Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Side-stepping my transplant story again for a minute, I had an interesting chat which prompted me to write the following. These are just my thoughts on the matter; I would be interested in other people’s opinions too (my guestbook on the right hand side allows private comments if you would rather your opinions not be public).

Concerned for a mutual friend who is struggling at the moment both physically and mentally (I am sure they will know who they are when reading this) I was discussing having a positive attitude with a friend. When trying to convey how I felt that their perspective needed changing, my friend replied “some people just don’t have the same outlook, and you can’t change that”. For some reason that took me by surprise, and this isn’t the first time I have come across this mental block of mine. I wrote about it in an old blog; is positive mental attitude inherent or is it something you can create? This is where I personally believe perspective is a big factor here; where it depends on the angle you are coming from as to what you see, although whether one gets to choose that angle or not is another matter.

It is hard for me to understand. Mind you no harder than it ever is to try and comprehend someone else’s feelings, to try and put yourself in their shoes. A certain amount of my positivity is surely genetic (anyone who has met my mother will know what I am talking about) therefore I am lucky that I often automatically see humour or something good about a situation. But at other times I really have to try to find that rainbow, the same as anyone else.

I have certain beliefs on the whole matter; I honestly truly think that my attempts to stay focused on the good things present in my life helped me get as far as I did.
My theory of how I survived is that I was so desperate to live it gave me the drive to overcome the impossible. Now I know all to well that isn’t always enough, I have seen many extremely determined people loose their battle, but my point is without that drive I think you stand much less of a chance at triumphing against the odds. It is damn hard work at times. I cried, I sulked, I pouted, just like anyone else would when facing adversity. But after a good toys-out-of-the-pram style tantrum, I would try and find something to focus on that was positive. It’s hard to find sometimes, one time as blogged here, it was A who had to point out to me surely there was a key positive point I was missing and that was “I’m still here”.

One of the best tips I was given was from a friend who is now 3 years post transplant, and he said he would look in the mirror and smile and laugh. On my darkest days I would go to the mirror face it and pull a large (fake) grin. I would also stare myself straight in the eye and say “I will do this. I will get my transplant”. I did this at the times when what I actually believed was that I would never get there, almost as an attempt to talk myself out of those feelings I suppose.

The reason I desperately searched for positives to clutch on to is I believe if you stop finding things to love about life, surely you will lose the drive and forget what you are fighting for? It’s easier to fight for something you are clinging on to than to fight for something unattainable, predominantly because we don’t know what is round the corner but we know what we have today. For those who are still waiting, don’t lose that spark, that passion for life, it may be tough and it may be vastly restricted but whilst you are alive you are living and there is hope, no matter how dark it gets.

My motto is “this is my life and I choose to love it” for a reason – I had decided that no matter what happens, transplant or no transplant, I was going to enjoy my life as much as I could because I couldn’t change the hand I was dealt and you only get one chance therefore best to make the most of it.

I hope this late night ramble makes some sense (it’s a tad disjointed and waffley, sorry about that) and that no one takes it personally, it isn’t a slight on anyone else’s behaviour or opinions, merely my attempt to shine light on how my little brain works (or attempts to work).


fairenuff said...

I totally understand what you are saying. My daughter needs a liver transplant (isnt listed yet) and people always comment on how hard life must be. All the medications (16 per day, all timed to fit in with when they work best) and blood tests and injections every 3 weeks. Plus many layers of her life are affected, emotionally, socially and physically. But I have never been happier and you would struggle to find a happier child. We could look at it as a terrible thing thats unfair and go through life feeling we have been dealt an awful hand or we could (as we do) appreciate every day we have as a family and try to fill each and every day with laughter and something new.
However, as you state, everyone is different. I have family members who cant deal with Bethany's illness and behave as if everything is unfair. I am sure no one would chose to feel this way and sometimes its in the genetic make up and the way life has treated that person before the challenge of illness comes along. So, the fact that I try to be positive doesnt mean that I think other should 'pull themselves together', it means that I appreciate all that I have and feel very lucky to be able to be positive as its not something that is automatic.
Sorry for the ramble but its a subject close to my heart!

Anonymous said...

Couldn't get onto your guestbook, so going to keep this one anonymous. Not for any reason other than personal privacy.

