From the D Word to the O Word


A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty. ― Winston Churchill

By Mark E. Smith

So, I’m in counseling, and tackling it like the gym, where I’m there every week, hitting it hard – I’m in the mental and emotional trenches, no messing around. I’m getting it done. For me, it’s about refinement and getting further on top of my emotional game at this stage of my life. Personal growth is a never-ending process, especially if we want to be the best that we can be for those we love. And, it’s an empowering process, where I’m getting clearer perspectives, in a truly objective, safe setting.

However, my kind of unique life experience has muddied the waters a bit, where, philosophically, some of what I’ve done in my life simply contradicts the basics of psychotherapy. For example, I want to ask you the same question that I asked my therapist: What’s the difference between denial and optimism?

It’s a profound question, one that hinges on life experience in many cases. Denial, put simply, is the refusal to accept realities, whereas optimism is the belief in a positive outcome, which often contradicts accepting seeming realities. If everyone tells you something is impossible, but you believe it’s possible, is that denial or optimism?

It’s so important for each of us to consider because it dictates our potential. I work with a lot of people going through the initial stages of disability experience – from new spinal cord injury to the onset of progressive diseases like multiple sclerosis. And, the medical diagnoses, supposedly based on science and statistics, are often grim – the bleakest of the bleak prognoses one can receive in many cases. And, when individuals dare challenge the limitations placed on their condition, the establishment is quick to use the D word, denial. Yet, I encounter individuals every day who are convinced with optimism that they can exceed their prognoses – and then they actually go on to do it….

And, a lot of us continue doing it, where we’ve not just surpassed the “realities” of others, but continue striving to do so when needed or wished. It’s optimism at its best that allows us to overcome hurdles that the “denial” labelers set.

With all of that said, here’s where I think the biggest difference between denial and optimism comes in. When one accepts the term denial, it’s an end-all to human potential. Stop your dreaming – you’ll never succeed at that…. However, optimism is the complete opposite – it allows all possibilities. Given the right circumstances, it could happen….

Which label would you rather take accountability for, denial or optimism? To my counselor’s frustrations, I choose optimism, where I truly believe in all of our potentials. As I tell her, I’ve simply seen too many people accomplish the seemingly impossible to label anyone’s optimism as denial.


Author: Mark E. Smith

The literary side of the WheelchairJunkie

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