Like anyone who has been diagnosed with a chronic illness, I need to closely monitor the things that I say to myself throughout the day. It’s all too easy to fall into a pattern of negative self-talk.
Struggling with debilitating fatigue, persistent pain, and other continued symptoms undoubtedly wears us down. Although ongoing symptoms deplete our resources, it’s critical to monitor the frequent, automatic thoughts that cycle through our minds.
Dwelling on these negative thoughts will definitely send us into a downward spiral. Autoimmune disorder symptoms are extraordinarily stress-sensitive. More than once, I’ve allowed myself to get caught up in a relentless pattern of negative self-talk about my symptoms.
I certainly diligently try to short-circuit this pattern, whenever possible. I’d like to think that I’m becoming more successful as time goes by. I’ve certainly had enough times to practice getting this right! I’ll use fatigue to illustrate this point.
When my MS fatigue is particularly debilitating, it’s so very easy to start cycling through the following same thoughts: “I can’t stand feeling this way;” “I want my life back;” and, “Feeling like this has ruined my life.”
Dwelling on these statements does absolutely nothing to alleviate my fatigue; it only serves to make me feel more distressed about feeling fatigued. As a result, my fatigue is exacerbated. This is a vicious, unproductive, and damaging cycle.
I’ve diligently trained myself to replace my negative thoughts with more adaptive, useful, and positive ones. Notice that I didn’t say that I pretend that my fatigue is not as severe as it truly is, nor do I deny its continued impact upon my life.
Now, I choose to insert the following thoughts: “I’ve felt this way before, and I’ve managed to get through it;” “There’ll be periods when this symptom won’t be as disruptive to me;” “It’s alright to simply rest today, since this is what my body needs to do.”
What we say to ourselves about our symptoms truly matters. We can learn to engage in negative self-talk less frequently, to achieve improved coping with chronic illness. Our symptoms themselves may not change, but we can definitely alter how we talk about them to ourselves.