For me, postitive thinking is a tool that was (almost literally) drummed into my disposition and enabled the direction of my life to be turned around.
As a child I was placed into local authority care, and lived in several childrens and foster home placements. During my teens I became increasingly suicidal and self destructive. Looking back this was largely down to past sexual abuse and not being able to deal with the feelings surrounding it.
I was anything but positive. But hours, weeks and years of continual support and therapy between the ages of 13-16 seemed to train my brain to look at the positives. it was a long process. But it's stuck. I can honestly say now that at the age of 32, the positive view is the one I always swing back to.
I guess that what i'm saying is that for me this was a learned behaviour, and not genetic. Having similar discussions to that which you've blogged about has led me to feel that maybe not everyone is able to make that first step and look and the good when all around feels bleak. Or maybe some people don't know how to take that step. but it's making that step that crucial. Taking some kind of responsibility for our own feelings and outlook certainly isn't easy. And I know my situation and awakening into positivity is very different from yours. But maybe the fundamental principals are similar?

Anonymous said...

What an interesting girl you are.
Having 3 children who vary greatly in their "natural" level of positivity, despite having had more or less the same upbringing, I'm sure that there's a level of genetic lottery which goes a long way to determining your ability to see the silver linings. However, I do think that you can learn to be more positive if the important people around you are consistently giving you positive messages. I tend to be a worrier although, paradoxically, I also tend to see the upside of situations. I find little mantras like your "This is my life and I choose to love it" really useful in helping me to move past the things which don't really matter. You see, we're learning all the time! Remember too that for some people, "visiting" the negative can be a protective mechanism - a way of feeling "Well, now I know the bad bits so I'm more prepared to deal with them".
Knowing your Mum, knowing her extraordinary zest, I can tell you what I am sure you have already realised by now...she is, fabulously, not normal! I would guess that a combination of genes and upbringing have given you your wonderful ability to see the positive, silly, glorious side of life. And the great thing is that it's infectious!

Jac said...

I think a leaning towards 'half glass full' attitude is a combination of inherited personality traits and learned behaviours from those around us. I also think it's possible to change the way you think at any stage in life, but its a lot harder if its not a natural instinct.

That being said, I recently wrote a post on my blog about 'happiness' and the fact that we should not be expected to feel happy all the time, and we should never feel like a failure if we don't. In order to experience life fully, I think we have to accept the comings and goings of a whole range of emotions and learn to just ride them out.

However, the danger comes when we become stuck in an emotion that is unhelpful and damaging to us (mentally or physically). I think at this point you no longer can just accept the emotion, but have to challenge it. Turn the situation on its head, look at it upside down - just try to see things in another light. It may be near impossible at times to see a silver lining in the in current situation, and in many ways maybe we shouldn't expect people to. What I think is more important for wellbeing is to never lose hope that tomorrow might be better, and that the darkness of today may eventually lift.

My mum always says "when there is life, there is hope" and I try to remember that.

Good blog Em
Love Jac xxx

Anonymous said...

It is wonderful to see you blogging again on a regular basis and waxing philosophical yet again.

My personal view on the whole positive thinking is that the way we think is in part determined by our upbringing and in part due to our nature (we water signs are very imaginative and therefore prone to see the worst case scenarios). My own family were adorable but had a very negative leaning so I grew up always seeing the bad side of things. As a result, for years everything I did seemed to turn out wrong, I suffered dreadful migraines, my romances never worked out, I was always hard up and was generally a miserable little so-and-so up to about 20 years ago. Since then, I copped on and I have proven to myself and others beyond a shadow of doubt that by changing our mindset we change our lives - the law of cause and effect. And this works for all of us without exception. The problem with lots of people who think they are positive is that deep in their minds a little voice is saying that really, it's not true, I won't get better, I won't meet the right person, I won't have enough money, whatever. And it is essential that we work on that basic thinking. The only way (and it is amazingly simple) is repetition - always repeat "it's great that I am in perfect health" or "I am so happy to have all the money I need" or whatever. Every time a negative thought pops up to counteract our statement (and this invariably happens and is reason versus imagination) we need to squash it without scruple and superimpose our positive statement. Believe me, this works for everyone and in every aspect of life. I would not stress it so strongly were I not 100% sure of the truth of it. Practice is the key. And family members and friends can also work with us on this. The fact is that we humans are more inter dependant than we realise and we can constantly help one another out.

