Chronic Illness: Focus on The 'Cans' not 'Cannots'

Tracy Davenport, Ph.D. Health Guide
  • I read an article this week about “negative spaces.” In the art world, “negative space” is the name for the background area in a picture. Negative spaces are just as important as positive spaces to the picture, even though most of us will always pick out the positive form, when asked to describe what we see. For some reason, we tend not to describe the negative spaces of the picture, until they are pointed out to us.


    This phenomenon also occurs in the world of reflux and chronic illness. For example, when most people tell me about their reflux, they always focus on the things they cannot eat. They usually start the conversation something like this: “My reflux has been so bad lately. I just can’t seem to eat anything at all with sauce in it,” or “My reflux is so limiting, I can’t eat anything after 7 o’clock.” They never tell me that they can eat anything in the world, as long as it doesn’t have sauce in it, or that they can eat all day long until 7 o’clock.

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    I used to do the same thing when I described my son’s severe reflux and food allergies. I would immediately start the day thinking of all the things he could not do or eat because of his condition (the list is pretty long). That was my focus when it came to his health. Somewhere along the line though, I suspect through sheer exhaustion, when people started asking me what he could not eat, or not do, I started answering them with what he “could eat.” It may sound strange, but I think it helped.


    So my challenge to you is this: next time someone asks you about your baby’s reflux, think about those pictures where if you look at them one way, you see a vase, and if you look at them the other way, you see a beautiful woman with a feather. Both forms are equally real and equally important.

Published On: March 09, 2007