You don’t have to be a victim to your health circumstances
Many of the unfortunate things that happen in our daily lives are beyond our control. You develop a flat tire en route to a weekend getaway; you arrive to your dentist appointment on time, only to discover that he is running an hour behind schedule; or you come down with food poisoning on Christmas Eve. Life is full of unpleasant or unwanted circumstances and events. To a large extent, we cannot control much of what happens to us- but we do have a choice when it comes to how we deal with these challenges when they arise.
A metaphor I like to think of for steering your mindset in the right direction (especially during tough times) is that of kayaking or rafting down a river: your boat moves toward the place where you put your visual focus. You can’t focus on where you’re headed (ie, into a rapid); instead, you need to concentrate on the route through the rapid. If you keep your focus on where the boat needs to go, rather than where you don’t want to go, you will be much more successful at navigating through to calmer waters.
The same can be said when dealing with health challenges: your mental outlook can determine your quality of life. The causes of symptoms or disease can be multifaceted, complex, and sometimes mysterious. While it is true that you we are each responsible for our own health, when we do face sickness or injury, it isn’t necessarily our fault. But this doesn’t mean we have to fall victim to our less-than-optimal circumstances.
I recently read a popular blog post (here) where the author challenged the unexamined notion that “everything happens for a reason”. I agree with the author’s point of view: everything doesn’t happen for a reason. You didn’t fall and break your hand for a reason. Nor did you end up needing that gall bladder removal in order to see your life differently. Your child was not born with limiting health conditions to make you a better parent.
The truth is: no one is immune from facing adversity, sickness, and loss. There are no guarantees in life. (Obviously, we can proactively take measures to optimize our safety, health, and well-being. But that is not the main point here.)
Another cliché statement people use in attempt to comfort or reassure one another in times of stress is this: You are not given more than you can handle. While this might be true of the course load prescribed for your graduate degree program, it is not, in my opinion, true when tragedy strikes. Life unfolds as it does; most of what happens is beyond our control (control is an illusion), and when the “stuff” hits the fan, we are faced with stretching ourselves into new territory beyond our previously imagined limitations.
My point is that you have a choice. You have a choice in how you want to perceive and deal with the way life shows up for you. There are two basic approaches to viewing your health and/or life circumstances: either as a victim, or from a place of empowerment.
The victim mentality tends to involve a close identification with one’s ailments and circumstances, as if the person is “stuck” with their condition, and there is absolutely no way out. This person cannot see beyond their current circumstances. There is no fertile ground perceived from which to sprout new possibility. They cannot envision themselves as living a better, healthier life. They will come up with excuses: I’m getting old. I have XYZ disease. I am stuck with this condition and it’s limitations.
A person who is empowered around their health challenges will find ways to see themselves as healthy beyond their current situation, and take action steps to move in that direction. This person feels a sense of responsibility to improve upon their circumstances. They are motivated to feel better and heal as much as possible, despite a particular diagnosis or disease they might be living with.
A victim surrenders to the suffering of his or her condition or disease, giving up hope and flipping their boat in the rapid. An empowered mindset lends a capacity for improvement, despite living with a disease, condition, or symptoms. Healing is in fact a state of mind, and not an endpoint. Even people who are sick with chronic disease can experience healing within the constraints of their limitations.
When we are faced with difficulty, we all have moments when we are stuck in self-pity and doubt. So long as we are working toward a more empowered state of mind, then, even if we feel like a victim sometimes, we are moving in the right direction. Having a vision for better circumstances and striving to work towards a general trend of improvement will ensure that you do not get continuously “hooked” into the self-degradation of the victim mentality.
Suffering is an inevitable part of living. But spiraling downward mentally or spiritually, and giving up on having the life you really want (because of your suffering) is not necessary. You can get back in your boat after your health disaster. Or maybe it wasn’t even a disaster. Maybe it was just a small setback, or a detour of some sort. We can take responsibility for our health and our inner outlook on health. Doing so creates positive momentum, so we will ultimately suffer less in the long run. Where are you going to put your focus? You are in control, at the very least, of how you steer your boat.
Yours in Health, Life, and Healing,