Here I am with part two of my Absolutely FAPulous blog. Thank you to those who have liked, shared, commented and sent me messages after the publication of Part One.
FAP is an acronym for Familial Adenomatous Polyposis. This link will provide you with a general explanation of the condition.
Good Social Media
I have always been a great fan of social media, particularly Facebook where I have made the acquaintance of some very special people, found a way to stay whilst in touch with old friends and made new ones too.
I am so fortunate to have discovered a closed community of wonderful people on Facebook who are connected through their FAP genes and they are a great source of information, inspiration and support – truly FAPulous people!
How You Use Social Media
I know there are critics of social media and in some circumstances it can have a negative and harmful effect on those who use it but I believe that generally it is the motive behind what you read and post that determines whether the outcome is positive or not. I cannot imagine how isolated these FAPulous people would be without the ability to communicate with others around the world who are affected by the same condition.
The Power of Connection
Making social connections with people, even those who we never meet can bring significant benefits. Never underestimate the power of a like, a share, an emoticon or a positive comment. Just knowing that others are thinking, feeling and experiencing, or have experienced the same of you is comforting.
Update January 2019
I’m tempted to call this the Captain’s Log but I won’t. I’m sure you’ll notice that I have chosen to describe my journey in the metaphor of a flight which is probably not surprising given I spent more than forty years working in the airline industry. It seemed an obvious first choice of transport and I will try not to overdo it!
If you’ve read Part One of Absolutely FAPulous, you’ll know I have been given a diagnosis of AFAP (here is a link to a page that explains what this is). I have inherited this condition from my mother and I will share her story in a later blog if she is happy for me to do that.
At the beginning of December 2018, I had a colonoscopy, which revealed that I have in excess of 100 polyps throughout my colon, two of them are classified as large (20mm & 25mm). Four biopsies were taken and the results showed they were negative (for cancer) but no biopsies were taken of the two large ones which were photographed and left undisturbed..
I have an appointment booked at the end of February with a specialist colorectal surgeon consultant. I will being having an examination of the oesophagus, stomach and small intestine as people with FAP commonly have polyps in these areas in additional to the colon. The consultant will see whether it is possible to remove the large polyps and ascertain which (if any?) part of my colon can be saved in order to discover what surgical options might be available to me.
Until then, I am not going to speculate on what may or may not come next. I am applying my knowledge of positive psychology, in particular resilience to support my emotional state.
Positive Psychology – A Definition
There are several definitions of positive psychology but I think a simple explanation would be this. Classic psychology has traditionally focused on how to treat people with mental illness and other issues. In contrast positive psychology studies how people can become happier, healthier and more fulfilled. After identifying the habits and characteristics common to people who are flourishing in life. a number of evidence based positive psychology interventions have been designed. These help people to increase the likelihood of gaining the same positive outcome of those who are happy and healthy by intentionally modelling some of their behaviours, attitude and practices.
Positive Psychology Training
I have studied positive psychology and gained a MSc degree in the subject – MSc Applied Positive Psychology (MAPP). What is wonderful about this degree course lies in the word ‘applied’. Instead of only being presented with theoretical knowledge, students study the effect of applying the principles and interventions of positive psychology into their daily lives so they can have a subjective experience of the effectiveness of the interventions.
Positive psychology doesn’t offer a one-fit-for-all approach but simply shares what is known through scientific study, to work for most people, most of the time. The skill is learning what works for you by adapting the strategies to ensure they are a good fit for your personality and lifestyle.
Positive Psychology Teaching
After graduating with my Masters degree in positive psychology, I was invited to become an Associate Lecturer on the MAPP programme. In addition, I am a co-Director of Positive Psychology company, run my own wellbeing clinic and I am associated with a number or organisations that are involved with promoting happiness and wellbeing. I consider this work to be a privilege, a calling and a pleasure that has resulted in me working with a variety of business organisations, schools, health providers and government departments in the UK and overseas. I’ve been lucky to spend time in Bhutan, a country that values Gross National Happiness (GNH) over Gross National Product (GNP) and I am proud to be the UK Ambassador for the World Happiness Summit WOHASU.
Positive psychology has changed my life for the better in so many ways. I have learned a lot about how to increase my potential for health and happiness and I love to share this information with other people.
Positive Psychology in Practice
Although I have been able to fully explore subjects such as positive emotions, character strengths and resilience in my everyday life, I have never, until now, had the opportunity to test the theory in response to significant adverse events. So, I have chosen to accept my current uncertain circumstances as an opportunity to ‘attend my own lectures’ and practise what I teach! So far, so good but who knows what the future holds and how I will manage? I am aware that other people have faced and are facing far worse situations than me but we can only be responsible for our own thoughts, feelings and behaviour.
