Sticky thoughts: why did this happen?

Each year, millions of people spend long periods away from their normal everyday activities because they are dealing with a medical condition. Workers can’t work; parents can’t parent; entrepreneurs can’t entrepen.

Anyone who has been in that situation will have experienced what I call ‘sticky’ thoughts: those destructive questions and frustrations you just can’t kick. For what it’s worth, here is one of mine.

Why did this happen?

When our circumstances change, there’s a period of time – and for many it’s not long – that we give ourselves to allow things time to pan out. It’s a period in which you give the benefit of the doubt, hoping what’s happening to you is simply a blip, maybe. My Occupational Therapist calls it denial. Perhaps how long you allow for denial depends on how gullible you are; perhaps it’s more connected with your past experience. Either way, we’re wired to try and piece things together; to make it all make sense, somehow.

Where would you be on this scale? If your health began to deteriorate tomorrow, for how long would you try to put the pieces together? Many people, once they’ve realised that – on some level, at least – their condition doesn’t make any logical sense, turn to a new sticky thought: why? Why is this happening? Why me? Why now? Why not him?

There’s a chance you are the rare sort of person who would be able to ask such questions without a hint of self-pity. But, whatever your motives, in my opinion the very fact that you are asking the question tells you something very important: you are beyond denial. You have reached a stage where you can begin to accept what’s happened.

Getting to the stage of asking ‘why?’ is crucially important if you’re going to be able to improve or learn to live with your condition. That said, It’s not the most helpful question to ask, in my opinion. It can lead to introspection, self-pity and unhelpful thoughts. Better questions are based in the present and the future and begin with ‘how’. How do I move forward; how can I start to reduce my medication; how am I going to respond to this health problem?

If you’re asking ‘why’, see it as a signpost that you’re moving on. Then think about what ‘how’ questions you can ask, moving forward.

Sticky thoughts: how to survive long-term illness

It doesn’t make sense…

Why did this happen?

If there’s anything I can do…

You’re letting everyone down

This is all your fault, I feel so guilty…

It doesn’t seem like you’re trying…

If only we’d known…


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