- Just think happy thoughts
- The glass is half full, not half empty
- Change your attitude, change your life
When was the first time you heard these mantras? How often do others say derivatives of the following to you? How often do you repeat them to yourself?
Depending on the day these words may refresh you or drown you. You may cannonball into a glittering pool of half full, or you may simply feel just too heavy for the water. You may coax yourself into positive self-talk with healthy morsels of happy thoughts; some a welcome treat and others more difficult to chew. Your mind may be warm hugs and high fives, encouraging you to change your attitude. Your mind may be a violent shake, snarling at you to just get over yourself. All of these may even happen in the same day. Though positive self-talk and its well-meaning mantras are valuable, positive experiences like happiness, gratitude and optimism are not constant states of mind for most people. Sometimes there may a drought, a starvation, of encouraging thoughts, as the mind crashes with waves of frustration, disappointment, shame, or self-doubt. This is your reminder that: This is okay. It is okay not to be okay. Being patient with your mind and your body, especially in regard to the challenges of neuropathy, is vital to your mental health.
When it comes to positive, negative, and everything in between, the power of self-talk and thought is undeniable. Despite this, we need not be at war with our minds, which is a healthy step towards working through the mental challenges and stresses that neuropathy presents. We must learn how to be patient with ourselves and appreciate all emotions as valid. It is okay not to be okay! But what do we make of this new battle cry? What should we make of this when it comes to negative self-talk? We must recognize the indispensability of all thoughts, while learning not to personally identify with every single thought we have.
As humans, we spend our lives in a perpetual stream of thought. Thoughts themselves are not the issue when it comes to negativity. Even difficult thoughts are useful, from creativity and invention to musings and self-reflections. In contrast, passively identifying with thoughts purely because they are a part of the mind’s stream, is not useful. Diluting your identity with every drop of a thought, is not useful. Mindfulness combats this uselessness, returning the power of thought, to your control. You may not feel any control over your neuropathy some days, and practicing mindfulness is a useful resource for these tough days.
Observe your Thoughts
Esteemed philosopher and neuroscientist, Sam Harris, provides a valuable mindfulness exercise for self-talk and thought analysis. When experiencing difficult and stressful thoughts, recognize the emotions associated with them. Strive to observe these thoughts, rather than identifying with the experience. For example, you are angry and experiencing negative thoughts about yourself, others, and/or a situation. Pause and ask yourself:
- What truly is anger?
- Where do you feel it in your body? Where don’t you feel it?
- How is this negative feeling arising in each moment? Can anger exist without your attention, be it passive acceptance or active creation of angry thoughts?
Investigating with mindfulness often dissolves a negative state of mind, enabling an individual to play an active role in their self-talk rather than simply a passive role.
When practicing mindfulness, consider the following as possibilities for further self-understanding and reflection, as you evaluate and work on your self-talk:
- Bitterness shows you where you need to heal, where you’re still holding judgments on others and yourself. For example, when you feel bitter because neuropathy has made you unable to do certain things that you could before, work towards being patient with yourself and take time to recognize all the things you continue to thrive at.
- Resentment shows you where you’re living in the past and not allowing the present to be as it is. Resent that neuropathy is a facet of your life? Resent that other people can do certain things you can’t? Contemplate the reasons that you are grateful for the present, rather than the past. Write a thankful list when you are feeling resentful to reframe your state of mind. Reflect on if communicating certain expectations or experiences of hurt with people you may resent would be helpful to your relationships.
- Discomfort shows you that you need to pay attention right now to what is happening, because this may be an opportunity for change, to do something different than you typically do it. Recognize your discomforts to establish goals, as well as boundaries for yourself, so as to live with as much control of your neuropathy as possible.
- Anger shows you what you’re passionate about, where your boundaries are, and what you believe needs to change about the world. Anger can be a strong motivator, get out there and do something! Check out the Upcoming Events section of our website to join our community!
- Disappointment shows you that you tried for something, that you did not give in to apathy, that you still care. Decide for yourself if it is worth trying again, you may find the result is different next time.
- Guilt shows you that you’re still living life in other people’s expectations of what you should do. Feeling guilty because you can’t do what other people expect? Consider communicating with them your capabilities and limitations, so neither of you assume the worst of each other and can build relationships on mutual understanding and support.
- Shame shows you that you’re internalizing other people’s beliefs about who you should be (or who you are) and that you need to reconnect with yourself. Take pride in in the life you live! Be mindful of your challenges and successes, and recognize your strength despite neuropathy. Celebrate your wins with your home team!
- Anxiety shows you that you need to be present, that you’re stuck in the past and living in fear of the future. Be gentle with yourself. Anxiety is hard to manage in the moment if you haven’t reflected on how you will address it when it comes. Practice a lot so you are ready.
- Sadness shows you the depth of your feeling, the depth of your care for others and this world. This is a good character trait, study your sadness and what it says about you and how you’re feeling about yourself. Learn from it.
Ultimately, pay attention to your thoughts, your emotions, and your self-talk. Observe them so that the power of thought returns to you, allowing negativity to float past you in the thought stream. Do not accept all thoughts for truth. Be gentle with yourself. It is okay not to be okay!
References Harris, Sam. (2014). Waking up: A guide to spirituality without religion. New York: Simon & Schuster Paperbacks. Perez, Alyssa. (2017, February 27). ’hey, listen to your emotions…’ Retrieved from: https://stayblooming.com/2017/02/27/hey-listen-to-your-emotions/
Lisa-Marie McLennan is a University of Calgary graduate, holding her Bachelor of Arts: English Literature major & Psychology minor. Also see: https://calgaryneuropathy.com/about-us/ to learn more about Lisa Marie.