Everyone has hard times. Some people have more than others and some people are more resilient than others. I’m in awe of those who have been knocked down again and again and still rise up with strength and grace. I often wonder what their secret is. Why are they able to rise again and again when others never get back on their feet?
I can’t imagine claiming that I have the answer to making it through hard times but I’ve been resilient enough to live for 16 years with chronic illness and I do know that what we choose to focus on is one piece of the puzzle.
I woke up excited about the day. I had an unexpected day off and I was planning on taking in the pure majestic beauty of Rocky Mountain National Park while working on my black and white photography skills. Who could ask for a better day?
I was bundled up and almost ready to head out the door when the telltale signs of a migraine (signs I’ve experienced for 14 years) reared their ugly heads. My life went from amazing to miserable within ten minutes.
My mind went down the old, well-worn road of negativity. How many of you have struggled with these thoughts?
“I will always be in pain.”
“I can’t live my life like this!”
“I will never be able to live the life I want to live!”
I watched my thoughts morph from positive to negative. Like watching a train heading towards a car stuck on the tracks, I knew what would happen because I’d been through this process hundreds of times.
I had a choice to make and I didn’t like my choices. If I went down that familiar, well worn path of negativity I knew I would end up frustrated, hopeless, and sad, and the day would be ruined. Or, I could take the path that would be much more difficult in the short term but would be much better in the long term.
A couple years ago I stumbled across Positive Psychology. The Positive Psychology Center explained that “Positive Psychology is the scientific study of the strengths and virtues that enable individuals and communities to thrive. The field is founded on the belief that people want to lead meaningful and fulfilling lives, to cultivate what is best within themselves, and to enhance their experiences of love, work, and play.”
I started exploring the strategies so that I could use them with my clients then one day, when I was feeling desperate, I decided to use them on myself. I slowly started using the skills to shift my focus and little by little I learned to change my focus from the pain and disappointment and depression to small moments of joy, peace, and hope.
It’s simple, but it’s not easy to shift your focus from difficulty to gratitude. In those moments when you’re lost in negativity it can feel hopeless. It can feel like you don’t have the strength to shift your focus. But if you can gather the strength, there are always stars in the darkest of night.
That day, as the migraine started to build, I made a conscious choice to gather my strength and shift my thoughts.
“It’s such a blessing to be able to stay home and have a movie marathon.”
“I have such a comfortable bed to lay in.”
“I get to work at a place where I have paid time off.”
Acknowledging the presence of positive things in your life can be difficult to do when you feel like you’re drowning in pain but it doesn’t mean that you don’t have things to be grateful for. We live in one of the richest nations in the world and we have so much. Appreciating what we do have can lift us up if we only acknowledge it.
Many times I’ve thought about my struggles and said, “This isn’t fair!” But like my mom told me when I was a child, life isn’t fair. It’s important that we acknowledge and validate our negative feelings and painful experiences but it’s also important that we acknowledge that we can make it through this imperfect, unfair, and often painful life by choosing to focus on the amazing blessings that come along with the pain.
What we focus on is a choice. We may have to remake that choice every five seconds but it’s still a choice. Some days we don’t have enough energy to change our focus but many days we do have that energy and we can choose to focus on the positive.
That day I chose to turn towards the light and I will have to make that choice again and again, moment by moment, quite possibly for the rest of my life. Even though it’s hard work, I choose to look towards the light rather than stay stuck in the pit. I still live each day in pain but at least there’s a light at the end of the tunnel.
One light that I’m celebrating is the official opening of my health coaching practice, Thrive Wholistic Health. As part of my celebration, I’m offering free 45 minute consultations to the first five people to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or through private message at the Thrive Wholistic Health Facebook page. If you’d like help getting healthier, feeling better, or figuring out how to overcome bad habits and negative thought patterns I would love to chat with you.
Mindy Kissner, HHC, LCSW
Thrive Wholistic Health