Negativity vs Positivity

I am a natural optimist. My glass is half full, the future is rosy and when I get knocked down I get up again. This is who I am. I am also a realist. I face facts and deal with situations head on. So on day 29 since my breast cancer diagnosis I want to share some of what I have learned about myself.

“Keep positive”; “Everything will be fine”; “I am sure you will be fine you are a positive person”; “I am sure you are coping fine”.

These are just some of the phrases that I have had a visceral response to. Now I love and appreciate every ounce of support, encouragement and kind words uttered in my direction from friends, family, colleagues and beyond.

This blog is simply sharing my reactions to some phrases during a particular period of stress for me. I find my experience interesting and I wonder how many of you have found yourself reacting as I do.

So what have I learned?

  1. Be as you are right now

My internal response to other’s claims of me being fine has been volcanic. I feel a rising anger as if to say – how do you know? How can you claim that? You are not an oncologist. I know that my anger is misplaced here and that I am angry at cancer for popping in and meddling with my life. In fact I am furious. So my advice would be to ask people how there are coping, how they are right now and dodge giving platitudes. Whilst they may make you feel better, they won’t make the cancer patient feel better. They will make them feel unseen, unheard and alone.

I am generally coping well. However there are moments when I am not, when I sob and let some of the stress and tension out of my system. Thank goodness for Stephen Fry’s Sleep Story on the Calm app. It really helps me relax and get some much needed sleep.

  1. Positivity is a form of denial

This is my realist attitude showing up. Now, if I was in a Disney fantasy, I would be elegantly coping, perhaps serenely so. Then I would soon be healed, skipping around with birds tweeting around my head. To do that would be to deny the struggle, the battle I experience on a daily basis with fatigue, my emotions and having to let go of things that are so important to me in order to focus on getting well.

I have had to stop work for a while and let my wonderful clients know that I am not available for a few months. I have had to give up speaking engagements, put a halt on some of my research and stop working with businesses whose staff I love supporting. I have let go of a lot and that has been one of the hardest things to do. My work is a big part of who I am. The contribution I make in the world comes through that.

A couple of weekends ago I had a busy happy weekend and enjoyed watching the Scotland Rugby Team beat England. It was such a normal weekend that my sons felt confused and on the Sunday evening they needed to understand how I appeared so well, full of life and fun, but this disease is attacking us as a family. I was putting on my game face, yet inside I’m hurting, knowing that my boys are feeling the pain and fear of their mum having cancer. I realised I was in denial, I was being so positive it made my boys confused and uncertain of how to cope. I was showing them one way to cope which was limited and flawed, to the point of even being false.

So we agreed, no game face. We keep it real, we tell the truth about how we are feeling in the moment. And we have learnt that this is deeply reassuring and makes us stronger because of it. We then had a good cry, held each other and yes, we felt the better for it. It has opened the doorway to genuinely supporting each other and giving each other what we need on a daily basis. Hugs are right up there at the top of the menu.

  1. Balancing the Books – Positivity vs Negativity

Okay, if to be positive all the time is false, then as a family we decided on language that would support our attitude and mindsets to cope with our cancer journey. Because whether I like it or not, I see my husband and children being affected and hurt by this too and that is really hard to witness and accept. The deal is optimism and hope I can commit to them, I cannot commit to positivity. I am optimistic, I have found my cancer early and the statistics are in my favour. I have a great clinical team supporting me and I believe I have a future and life to fulfil. I fully intend to be one of the lucky ones. I do. I am making plans for 2019.

That said, I have had dark moments, to pretend that having a cancer diagnosis is not scary is another form of denial. It is like Shrodinger’s Cat, I occupy a space where fear, sadness and loss coexist with hope and optimism. It’s a quantum soup here. Where the loss of my life before cancer has been like a bereavement. It really has.

One thing that has really helped me cope is this:

“never let the negative thoughts and feelings outweigh the good ones.” You can let them cancel each other out on a bad day. It can be a bit of a ‘meh’ day. A meh day is a flat day, low energy, not achieving much kind of a day. It is about accepting the day and how I am in it, without judgement and with kindness. This really works. I balance my emotional books every day, and I have managed to have more good days than meh days.

One of my favourite poems is The Invitation by Oriah Mountain Dreamer and the line that we have sighed up to as a family is:

I want to know if you can sit with pain, mine or your own, without moving to hide it, or fade it, or fix it.

And that is my invitation to you simply be with yourself and others without trying to do anything other than be with them. Holding the space for them to feel held, to be seen and heard. Sometimes that means just less talking and more listening.