So, Emily, you got yourself better - despite the enormous odds against you - because you never accepted that you would not get better and you clung on to your will to live. May all those out there waiting for transplants or suffering from ill health find courage from your experience and have full, healthy and happy lives from now on. Go for it, all of you, you can and will do it.

cheers, J.

Nicola said...

I would say I have been brought up to be a positive person.In a way alot of it is probably down to my CF,but I remember being very depressed for many years,always thinking that there was no light at the end of the tunnel.It becomes a vicious circle,the more you feel there is no hope,the worse you feel and vice versa.I remember exactly when my perspective began to change,and that was when I realised that if other people can face the same adversities as myself and come through the other end,then so can I.
I now really truly believe that my health has improved dramatically,ever since I changed my outlook on life.I'm not saying that this person will be dramatically better if they suddenly become more positive,because it's obviously their poor health which is making them feel like this.However,I do think it is important to have hope,because if you don't have hope,what do you have.
For me,when things get tough I like to tell myself that I have a wonderful family,wonderful friends,a gorgeous wee doggy who all love me very,very much.It's also a beautiful sunny day,the birds are singing and when the day comes for me to get new lungs,it will make it a hundred times better than it is today,so right now I can deal with what has been thrown at me.
This may not work everyday,but it usually does enough to get me out of a dark place.

Anonymous said...

I have always been a natural born worrier, and I think it was inbred from my Mother, but as someone else has already said it is a learned quality to see the positive side of life, yourself being one of the many tools (and I'm not saying that you are a tool) that has helped me to be the positive reasurring person I am to help Grace achieve the very place that you are at.

What you have is a wonderful quality and I would like to thank you for showing me the way towards it, so that hopefully I can take Grace there.

Much love MoO xxxx

Anonymous said...

I also struggle to understand this. I am a true believer in every individual making their life what it is. If you sit around moping, nothing positive is likely to happen! If you want to make changes, you must get the wheels in motion. I also think there is a certain amount of fate in this world, but if you really want something, you must fight to try and achieve it. Whether this be to literally survive as you did, or to pass exams, make friends, get a better job, live healthier etc. I hope I am making sense. There are indeed times when I feel so fed up (when in fact that is very selfish of me) - I sulk for a while and then give myself a huge kick and remind myself that if I am fed up about something - ie. am not happy with how something is, then do something about it. Even if you dont succeed, at least you have tried your best and can be satisfied with that.

Lorraine said...

I have to agree that a positive outlook is gained from the people around you - basically your close family. If they are all "doom and gloom" and totally pessimistic, then your going to feel the same. (like my mother-in-law!).
My dad's mother died when he was 2 and he never knew his dad - he grew up with his grandma who died when he was 14 so he went into the Army and later met my mum. Wouldn't you think he'd view life through frosted glasses then? Nope! He is the most optimistic person I know and never lets me forgot it. He draws strength from his family - especially his grandson's. He's always told me that life is what you make it - your life is planned out the minute you are born and there's nothing we can do about it. So after all that waffle, I do believe a positive attitude is inherent. Your friend needs to spend more time with your mother - she wouldn't stand a chance of being gloomy! xx for you and xx for your friend

Anonymous said...

Would just like to say I never really post messages on your sight emily but I have read your blog religiously especially whilst you had the transplant. You are an amazing woman and such a fighter. Having gone through a liver transplant (11 years ago) myself I have been a fighter who has always looked on everything in a positive way.
I always get pitiful looks and comments from people when they find out I have had a transplant. One of the most popular comments being 'oh no are you okay now' or 'oh my goodness how have you coped'. My response 'i had too, I had a choice fight it or give up'. My family and friends find it hard to believe how I bounced back mentally from my transplant but that is the person I am always looking on the bright side and will fight for life. I think my positive attitude is built in me but some of it is learnt behaviour from my parents. They taught me as a child to always look on the positive side. I am also a great believer of things happen to different people for reasons. I sometimes think maybe I became ill because somebody up there believed I was strong enough to come (fight) through it.
I do also believe that we are all different and that others may struggle to come through what I have. I have a couple of friends who have had transplants that almost wish they had not gone through with them and given up because they still cannot deal with things emotionally. I do think that my positivity has helped some of my friends because when talking some of my positive comments and thoughts help them look at things in a different light.

