The Good Old Positive Mental Attitude

I’m not sure if I’m the only one with a long-term chronic condition that feels the way I do. Am I the only one feeling rather fed up with the PMA (Positive Mental Attitude) brigade? Feeling exasperated at the suggestion I should just smile, suck it up and think positive. Am I alone in having days where I want nothing more than to punch the PMA Fairy in the face? Okay, I don’t do violence, but you get the drift…

To me, having a ‘PMA” is the willingness to push through the pain and malfunction in order to get up, wash, eat and speak. Anything else at the moment is a bonus. PMA is pushing on, doing my physio and just doing the best I can which rarely feels like enough as I so love to self-flagellate. Everyone copes differently of course and I’d never denigrate someone for finding a focus or a strategy that works for them, however I do get offended when it gets rammed down my throat as ‘the way to go’. If I politely refuse, it’s clearly because my attitude isn’t positive enough, not because I barely have the energy to lift my head off the pillow.

Of course I still long to dance through the hills and valleys of life, seizing opportunities and living life to the full but my body is currently having none of it. Yet, does this mean I don’t have a PMA? To me, still being here, still engaging with life and still having belief are what a PMA is really about. I haven’t given up but to some, maybe such an attitude is simply too flaccid and not nauseatingly chipper enough? If there was an injection that would take away my pain, don’t you think I’d have it? If there was a cure, don’t you think I’d search heaven and earth to find it?

In truth, I’m still coming to terms with being me. Pain and debilitating fatigue are constants for me but they have been for years, well, decades. It’s everything else I struggle with: the bodily dysfunction, the autonomic dysfunction, the falls, the dislocating joints, the visual problems and the misfiring nerves. I wouldn’t wish me on anyone, yet I’m not alone, I’m not the only one struggling. However, despite my life being rather challenging at times, I remain optimistic and I don’t feel like a victim. However, I’m not joyfully dancing in the meadows of loving the life I have (but fair play to anyone who can do that), I prefer reality and whilst it’s hard to live without rose-tinted glasses, it works for me.

The world is full of judgemental people, it’s also full of people who think they know better with a good smattering of idiots. Of course, there are plenty of other people as well but it’s these groups of people who always seem to have an opinion about ill-health and disability.

Last night I reached a painful and deep crevice in my pain. As with many others with long term health problems, I suffer with low mood (okay, severe depression). It ebbs and flows, and these days it’s mainly in the background. However, I have moments of implosion where it all feels too much, the shutters fall and my emotional pain consumes me. It had, admittedly, been a stressful week but the final push was yet another fall and I felt the bottom drop out from my world. My PMA left the building for a while and I began to deeply question my attitude towards myself. Self-questioning during moments of intense fragility are rarely a good idea for me. My self-questioning ripped open my heart and a tsunami of pain swept out. This is the pain I stoically hide inside most days as I try to smile and put on a brave face – also known as my PMA. Obviously, it’s not a particularly good long-term strategy but it keeps me going from day to day.

In the depths of my pain, I turned to it and breathed it in. I don’t resist my pain these days as it’s a part of me, but the grief, loss and anger were intoxicating and overwhelming. I felt no sense of life in me, I didn’t want to take another breath or greet another day. I felt broken beyond repair and allowing this wave of emotion out allowed me to finally feel the pain and despair I’d been stowing away inside of me in connection to all the challenges I’d faced but not allowed myself to feel from now being a wheelchair user, to needing appliances for some basic bodily functions, to letting the shock out of my body from all the falls and collapses I’ve had recently which I’d smiled over and got back up again. I tried to carry on as normal, not allowing others to see how affected I was by the challenges I faced but it had reached critical mass and I broke. I let the pain out and my tears flowed free.

I didn’t fight the pain and although I’d had enough of life in that moment, I didn’t want to die. I sat with myself fully consciously in the moment, feeling the rise and fall of my breath quivering with the intensity of raw emotion. I experienced wave after wave of intense emotions from anger and rage, to grief and despair. I struggled to catch a full breath as the waves were coming in so quickly and with such force. I sunk, I rose up to the surface, I sunk and I floated, I had no foundations, no footing, nothing to grab hold of. My tears turned to heaving sobs of pure pain and, after what felt like hours, I drifted into a brief sleep. I stirred feeling raw but numb at the same time.

However, today is a new day. I feel a weight off my chest. Last night made me realise that my own ‘PMA” (someone find a better phrase, please!) are my survivalist instincts as they are the force that allow me to thrive despite the challenges I face. I’m not going to wax lyrical about ill-health, pain or disability nor will I keep my head in a cloud cuckoo land of false hopes, however, by keeping things real, I can grab back hold of life and find new ways to adapt. It’s only by grabbing hold of life that enables life to grab hold of me.

I’ve no doubt I’ll enter that pit of despair again as that’s a part of life and a part of being human, but it’s a potent reminder to me that I’m strong, that I’m not invincible (and nor should I try to be or think I need to be) and that I’m actually doing the best I can. No amount of someone else’s PMA or judgement will change that…