I was a distance runner for 19 years, before a brutal case of plantar fasciitis dashed my Olympics dream forever. I’m kidding about that last part. My running group (motto: ‘No pace too slow, no course too short!’) had a useful running rule. The first ten minutes of every training run were devoted to whining.
“My quads hurt. I’m so tired. I think I’m getting a blister.”
But at precisely the ten minute mark, the rule was: no more whining. Let’s face it, my heart sisters: nobody is that interested.
Upon ruminating on the wisdom of Dr. Martin Seligman‘s book Learned Optimism that I’ve been enjoying lately (see Even Heart Patients Can Learn to be Optimists), I can’t help but notice a proliferation of gloom, doom, pessimism, criticism, complaining, blaming and a whack of running negative commentary around lately. And other people besides me are grumpy, too . . .
This negative habit is especially tempting for those of us with a chronic illness diagnosis like heart disease.
And after all, haven’t we legitimately earned the right to whine?
Dr. Seligman says no.
He even suggests that ongoing complaining actually worsens physical symptoms by focusing our attention on them. And he adds that pessimism may also lower our resistance to illness, increase our chances of heart disease and even shorten our lives.
Dr. Barbara Keddy agrees, writing on her excellent blog about women and fibromyalgia. She cites a support group of Toronto women who get together regularly, for example, not to discuss their shared illness, but wellness only. Dr. Keddy, who has not only lived with the daily pain of fibromyalgia for 50 years but is also a heart attack survivor, writes:
“Reliving past injuries of a physical or emotional nature only reactivates the nervous system.
“Instead, it is more important to recognize our reactions rather than the specific events related to the trauma. Perhaps this is why ‘talk therapy’ has not been helpful for people with fibromyalgia.”
I’m not saying we can’t have the occasional mini-meltdown that every heart patient is entitled to now and then. I’m talking about drowning in the deliciously seductive but self-absorbed, pity-party world view that says:
“All life sucks, but especially everything about MY life.”
One morning, I finally had to have a hard look at myself in the bathroom mirror and issue this little heart-to-heart lecture:
Yes, you have heart disease. Join the club.
Yes, you have pain and shortness of breath and palpitations and overpowering fatigue. Get in line.
Yes, you don’t want this to be happening to you. Well, it is.
Yes, you’re confused and frightened and unsure about what to do next. Welcome to the human condition.
Yes, doctors don’t get it, the system is out to crush you, and nobody in your family can understand. Cry me a river.
Because not only is self-absorbed pessimism insidiously contagious, it appears that it can actually make our cardiac problems worse.
Let’s consider the value of hauling ass out of that Garden of Gloom, heart sisters.
“I wept because I had no shoes, until I met a man who had no feet.”
(adapted with gratitude from TheGardener’s rants on Inspire)
NOTE FROM CAROLYN: I wrote more about whether ruminating over our medical issues is helping or hurting us in my book, A Woman’s Guide to Living with Heart Disease (Johns Hopkins University Press, November 2017) in Chapter 7 (the infamous chapter that the anonymous Johns Hopkins cardiologist who reviewed the manuscript before publication called “irrelevant to female heart patients”).
- Feisty advice to patients: “Get down off your cross!”
- I don’t want to talk about it…
- Why we ignore serious symptoms
- How optimism can be good for women’s hearts
- Listen up, ladies: 16 things I’ve been meaning to tell you
- Do you think too much? How ruminating hurts your heart
- Depressed? Who, me? Myths and facts about depression after a heart attack
- Heart attack funnies: “You suck at pessimism!”
Q: Have some of us earned the right to whine?