Well hope you continue to feel better each day, I am sure you will. I can remember back 11 years ago, as every month goes by you can't believe how much better you feel. Now 11 years on I feel great!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Becky Symonds (Liver TX 1996)

Anonymous said...

Hi Em,
As a Human Sciences student it is my job to say that positive/negative mental attitude is one of those things that fits very nicely into the nature-nurture debate! It is very difficult to pull the two apart, as for people who live with and were brought up by their biological parents may either inherit a particular disposition or learn it from their parents. How can you tell which is which? There is certainly a role played by genetics otherwise the majority of siblings who are brought up together would be identical in their outlook, and this is definitely not the case in many families! So I'd have to say that both genes and envirorment/learning are involved and are important.
However, there is also another point to consider: many people do reach a certain point in life or suffer a particular event/trauma and make the decision to be more positive in the future, however pesimistic they may have been before (learnt or inherited). But there are also those people who suffer a similar thing and simply give up, often playing the "it's not fair" card. Although you are obviously surrounded by wonderfully positive people and are naturally an optimistic person there are many points at which you could have simply said "enough's enough, I'm too tired to fight anymore" or "why is this happening to me? life's so unfair" and just curled up somewhere. But you don't do that - you're an incredibly strong person. And of course that's not always enough when dealing with physical illness, as you said, but I think it's an advantage. Unfortunately some people don't have your drive or your spirit and are less willing to carry on fighting. I seem to be waffling now and I'm not entirely sure where I'm headed with this so it's probably best to stop! Hope it all makes sense...!
Love always, Kat xxx

Anonymous said...

I don't know Em, I always grew up thinking that I was 'lucky' beacause things could have been far worse. I suppose that is quite a healthy attitude to have at a such a young age and it has stayed with me all these years. While some people may ask 'why me', I usually say 'why not'?
Your positive attitide and sheer determination have most definitely got you where you are now. And I am sure that a lot of it comes down to genes. Luckily, where a lot of us CFer's got the faulty gene - many of us semmed to get a good gene that helps us laugh and cope and stay positive. It really does seem to ring true for many pwcf.
Your attitude has been the most incredible I have ever encountered though. You managed to stay strong and focused during the toughest times imaginable. It's been so insperational to me!
Audrey xx

Anonymous said...

Emily, we have discussed this very topic many times via email and you know what I think about positivity. For most of my teenage years I had no choice but to live with my dad and his crazy wife and my health took a nose dive as a result. She has the worst attitude to life and I was very susceptible to her negativity and her desire to keep me the ill child that she worked so hard to keep well.

When I got out of this situation and left my health suddenly changed. I put on weight, I had more energy, I felt better. I was surrounded not only by positive people, but by people who had their own plights in life and managed to remain positive throughout.

This gave me a massive interest in what makes people tick. The fact of the matter is positive thinking has such a massive impact on how we live our lives, so much so it can be the difference between life and death.

We act within the truth as we believe it. In other words if you believe something enough it will come true to a certain extent. This can be a positive thought or a negative thought. If you believe you are fat then you will eat cake. If you believe you are ill you will act ill. If you believe you will lose weight and can be thin, you will have salad instead of a pie for tea. If you believe you are well, then you can achieve all the things a well person does. It’s about changing the picture inside your head to get what you want in life.

The other major factor in thinking positively is taking responsibility for your actions and being prepared to face the consequences of every action you take. ‘I have no choice’ is something we all hear all the time. There is always a choice! ‘I have to pay my bills’ – you don’t have to, just be prepared for the bailiffs giving you a visit. ‘I have to take my medication’ – you don’t have to, just be prepared to risk getting sick if you don’t. Instead, we should all say I want to….It’s much more positive. I want to stop smoking, I want to loose weight, I want to run a marathon. Take responsibility!

The only certainties in life are death, and taking up space. Everything else is up to us.

Anonymous said...

Hey!! Am I on glue or do I recognise some of MY words in your philosophy??! Way to credit me Em!

