"To me, hope is informed optimism"
-Michael J. Fox
This quote, characterizing hope as informed optimism, is one of our favorites here at PelvicSanity. It's particularly meaningful coming from an actor who has struggled with a chronic disease himself. It also made us think about how important perspective, or outlook, can be in the healing process. There are a few alternatives to Fox's 'informed optimism,' and they can all hold you back from healing. We hope this article will help you identify which category you tend to fall in, and give you practical tips for regaining the hope that's so important for healing!
Alternatives to informed optimism
To unpack Fox's quote, you can either be an informed or uninformed patient, and you can either have an optimistic or pessimistic outlook. That gives four different categories for how you respond.
Hope is Informed Optimism
Hope: a feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen.
Informed optimism is powerful. You face the challenges of your condition head-on, with the knowledge that you may have a difficult road to recovery, but maintaining a positive attitude. This hopeful response gives the strength to keep going through adversity, continuing to do the things that you know will benefit your health, even if you aren't seeing the immediate benefit. Of course there will still be bad days, but hope helps to keep a sense of perspective - the journey may not be smooth, but you're still progressing to where you want to be.
Wishful Thinking is Uninformed Optimism
Wishful Thinking: The formation of beliefs and making decisions according to what might be pleasing to imagine instead of by appealing to evidence, rationality, or reality
While wishful thinkers do a good job of staying positive, they are not informed about their condition and often have unrealistic expectations. In fact, many times the medical community encourages this kind of approach! We're told "take this pill and you'll be fine" or "it's just a simple surgery and you'll be back to normal". In reality, especially with complex pelvic pain conditions, it's rarely that simple and no doctor, surgeon, acupuncturist, physical therapist, or other professional can walk your healing journey for you. Wishful thinkers can also eventually become let down when they are disappointed by the results of procedures or pills they thought would certainly help.
The Challenge: If you're a wishful thinker, keep that positivity! It can sustain you through the ups and downs of recovery, and motivate you to keep going. Just try and temper that optimism with knowledge about your condition - often, it make take a holistic, long-term approach to see the results you want, but you certainly can reach the light at the end of the tunnel!
Discouragement is Informed Pessimism
Discouragement: A loss of confidence or enthusiasm, dispiritedness
On the other side of that coin are the people who are highly informed about their condition
but tend to have a negative outlook - and, often, understandably so - about their recovery. This leads to discouragement, and can be a self-fulfilling prophesy. If you are negative about your chances for improving, it's likely that you won't work as hard on your recovery and have a harder time sticking with your holistic routine. This discouragement can be completely natural, especially when you haven't found a great medical team to help offer hope and a road to recovery, but 'dispiritedness' makes it difficult to do the right things for your health.
The Challenge: Take advantage of all of that knowledge that you have about the condition! It's hard-earned, and is a valuable tool on your road to recovery. But also realize that many people live healthy, happy lives with your condition, and be willing to fight to be in that group. Sometimes you can let the negativity of outsiders affect you - you may want to stay away from any online groups or influences that tend to bring you down and just focus on your own recovery. Ask your spouse, friends, or others in your life to help you remain positive during the dark days.
Catastrophizing is Uninformed Pessimism
Catastrophizing: An irrational thought a lot of us have in believing that something is far worse than it actually is.
Many patients start their journey in this category - they don't yet know much about their condition, and they have been told just enough to be scared and feel hopeless about their chances for recovery. The result can be catastrophizing, where your mind starts a downward spiral thinking of all the worst things that can happen. Recovery may seem completely out of reach.
This is why we start every visit at PelvicSanity by helping patients to understand their condition. Knowledge really is power, and knowing that many other people have been in your shoes and recovered to live healthy lives can be transformative. When we conducted a survey of our patients, 100% said that they left their first appointment with a better understanding of their symptoms, and 97% said they felt more hopeful after just that first visit!
The Challenge: Take little steps towards both understanding your condition and reminding yourself that many people with your diagnosis recover. Stay away from negative message boards, and focus on reliable information from specialists in the field.
Wherever you are in your journey, it can be helpful to recognize your own mindset and gradually work your way to informed optimism. That may be cultivating a more hopeful attitude by reading success stories and reminding yourself that many with your condition improve, or learning more about the condition from reliable sources.
Dr. Nicole Cozean is the founder of PelvicSanity physical therapy, Orange County's premier pelvic floor physical therapy clinic. One of only 270 PTs to be board-certified in the pelvic floor, and the first PT to serve on the ICA Board of Directors, Nicole is the author of the acclaimed and best-selling book The Interstitial Cystitis Solution (2016). She is an adjunct professor at her alma mater, Chapman University. The PelvicSanity blog focuses on presenting practical, positive information to help patients beyond the walls of Nicole's clinic.