I have been hearing a lot about positive thinking recently, and what’s not to like about it. Makes sense to dwell on the good instead of the negative, but man, it’s hard to do!
The reality is that most of us (or nearly all of us?) tend to live in negativity more than optimism. It’s funny though, because studies show us to have an “optimism bias”. We always think bad things will happen to the other guy, not us. So we don’t take precautions, don’t take out enough insurance, tend to think that illness or injury won’t happen to us etc.
Take me for example. I now have a nagging shoulder complaint called ‘bursitis’. It’s been coming for some time now, but I kept on thinking it was a pain that would eventually go away. In my defence I’ve had numerous pains over the years that have mysteriously arisen and just as mysteriously departed a couple of months later, so I thought this would be the same. But the thing is this – I have never entertained the notion that I would have a long lasting injury, and apparently bursitis can only be managed – it is unlikely to go away.
This infuriates me. Pain I can put up with, if I know that in a few days or a couple of weeks it will go away. Then I can just get back to doing the things I like to do – working out, boxing (not actual boxing, but boxing exercises), repairs and tasks around the house and so on. But the idea that my life is irrevocably changed (because now there are a number of things that I can’t do) does not sit well at all. Because even though the bursitis is limited to my right shoulder its amazing how many activities it affects. I’ve even noticed when playing bass it can aggravate my shoulder now.
Now I know that there are many people with debilitating injuries that simply have to cope with it and get on with their lives, some of them far, far worse than bursitis. And I know that I too, if I have to, will cope, readjust and get on with my life. But I really, really don’t want to.
I’m in a kind of denial thing. I’m not getting any younger, and have always seen myself as a bit of a maverick (an overstatement but you get the idea), doing things that many older people don’t. I play in rock bands; I push myself at gym and used to even do back to back classes just to increase my stamina. At one stage I went hiking with friends – the whole 20kg pack and 3-4 day trips (I still would, but the opportunity to do so is no longer there). I always thought to myself that I would live a full life right up to the age of 80 and beyond. That may still happen, but the spectre of bursitis looms, threatening my mobility and fitness.
Now the funny thing is, I know my future is still up to me. I know that I can adjust if I have to. And I know that my life is what I make it. I have a friend who was involved in a motorbike accident some 30 years ago, and ever since I’ve known him has had a largely non-functioning right arm. But you would never know it, the way he just gets on with living.
I’ve already modified the way I put on my shirt and how I lower myself into the bath (2 activities that bring pretty strong pain the way I used to do it). I use the computer mouse with my other hand now, I try not to drive using my right hand too much, and I suppose the list will increase as I work out how to minimise pain. Of course, I am hoping that the right mix of changes and exercises will magically cause the bursitis to disappear, or at least become so manageable that 90% of the things I want do, I can still do.
That’s my optimism bias kicking in. I want to be the one that shakes it off (some people do apparently). And in one way that’s a good thing. It’s good not to give up. But am I being optimistic, or am I refusing to admit to something that I find somewhat terrifying? Am I in denial? I can tell you right now, I don’t want to give in to it, and will spend a lot of time, effort and money trying to get it fixed. But I must not run from reality – there’s darkness that way.
I think as long as I choose to live life to the full, still in full recognition of my limitations, I will be okay. If necessary, there is life after gym, or bands, or hiking. My friend with the dsyfunctional arm has taught me that. Perhaps it’s due to the fact that most of us struggle with negativity in some form or another that I too fear a future without the things I currently enjoy. Perhaps my fear that I will “miss out” (a confession from an earlier blog) makes me scared of a future without the things I just mentioned.
I want to be real, and don’t want to finish with some saccharine positive mantra designed to placate myself and you, the reader. Nevertheless, while I will fight a fair bit yet before succumbing to my injury, I am quite convinced that there is another life I can live, different to my present one, that can still be rich in pursuits and enjoyment. I hope I have the maturity to recognise when or if the time comes to let go of some things to reach out to others.