Staying Positive In Negative Times

This article was published in Health Wisdom Magazine, October 8 2020.

The last several months have been difficult for everyone – some more than others. 

Everyone’s COVID-19 stories are different but for me, this ‘new normal’ has been very similar to my normal life. 

Having limited or no access to the things I enjoy, not being able to see loved ones, having certain privileges and freedoms taken away and even just being bored staring at the same walls of my home are all challenges that I’ve had a lot of practice dealing with over the years.

My experiences in varying states of isolation (although not identical to a global pandemic) taught me a lot about seeking the sunshine in a situation when everything around you just looks dark and overwhelmingly gloomy. 

What happened?

My medical history is rather long and something I share openly but for the purposes of keeping it succinct for this article, the short version is: 

I had a stroke when I was a fit and healthy 24 year-old. I spent over a year in hospital (the first time) and during that period, had about a dozen operations including the amputation of my leg, remaining toes and nine fingertips. These days, I always use a wheelchair to mobilise, have a permanent brain injury and am over 25% blind.

But enough about me.

How can YOU make a ‘bad’ situation feel a bit better? 

I’ve learnt a lot over the years about making the most of really rubbish situations and I’d like to share some of my lessons to help you through this difficult period. 

The isolation, the boredom, the loneliness and eve the grief. I’ve felt it all. 

But I’ve also felt incredible joy (for the simplest of pleasures that I once took for granted), gratitude for my life (even with multiple disabilities) and pride (in myself for relearning the most basic of tasks like brushing my own teeth and feeding myself). 

I know some days feel like they will take forever in isolation.

But I know you can do this.

I know you will get through this.

Believe me, humans are more resilient and able to adapt to change that we give ourselves credit for.

I wasn’t expected to live through the first night in hospital, or the second, or the third. I wasn’t expected to have this level of brain function and I certainly wasn’t expected to be writing this for you. 

If you’d told me 16 years ago that one day, I’d be insanely happy and living my best life in a wheelchair with multiple disabilities after being in a coma for 3 weeks and kept alive by machines for two months, in hospital for over a year, I’d have never believed you.

But somehow it happened and to this day I’ll never understand how. But here are some of the things I did through that first year, subsequent months and still do today, to remain positive in a negative situation.

I’ve included examples from my own life in this list but please apply it to your own personal situation where you can.

  1. Seek small or simple pleasures to bring you joy – In hospital, I savoured the very simple act of drinking a cup of coffee. Yes, it was terrible hospital coffee in a little plastic cup but once I’d learned how to hold a cup again, that simple practice was always a moment to reflect on what I was grateful for. Don’t just wait for the ‘big’ successes/events to express joy. 
  2. Surround yourself with the right sort of people (online and offline) – With social isolation, we’re not seeing other people as much as we would like. I know that feeling well. I didn’t have a smartphone during that first year but these days I know the importance of consuming the right sorts of content online. For me personally, the right sort of people are real, honest and realistic optimists like me. They aim for optimism where they can but are also grounded in reality with a real-world perspective.   
  3. Focus on what you CAN control during this time – Depending on where you live, restrictions have stopped us doing so much. But bring your attention to the things you can control. Examples would include: How much water you drink, how much movement you get, what tasks you prioritise, who you follow on Instagram. Some of these are very basic little things but collectively they can make a big difference. 
  4. Reprioritise your goals during this time – Pre-covid you may have had big personal or professional goals to achieve but give yourself permission to quit, put it on hold or whatever feels right for you. Nobody else should be judging you at this time so please don’t judge yourself.  
  5. Don’t compare your way of coping with another person’s way – We all deal with life’s challenges differently. For example, my husband and I have worked out that we have different ways of dealing with grief – but that’s ok! If sitting on the couch suits you best, do that. If cooking up a storm suits you best, do that. If jogging outdoors or taking long walks suits you best, do that. 
  6. Give yourself permission to feel all the feels – Sadness, fear, hurt, overwhelm… the list goes on. Whatever negative emotions this time is bringing out in you, know that it’s perfectly normal (and even healthy) to express those emotions rather than push them down with toxic behaviours. Cry if you feel like crying, scream if you feel like screaming but as I mentioned above, it’s also ok if you don’t feel these emotions. There are no rules about how you must feel.

You do you!

Stay safe and have a beautiful day 

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