If that wasnt such a well written piece of introspection I would consider legal action :P

Love you x

Anonymous said...

Ps. I don't believe anyone is 'naturally' ie biologically more positive-thinking, but I do believe your experiences, upbringing and personal beliefs about fate, faith or freak injustice affect that part of you.

Our family has always been very positive and philosophical about the unfairness of CF, but you only have to look around you to see someone with a more complex or unjust issue, particularly when it comes to health. I definitely had moments where the rage would take over and I wouldnt be able to comprehend WHY Emily had declined so quickly, and why CF seems such a lottery, but then I'd think about where we would have been had it been 40 years ago, with no scope for transplant or the wonderful drugs and therapies available now.

I also think you cannot see your burdens or joys as simply health-related. For me (and I'm sure Em feels the same), the fact that we have such a solid, close family who we WANT to spend time with was so valuable, whatever else was happening, and we're so lucky in every other aspect of life. If you're fighting so hard to keep your life, it must be because it's something worth holding on to... and that's defined and shaped by the people around you, how much you want to do in life and what you are doing right now, regardless of the injustices you encounter.

And that for me is the root of the Thackray positivity :)

Anonymous said...

I have to say that I believe staying positive makes you feel a bit better, and if you sit around and mope feeling sorry for yourself you are far more likely to feel worse and maybe even let cf get the better of you... Im need a lung transplant but still not yet been listed, but Im not gonna let it run my life, I dont let it stop me doing anything I enjoy and infact since being told I need a transplant over a year ago it has made me more determined to go out there and enjoy myself, I regulary go to gigs as it takes me away from the cf world and makes me feel the same as everyone else...
Of course when ou not feeling great then you do sit and wonder why me? Why should I suffer at such a young age but you have to look forward and see what else you have in your life, be it good family , friends love for music etc.. As I book a lot of gigs a always have something to look forward to..
Im not sure if positivety is inherited as my sister wasnt sucha positive person and I dont think I was until a few years ago... My mum stays positive about my cf but not much else..But I do believe you can become more positive and its the best way to be.. As you enjoy your life alot more...
xx Sandy xx

Anonymous said...

what a lot of interesting replies Emily - you certainly are thought-provoking.The general consensus seems to be that the positive people win out in the end (and you have certainly proven this to us all).

Great note Lucy - another journalist or writer in the making.

Sandy, hope you get some really good news soon.
hugs, J.

Anonymous said...

Was it your sister Lucy who actually wrote this Emily??? Lol!

2cents au moi: Everyone has the ability to be positive, but sometimes the support in one's enviroment is crucial to whether that ability succeeds. ;-)

Anonymous said...

I def believe that if you're positive in enjoy life more. I'm a mum to a 6yr old girl who is now understanding more what CF means. We bring her up with a very positive attitude and do NOT let CF get in our way though we do not miss any of her physio, nebuliser or other staff. We are very dedicated but we live life day by day and to the fullest and most prob knowing that a cure is just round the corner, is being positive but it helps. On the contrary, instead of sitting down and crying cause our only daughter has CF, i have put in all my energy into fundraising and have raised GBP74.000 from our tiny island of Malta, and knowing that we're doing something good that we will all hopefully benefit from helps too. My motto is ONE LIFE LIVE IT UP, nothings going to change if we just sit and cry about negative things...mind you, I do get my bad days of course and then a good cry helps me get it out of my system and i believe that by us being positive about CF, we will pass on our positiveness to my daughter.

God Bless you Emily. You are such a wonderful person even though i dont know you but i'm sure you're passing on your positiveness to alot of people. Keep up the good work and hope to meet you one day.


Josette Falzon

Anonymous said...

My mother died from lung disease in 2005. For five months before her death she was in hospital and underwent various treatments, some appeared to work and then, the day before she was due to be sent home, there were complications. She was critically ill at times, we got the call on two occasions to say come to the hospital as soon as you can. All this time Mum's focus was on getting home. Eventually she did, albeit with carers 4 times a day. As soon as Mum got home it was as if she had achieved her goal, she then seemed to accept she wasn't going to be as she was before and died three weeks later. I firmly believe that Mum was totally focused on getting home and once she had achieved that then nothing else mattered. Had she not had this focus she would have given up long before.
God bless you Emily, you have touched more people's lives than you will ever imagine, people at work read your blog and I know some have registered as donors.

