The issue of optimism and keeping a positive state of mind comes up often in discussions of multiple sclerosis, and it always makes me cringe. Gives me a knot right in my stomach.
I have a very positive attitude about my MS, but I am also a realist. I am not prone to flights of fancy that I can control this disease through positive thoughts. I do believe that my positive thinking makes living with MS more tolerable by a long shot.
Somehow, I seldom manage to make my point. Well-intentioned people continue to barrage me and other MS patients with positive thinking theories, not realizing the burden they place on us. Are we to feel responsible for our bad days... for our relapses? Is this thing called MS merely a state of mind? Must we be riddled with thoughts of guilt and inadequacy in addition to MS? I think not.
Whenever I make such statements on line, I am invariably flooded with emails from “I feel sorry for you” types who have all the answers wrapped up in a neat little package of positive thinking remedies. They're usually selling something that will help me along on the path to getting my mind right.
I was recently thumbing through Randy Pausch's The Last Lecture when I came across a chapter that expressed exactly the point that I've been trying to get across.
“Herbert Zeh, my surgeon in Pittsburgh, says he worries about patients who are inappropriately optimistic or ill-informed. At the same time, he is upset when patients are told by friends and acquaintances that they have to be optimistic or their treatments won't work. It pains him to see patients who are having a tough day healthwise and assume it's because they weren't positive enough... Dr. Zeh calls me his poster boy for 'the healthy balance between optimism and realism.'” - Excerpt from The Last Lecture, by Randy Pausch with Jeffrey Zaslow.
There it is in black and white -- chapter 57. A balance between optimism and realism. That's exactly the point I've been trying to make. The point that all people living with chronic illness must take to heart. We can have a positive attitude and, in fact, we must if we are to continue to really live with our enemy. But it's okay to be a realist, too. Realism allows us to accept certain truths or inevitabilities, as the case may be, and it's healthy to do so. Guilt has no place here.
I once wrote a post in which I called myself The Pessimistic Optimist, but perhaps The Optimistic Realist is a better fit.
Published On: December 07, 2008