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Teaching trust & focus on the positive vs. the negative

10 ways I have changed my Negative Nelly DNA

I was born with Negative Nelly DNA. No joke. I remember feeling it to the core of my being as a kid. Yet my father would meet my constant negative with something positive. He always challenged me to see things differently, focus on the good around me, versus whatever was unjust to me at that moment. His constant reminders were annoying, but he truly helped shape my Negative Nelly DNA to a Positive Polly. My father still will state a positive to anything that I am saying he views is negative or unfortunate. However, I have learned to stand my ground, because there are times when I want to be heard. And if I am discussing an issue that seems unfair, that does not mean that I am complaining or that I am pessimistic. Many times I discuss issues as a way to figure out how to find the strength to pull through. It’s called communication.

I learned to change the way I state things out loud to others and even myself, because once words are spoken, they can take on a life of their own. People tend to piggyback on what others say, to communicate understanding, but things can spiral downhill. In many ways, this goes back to The EDS Spiral that I always talk about.

Of course, countless life obstacles, having children, my own observations of human behavior, studying public health in college and a ton of reading in this area, has also shaped my perspective and belief on how crucial a positive outlook is for health, well-being and happiness. However, I also know that when you have been down the spiral, lost everything, been sucker-punched by life and let down by those you are closest to, you are presented with two roads you can take: let negative emotions remain ingrained in your brain for life, or decide to change your perspective, and view incredible obstacles as a way to grow, become stronger and persevere. I have chosen the second path, but it does not come easy. It is a daily choice, sometimes hourly, and many times by the second.  Cue image of children screaming and dogs barking.   Choosing to focus on the positive is many times a by-the-second choice, even for me.

Below are 10 ways I have helped retrain my Negative Nelly DNA:

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My yoga buddy – so happy

1. Taking care of my whole self – physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.  For me, proper nutrition and daily exercise is crucial, and a way of life. It’s a non-negotiable. Additionally, proper exercise and nutrition helps me meet the needs of taking care of the mental, emotional and spiritual aspects of my health. This is also one of the most important lessons I can teach my children.

2. Finding a positive way to get my negative feelings out – writing has been the best way for me to safely and effectively express my feelings.  I usually write only to myself (ie. journal), but I also now write for this website/blog and for projects such as the Our Stories of Strength – Living with Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome anthology.

3. Therapy – seeking professional help is a very good thing, as is accepting that it is ok to not be ok, and that we need help. I have no issues seeking professional help of any kind and I know that the way I view things may not always be fair and balanced. Therapy helps me be a better person, heal past trauma and view how I may appear to others (i.e. be aware of the other side of the story).

4. Having a safety net – not just financial or an emergency plan. But a strong support system of a few people who you know will be there when you need them, no questions asked, no judgments, and will never make you feel guilty for needing help.

5. Establishing boundaries & Learning to say “no” – saying no to more responsibility if you are too overwhelmed at the moment, or no to a friend’s kid’s birthday party because your kids need family time, are just a few examples. Many people have a hard time stating that they need time to themselves, or drawing strong lines in relationships, commanding the respect and treatment they deserve. This is probably one of the hardest areas for me, because I always feel that I can give more, do more and be more to those who need help.  I also never want to hurt those I care about the most, but have ended-up hurting my soul as a result.  Just because someone loves you, is a nice person or did not have malicious intent, does not mean that you need to accept behaviors that are hurtful and turn the other way.  Similarly, it does not mean that your feelings should be dismissed.  This area can prove very hard in marriages, especially when two people love each other, but have totally different sets of boundaries.  Yes, there are healthy boundaries that are crucial to a happy marriage.

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Facing fear – I always told myself I “can’t” do hand stands because they cause headaches for me. However, that was almost 30 yrs ago. I realized fear and not being honest with myself, was keeping me from trying a simple handstand, even though I was strong enough to do so. Fear conquered once I realized my barrier was me, not the headaches.

