Optimism, realism, cynicism, terms that no doubt seem quite contradictory and yet often coexist in a chronic disease. Cynicism as an undoubtedly logical and inevitable consequence of the disease. Realism as a confrontation with the reality of the disease. Optimism as a choice, difficult of course, but indispensable – I think – to continue to go on with and despite the disease.
Cynicism, the key to salvation?
In its classical acceptance, cynicism is defined as a tendency to assume that other people are only motivated by selfish motives and generally disregard morality and social norms.
The cynicism of a chronically ill person probably does not go as far as despising the entire established social order. This is at least not my case. But the fact is that a chronically ill person deviates from the existing social norm by virtue of his or her disease itself. In a society that values physical appearance more than inner beauty, cynicism is an understandable reaction when we know that we can no longer even try to fit into the canons imposed on us, even if we would like to. As a chronically ill person, I know that I will never again be able to return to these standards of good health, perfect physical fitness, beauty in the classical sense of the term.
Being cynical when you have a chronic disease is an almost logical consequence of what you are going through and what you are experiencing or have experienced. One does not come out unscathed from more or less long hospital stays, endless consultations, countless doctors, treatments, side effects. Cynicism in a chronic disease is also linked to the revolt and frustration that one sometimes feels in front of the absurd side of the illness or with certain doctors, supposedly experts, but who do not understand anything. It is finally questioning things that were taken for granted and that we realize were not. Weren’t we told that everything would be okay? Weren’t we promised that everything was possible? Were we not guaranteed that our will would allow us to reach everything?
So how to explain all those things that cannot be controlled in a chronic disease? How to justify that the will alone cannot get you out of bed? How can you get beyond the feeling that you”got screwed”?
Realism, a way to deal with the situation?
I think there is a baptism of the disease, just as there is a baptism of fire. Illness and disability, whether chronic or temporary, are branding. You can’t say to yourself, “I have to hold on and then it will be over, I can go back to my life as it was before”. I believed in it at first, but then I was disappointed to realize that I was wrong… I think that, when you go through such an ordeal, it’s an illusion to think that life can go back to the way it was before. The life before will never exist again as you knew it, even if you end up healing or going into remission. When you go through something so intense, you can’t go back to the way things were. You’ve been through too many difficult things for that to be possible. But that doesn’t mean that the life you have afterwards is any worse. It’s just different.
Perhaps even more than cynicism, a chronic disease forces realism. Refusing to be realistic and to face the reality of the disease and its symptoms may seem like a welcome escape from a sometimes very difficult reality. But refusing to see this reality (as opposed to refusing to accept this reality) will inevitably generate additional suffering because of a gap between the reality we want and the reality that is. It seems to me indispensable to first accept to see the reality, that of the disease, before being able to accept the reality of the disease itself. I believe that there is a path that passes through these two stages:
- What’s the situation? Yes, I have a chronic disease with such and such symptoms. I need such and such treatments. That’s the way it is, that’s a fact.
- What am I going to do with this chronic disease and how am I going to do it? Now that I have accepted the reality of the chronic disease, I can decide to suffer from it. But I can also decide to continue to live, despite and with the disease.
Optimism to keep moving forward?
Choosing to continue to live with and against a chronic disease is what being optimistic is all about. In fact, being optimistic when you are ill is believing that you can live your life with the disease. It means remaining convinced that your life is worth living, against all odds. In spite of the ups and downs, the treatments, hospitalizations, symptoms and fatigue. It means believing, even when things are really bad, that they can get better. It means believing in the future. It is looking to the future with confidence. For my part, I find my life enriched by the disease and all that I have learned and continue to discover thanks to it.
I don’t want to lie to you, it’s not always easy to be optimistic with a chronic disease. There are moments of discouragement and weariness. Sometimes a touch of cynicism is necessary to get through certain situations that seem absurd. It is also a way to protect oneself against certain hurtful remarks or humiliating states. Nevertheless, for me, looking at the situation as it is, accepting it and choosing life, even with my disease, is optimism, a realistic optimism that helps me overcome many difficult moments.
What do you think about it? What is your attitude toward your chronic disease? Are you cynical, realistic or optimistic? Or something else?
Picture by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash
 https://www.larousse.fr/dictionnaires/francais/cynisme/21365 (retrieved on 08.02.2021)