I wonder if anyone actually believes that positive thinking or stress reduction techniques can cure mind numbing pain or fatigue? Or is it just blind desire to think that every ailment has a cure?
My client (I’ll call her Sally) sent me this article in despair, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome sufferers ‘can overcome symptoms of ME with positive thinking and exercise‘ . She’d bumped into a former colleague whom she hadn’t seen in two years since she left the high powered, corporate law firm where they were employed. At that time, Sally hadn’t shared her reasons for leaving. So when asked why she’d left, Sally said the first thing that popped into her head, the truth. She explained that she’d been living with pain and fatigue for years and when she was finally diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (ME), she decided to try to take better care of herself, even if she wasn’t sure what that meant. She explained that she knew that she needed a more flexible schedule which is why she switched careers and became self employed.
“You have CFS? My friend had it until she took a year long meditation course and she’s fine now. Have you heard that research shows you can get yourself better with positive thinking and exercise?” her friend asked. And then she pulled up the above article on her phone to show Sally. Sally told me that she felt her heart sink when she read the headline. What could she say to such assertions? She’d been exercising regularly and tries to be positive but now it seemed that she was failing at curing herself.
In fact, when you read the article it’s clear that the headline is misleading. It seems that the researchers note found that many of the people in their study had found that their experience with exercise had made them feel worse, so they assumed it also made the disease worse. But when they participated in the study’s gradual program to build exercise tolerance, and they increased their capacity for exercise, they were more hopeful about living with this disease. Hence the ‘positive thinking’.
Headlines become sound bites that shape opinion and lead to all sorts of assumptions – some of which can do harm. Another pet peeve of mine is the commonly held idea that meditation cures illness. I’ve had personal experience with practices that soothe, calm and focus my brain for 40 years. Never a cure, they do manage to ease the physical and emotional pain that comes from living with debilitating disease. No doubt you can find research that supports both sides of these assertions and I’m sure there are those who disagree and will tell me so. But it seems to me that too often people want to cling to the idea that there is a cure for every problem rather than accept limits.
Sadly, the bottom line is that when you live with chronically debilitating health, the idea that you can easily ‘fix’ yourself can turn into a damaging source of unnecessary pain.
Do you want to read my ideas for living with difficult health? See my free article, Playing the Hand You’re Dealt #9 in my website’s Free Resources.