny or underestimate the benefits that can be achieved through positive thinking. For me, however, establishing and maintaining a positive attitude has been the most important thing in the world, and eventually becomes its own reward unto itself. It continues to help me find solutions to my problems, accomplish my goals, and lead me to where I want to be. It’s not going to cure me of my disease, but it’s definitely going to give me back my life.

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

P.S. Many people have asked me how I manage to stay happy *all* the time. The truth is that I’m not happy all the time; there are many days when I am quite sad. I believe that, within certain limits, sadness does and can play an important role in my continual healing process. For me, adopting a positive attitude doesn’t mean that I’m going to be happy all the time. What it does mean, though, is that I allow myself to experience a wide range of feelings and emotions (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance) without guilt, and without blame.