Anonymous said...

There is definitely a lot to be said for making positive choices in your life, taking charge of what you can change and not getting hung up on what you have no control over. I have long lived by the "don't sweat the small stuff" and "what's the worst that can happen" ethos but often have friends coming to me who can't grasp this for themselves and have given up on situations, citing unfairness and bad luck. Choose pink and sparkliness!

Anonymous said...

emily i've had contact with you a few times since losing my brother top a brain tumour last august and am still finding his loss hard to bear in fact i'd say i've been in a rutt lately and my performance at work has been affected to the point where theyve asked me to reduce my hours to assist with my stress levels i agreed to a 20% reduction in my hours today as i wqant to perform to the best of my ability i've always been a determined little bugger my self ( 6 x driving tests) and your essay has reminded me i can be again - i want my post transplant patients to look at me as the good nurse i can and will be rather than the nervous and paranoid person i have been the last few months whilst dealing with my greif -
Thank you for making my day xxxx

Anonymous said...

just a quick post to wish everyone a great weekend. Emily, don't spend too much time in front of your screen, get out there in the fresh air and ENJOY.

Congrats again on this fabulous blog. I very much suspect that - generous of heart that you are - this is a way you have found to pass on your positive attitude to those still waiting. I can feel how much you worry about them, as we all do. I would definitely advocate the looking in the mirror and saying "I can do this. I will get my transplant". Probably the most important yet misunderstood phrase in the English language is "make up your mind". It says it all so just repeat, repeat, repeat these positive statements until they sink it. It really is the key. Very very difficult when things look bad but worth the effort and courage as you found.

Have fun everyone.
best, J.

Anonymous said...


I'm so glad that you got your transplant. I fell across you're here's giving site when you done the Emily's Angels and I found your blog yesterday.

I attended a CF fundraising event because you inspired me to help other brave people like yourself.

I've always thought that I would not donate my organs but if it can offer someone like you the chance at a full and happy life I think it is well worth while.

You are truly a brave girl who, even though you has been thru so much, has managed to keep your personality and your zest for life.

Anonymous said...

Hi Em, well since reading this I have been thinking about why own views on this matter. I hope that your friend is feeling a little better - I am sure that with you around many people could not help but be infected by your love for life

Here is my own little ramble....

Life is too short - that is my philosophy on life.

I have suffered from chronic asthma all my life and I have not let it stop me from getting on and achieving what i want. I truly believe that positivity is partly in our personality and therefore inborn, but there is also a significant part to be played by the attitude of those about you.

Many doctors have commented on how i have managed to stay cheerful despite the obstacles that i have faced, my answer well you can't spend your life crying. I would rather put the energy into finding ways around those obstacles.

Don't get me wrong I have sulked, thrown teddies out of my pram and generally stomped at the unfairness. But what does it achieve - absolutely nothing apart from giving you the kick up the backside to remind you that there is always somebody worse off . As my mother says worse things happen at sea, you could be drowning.

It is not easy to remain positive in the face of adversity and there is nothing wrong with people having days when they are down and things look hopeless. You just have to remind yourself that you have survived another day and there is another day tomorrow and who knows what it will bring.

I am quite prepared for my asthma to kill me but I am not going to go lying down - i will fight while there is breath in my lungs!

There are days when the endless routine of drugs, nebulisers etc gets tedious and boring and I just want to be 'normal' but would that change the person that I am. I believe that the illness has given me inner strength to tackle most things that are thrown at me.

well that is my opinion.

Emmie said...

OK, I have loads of thoughts on this, but I’ll try to get them down as succinctly as possible so I don’t write an essay! I do agree that perspective is the crucial factor in how we see life, but I don’t believe that everyone, at all times of their life, has the luxury of being able to “just see the positive”, or that they should feel guilty or a failure if they are unable to do so at that time

Sometimes people can be helped by being shown how to think differently about things and being encouraged to adopt a more positive attitude, to focus more on the positive things in their life. Sometimes people need to be shown that by focussing on the negative they are making themselves unhappy. Sometimes being given a bit of a push to change “stuck” ways of thinking can make a real difference to people. In some cases people do need a bit of a kick for their own good! However to think that this is a simple solution for every case of mental distress is misguided in my opinion.