Positive Psychology Tested
What I now know that I didn’t before, is that positive psychology can not just help you to live your best life everyday but it can prepare you to better cope with life when it appears to unravel and bring about uninvited, seemingly negative changes. It is one thing to build on a good life to make it happier but what happens to happiness and wellbeing when one is compromised by random events outside of one’s control? How will the theory and the individual fare then?
Positive Psychology Toolbox
I am so grateful that I am facing an uncertain future with what feels like a armoury of skills to fall back on, a virtual toolbox of resources. Over the following blogs I will share some positive psychology theory and describe how I apply it to specific situations in addition to sharing my ongoing FAPulous adventure as it unfolds.
Your Resilient Self
In positive psychology resilience is regarded as a learned behaviour that helps one cope and adapt well when faced with negative and stressful events and circumstances. Being resilient helps you to recover from setbacks and negative experiences.
You may be naturally resilient, some people are, or you may have learned to be resilient through circumstances that have led you to develop it, but anyone can learn how to be more resilient Evidence of this is that since 2009 the US Army have been working with Penn University to teach soldiers and their families how to increase their skills of resilience.
Today, I am Associate team member of the charity Bounce Forward. Bounce Forward is the only organisation in Europe with a license to teach the Penn Resilience Programme and we deliver resilience programmes into schools to improve well being for staff and students.
When I got my AFAP diagnosis, one of the first things I did to protect myself from feeling overwhelmed was to ensure that I didn’t t fall into the trap of catastrophising.
Catastrophising and How to Avoid It
Research has shown that there are many things you can do to strengthen your emotional resilience. Without exception, they are all influenced by the thinking style you choose to adopt. Part of being resilient is to avoid the habit of catastrophising.
Catastrophising is when you dwell on a situation and imagine the worst case scenarios. Without realising it, your thoughts can quickly lead from one to another, with each building upon the previous one until you end up with the most catastrophic scenario in your head which is far removed from the actual situation. This can make you feel really anxious as you imagine all sort of things that might be possible even though in reality they are highly improbable.
For instance, if your child is fifteen minutes late home from school and you imagine a sequence of possible events that starts with you imagining them being in some sort of difficulty, that then leads to the thought they’ve had a minor accident, a major accident and before you know it you are imagining them being fatally wounded or abducted. Later, they come home and tell you that they went back to school for a forgotten book, missed the bus, or lost track of the time whilst they were talking with friends. You may feel relieved but even though you were only thinking about these things, your body reacted as though they were true, releasing powerful stress hormones as a result of the flight or fight response. If this becomes a regular habit you are likely to end up suffering from conditions such as stress, anxiety, insomnia, illness and depression.
One Step at a Time
The problem with a diagnosis of a disease, illness, condition or symptom is that it is very easy to find lots of worse case scenarios on the internet. A headache could be a sign of an eyesight problem, migraine or a brain tumour but in most cases, a headache is an isolated incident that might mean you are dehydrated, tired, or hungry.
However, in the case of something like FAP there are many outcomes that are more probable, quite likely or even inevitable. However, jumping forward in time and worrying about what might happen and the (catastrophic) consequences of them won’t help you and may make things more difficult.
Dealing with things one step at a time will save you a lot of unnecessary anguish. Trying to process every possibility at once will lead you to feel overwhelmed, anxious and you will become ineffective and less likely to be able to make decisions that will serve you best.
Practice Makes Perfect
I acknowledge that it’s not always easy to resist the to urge to catastrophise but being aware that you are doing it is helpful. You may discover that you can distract yourself by being busy, or resist the temptation to Google the worst possible outcomes and always remind yourself to consider what is real and actually happening now, so that you can differentiate between reality and a catastrophic view of the future. Like any skill, the more you practice the easier it becomes.
I am a reluctant passenger on a flight to an unknown destination, knowing that I will arrive a different version of present self. Whether I like it or not, it’s an adventure into the unknown.
Please leave a comment and/or share this blog. Let’s talk. Let’s share information. Let’s support each other. We are Absolutely FAPulous.
In Absolutely FAPulous – Part Three, Safety Demonstration I will update my medical status and share some thoughts about the wider implications of a FAP diagnosis for family and friends with more useful tips from the science of positive psychology.. If you wish to come along for the ride (First Class of course!) you are welcome. You can get my blog(s) sent to you automatically by entering your email in the box below.