Balancing a positive attitude with realism: CFS/Fibromyalgia (2)

Balancing a positive attitude with realism: CFS/Fibromyalgia (2)

I always like to look on the optimistic side of life,
but I am realistic enough to know that life is a complex matter.

Walt Disney

More than likely, most people living with CFS/FM would have been told somewhere along the way by well-meaning people, about the need to be positive and optimistic in order to recover. However with a debilitative and unpredictable illness, it can be extremely difficult to live day after day with a positive outlook, particularly when there may be little sign of improvement. It seems there may even be a danger of becoming too optimistic about recovery, so that when our hopes of improvement are not fulfilled, we may be left feeling depressed and in despair. It may also be the case that an overly zealous attitude may increase the risk of pushing yourself to dangerous levels of activity, so that you become more depleted afterwards.

It appears that we need to balance having a positive attitude about recovering from serious limitations, with being realistic, and what a delicate balance that can be! Without knowing precisely what my energy levels may be, I may underestimate what I am capable of, and refrain from participating in activities, and conversely, I may overestimate my capabilities and become zealous about involvement, and then pay the price afterwards! The continuing challenge is when I just don’t how much fuel is in the tank and how many miles I will get out of it.

With CFS/FM it is imperative to be realistic about what we can do, and that in fact, is being positive. Between optimism and pessimism, how do we settle on realism? Tad Dunne, in his reflections on Ignatius of Loyola, suggests that “the absolute prerequisite for realism is the habit of noticing,” and that noticing should be shaped by the context of history (T. Dunne, “Realism in Ignatius of Loyola,” Review for Religious, Sep-Oct, 1986, pp. 709-724). He further suggests that “realism is reached when I have the ability to deal with inner events as objectively as with outer events.”

Whilst Dunne’s reflections were directly related to the elements and dynamics of the spiritual life, they can help us to develop realism in managing our chronic illness (which, after all, is a spiritual journey). We can notice or observe our present physical and emotional/spiritual states in the context of the history of our illness, and then manage our capabilities accordingly. In this regard, it can be just as positive to say “no” as it is to say “yes”, but the challenge can be maintaining our self-worth and dignity rather than enter into self recrimination. Self esteem is grounded in realism, rather than the extreme ends of optimism or pessimism, and saying no may be the most positive thing that we can say at times.

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  1. Thanks Margaret. This is important information. It’s about being authentic and it’s good to be reminded of how one can still empower onesself and honour onesself within the limitations that life/we have imposed upon ourselves. I was betting that the disease manifested because you needed a break, but you knew that! Nice to see. Fighting our circumstances is a completely different ball game to accepting them. My friend was diagnosed with CFS, and he found windsurfing helped. It could have been worse 🙂 I’d love to hear if/how EFT affected the symptoms of the disease too!. Thanks again Margaret! Love Jo xx

    • Thanks Jo. I haven’t tried windsurfing! I love the way you express honouring oneself and self-empowerment, and yes, the body let me know that I needed a break. xx

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