Millions of self-help books are written by people who believe that because they have overcome their problems by adopting certain strategies, then everyone else can do the same. In doing this they overlook the fact that everyone is individual, that one size doesn’t necessarily fit all, and that the way they can do things is not always they same as the way others can do things. I think there is a tendancy for people who are very mentally strong (and this isn’t directed at you personally!) to misunderstand people who are struggling psychologically and to feel that rather than sympathy they need to “stop sitting around moping and pull themselves together

I tend to think of there being three types of psychological state in which a person can be at any one time. If we are in the first level we feel mentally strong and our minds are very flexible. Like a green twig we can adapt and bend when hit by problems. We can search round them and find a way through. We can turn our perspective around with effort and search for the light at the end of the tunnel and a solution to our difficulties largely by ourselves.

Then there is a second level we can find ourselves in where we are temporarily stuck in feeling unhappy or unable to cope, but where with a combination of encouragement, learning new techniques and gradual working through of our problems, we can adapt our thinking to bring us back out on top again.

Then there is a third level and this is more in the realm of serious inability to cope, to function, to feel any happiness, or to feel even able to get through one day, where the world is bleak and you would rather not be in it at all. It’s the realm of mental illness and breakdown, alcoholism, drug addidction, schizophrenia, eating disorders. At this level, telling someone to “just snap out of it” is actually cruel because it isolates the person even more by withdrawing love, compassion and a willingness to understand. At this level people need lengthy and ongoing support, help, friendship and caring before they can even reach the stage of being able to consider trying to change their thinking. At this point trying to look at a problem differently may be virtually impossible for them, although this can certainly change given time.

Everyone views life through an individual set of eyes. Behind those eyes is a mind which is evaluating and perceiving everything around the person, and then interpreting it. Many things contribute to our mental processing and abilities. There may be an element of genetics (e.g. some people are highly emotionally sensitive which may make them more vunerable; illnesses like schizophrenia and bipolar disorder appear to have a genetic link, etc) but more importantly is the huge issue of nurture…or lack of it.

A child who is wanted, cared about, loved and supported, who is shown heaps of affection and is surrounded by friends is likely to encounter the world as a fun, positive place throughout their formative years and is likely to end up mentally stronger and more of a “green twig” than a child who is unwanted, mistreated, lonely and whose experiences of the world are as an unhappy, hostile and lonely place. I say “likely” because there are always exceptions to this, but I do think it relevant in the majority of cases.

I’m not by any means saying that people who can’t cope with life are simply in a hopeless situation which can never be improved – far from it. We are all constantly learning and adapting to our individual lives and experiences and our perceptions of things can vary dramatically from day to day. Sometimes this happens naturally as we learn to cope with situations, sometimes it needs others to show us a different way of thinking. But it’s important to understand that these things – for some – may take supreme amounts of efforts and struggle over many years to achieve and is not as simple as “just looking on the positive” or “counting your blessings”. These people deserve love, patience and understanding as well as gentle encouragement to change in small steps and at a pace they can cope with. What may take one person a day or two to resolve and work around, may take someone from a different background and of a different make-up, many years.

Back to you though Emily – I truly believe that you are still here today because of your passionate love of life, your utter determination to fight for it, and your strong mental and emotional abilities. Whether these are a result of your childhood experiences, your support network, or are simply an intrinsic part of the person you are, they are true treasures and more valuable in life than any amount of wealth ever could be. They have seen you through huge hurdles in your life and I’m sure they will continue to do so. Enjoy them!!! Xxxxx

P.S. So much for not writing an essay eh?!!

Anonymous said...

Well Emily have to say after reading your message etc made me think about what to write thoughts etc.Being a mum to 3 teen daughters makes me feel soo gifted etc. My oldest Rach has had such a difficuilt few years and most of teh time we have tried to be positive although have to admit at times have felt so overwhelmed with grief and dispair too. If I knew before what the last few years entailed I wouldn't have know if we woulv all got thorough the rollercaster ride in 1 piece etc..We had hope for Rach needing a transplant although watched every1 aroudnd us reciving such a special 'gift' almost felt gutted that Rach wasn't well enough for the chance etc. However finally after 2yrs waiting to become well enough she was activated on transplant list and recieved such a wondeful gift' 18mnths later. We had lived in such hope which finally came and has made such a difference to all our lives.