6. Faith – whether you believe in something great than you or just believe that the world creates an energy that causes events to happen in a certain order, I have found having a sense of faith, crucial to my health and happiness.  Because of my faith, I have an easier time letting go, learning to trust, stating my boundaries… the list could go on.   My faith also gives me the sense that there is a reason for things to happen, good and bad, and in time, I will come to understand what it is.  However, I have also learned the having a sense of faith is critical for my survival.  When the rug has been pulled from underneath me, I’ve lost all that I “own” and have worked for and have had to swallow my pride countless times, my faith has provided me the strength to carry on when I have nothing else to cling to.

7. Helping others through regular volunteer work and random acts of kindness just because – helping others has helped me find a true strength that I did not know that I had. I strive to be better and do better, because I am focused on others versus wallowing in my own struggles.  You also realize what is really important in life; it is not the “things” you thought were crucial to your happiness.  It’s humbling.

8. Trusting my gut – it’s hardly ever wrong and has proven to be very protective.  I have learned to listen to my instincts and make necessary decisions even if they are painful or could potentially hurt someone’s feelings.  I usually find someway to “check-in” with my gut instinct through a 3rd party who I know will tell me the truth and many times I do not act right away.  I wait to see if my gut is telling me the truth, through being open to seeing clues to validate or discredit my instincts; however, waiting too long has proven detrimental.

9. Being willing to face, not just look at, myself in the mirror each day – not literally, but figuratively – ie. personal growth.  If I just look at myself in the mirror each day, I may identify issues and problems that I am unhappy about.  On the other hand, if I really face myself in the mirror each day, I am not only identifying issues or problems, I am owning my personal responsibility and making a commitment to do the work to change the behaviors that are self-destructive or hurtful to myself or those who are closest to me. Facing yourself in the mirror each day can be incredibly difficult and painful, but once it becomes habit, it becomes an essential part of finding true happiness.

10. Controlling who and what I am surrounded by – I have found that constantly reading posts in support groups or information online not only causes me to be more sedentary, but directly affects my mental outlook.  It especially affects how I view living with EDS, in a negative way. Similarly, I had to face the reality that some of those who are closest to me and who I am around the most, are toxic to my well-being.  Limiting interactions is imperative; however controlling what I am surrounded by also has to do with what I listen to, watch, read, study, eat and where we live.  I love living by family, especially for my kids, by I’m not in love with my area.  I would much rather be some place warm, by the water and where my family can be active each day.  What I have come to realize is that as long as my little family nucleus is intact, we are free to live in an area that provides a lifestyle that is most comfortable.  Living in an area that causes a ton of stress due to its cost and culture, is not worth it just to be around family.  Unless your family provides you the support to off-set the stress of living in that specific area, you may find more contentment elsewhere. FullSizeRender-1

Does keeping a positive outlook mean that we are not entitled to feel and express sadness, sorrow or defend ourselves against injustices? Heck no, but when you look at the bigger picture, we all just want and need a safe place to fall, to feel safe and loved.  We need to be able to express ourselves freely, so that we can figure out ways to better ourselves.  Unfortunately, too many times we can get caught in the spiral of negative emotions because we feel misunderstood and that it is our right to feel a certain way, so we just keep feeling until we get the attention that we are seeking.

Retraining the way our brains seem to be wired to think and view our life and the situations we encounter, is one of the hardest behavior changes to make, yet it can be one of the most fulfilling.

Currently, I’m working on my one main Negative Nelly and my 2 other “the world has wronged me, because I can’t have ice cream for the 2nd time in one day” Nellies. Wish me luck! 

Photos by: Heather Owens Photography 

Additional Resources:

1. Keeping a positive attitude – post by EDS Info.

2. Boundaries – book on when to say yes and how to say no.

3. Boundaries in Marriage – book on how to find boundaries for a long-standing and happy relationship with your spouse.

4. Boundaries with Kids – parenting book. No description needed.

5. Beyond Boundaries – Learning to trust again in relationships 

6. You Are a Badass: How to Stop Doubting Your Greatness and Start Living an Awesome Life

7. The EDS Spiral – 2 post series from my perspective on what the EDS Spiral is and how it affects our overall health & happiness.

8. 10 things I want you to know about living with a chronic illness