I think this passage in our lives has actually brought our family closer together. In return we try and be poositive and promote organ donation for others' like yourself Emily and your friends' too hoping they may 1 day also be given the chance of 'gift of life.

Emily You & Emma are truly an inspiration and give hope to others' through such hard work dedication and above all determination to continue your support and life experience to others' in similar situations.

Although you too have has such a rollercoaster ride of life you have come through it all with help of family friends Drs Nurses etc -positivity glowing & still fighting for others' too........

Take care best wishes Elaine x

Anonymous said...

Heck this must go down in blogger history for being one of the most intellectual discussions ever!

Well, i think my views are as follows:
Positivity really isn't for me. Survival instinct, yes. Let me take you back to one incident i remember very clearly, my one and only encounter with social services. i had been told that there was absolutely nothing they could do to enable me to continue living in the area, where my friends and school were. In the car on the way home, my aunty said to me "You've just got to think positiively" I could have honestly slapped her, i don't think i've ever felt less positive in my life, i had already had a few dissapointments about having somewhere to live and was certain that i would have to move to say with relatives over 300 miles away.

When i got the offer of living where i do now, exactly where i wanted to be, i am dreadfully ashamed to say that this did not cause a sudden rush of positive thinkineg; i did not see that everything would turn out okay in the end. I was very scared but my survuval instinct kicked in and i made the best of the situation, and it has turned out to be perfect in every possible way.

In retrospect, i can see that for most people, things normally do turn out okay in the end. I am not naturally a particularly loud, happy kind of person who shouts about how wonderful life is from every available rooftop. I know many people who are, and thats great most of the time, it's just not me. Having said that, i deffinitely have up and down patches as i'm sure everyone does, and i'd much rather feel have all the downs because the ups are so fantastic. However when i'm not feeling 100%, my thought isn't "lets think about all the great things i have going for me" but "I'll get through this because theres no other choice."

Maybe survival instinct and positivity are the same thing after all? My glass is half empty, but perhaps that means nothing in reality. And where does realism fit into this optimsism/pessimism balance? I think one reason a lot of people don't talk about positivity as a way of dealing with something is because they they are afraid of finding out they are a negative person.

In actual fact, i don't think there is any such thing as a positive or nebative person, i think it comes down to every little decision we make. I can view the fact that i need to put my glasses on as really annoying, because it means going downstairs to get them or great, becuase i won't have to squint at the screen quite any more. Whichever view i take doesn't ultimately matter as long as i go and get them. I will survive, it's just about how much i enjoy doing it.

F xxx

Anonymous said...

I suffer from clinical depression. I have been here once before, when I was 22. Today, with a seriously ill parent, stresses at work and home and a failing relationship, it was actually your blog that was the catalyst to me taking action – to ‘love the life you live’.

I come from a (privileged!) family whose glass was always half-empty. I know this rubbed off on me and in the past I have blamed my depression as a reason not to try to fight my way out of a situation. After all, I am depressed – it’s a clinical fact! –what can I do?

The irony is, I have always been a very rational person with my friends’ problems. It sounds deceptively simple, but now I just talk to myself as I would to my friends in the same boat. This time, although I have felt myself sinking again, I have chosen to act on it and fight back. It’s ridiculously hard (believe me!) and I may be making more mistakes along the way, but although the world’s problems are not solved, I am not facing them alone, and refuse to lose my 25th year the way I did my 22nd. I run some of my thoughts and ideas past close friends but I can make judgements myself once I have heard them in the open air. And life is better.

You are right: it is not about the cards you are dealt, it is about how you choose to react to them. When days get tough I remember that I am alive and that God does perform miracles sometimes… with the help of people. You are proof. I even try to look back on my 22nd year as a lesson, as opposed to a regret – a bit like a dodgy ex-boyfriend: frustrating but you learn from it.

You can suffer from depression and still be a positive person!

So Emily, thank you for the inspiration and also thank you Emmie for your words on the subject too. You are both legends.