How To Stay Positive

Hello! Here is a story about wildlife in Contoocook, NH, written by a young Ali:

Mrs. Helm was obviously more concerned than I was. I thought I had a potential backyard friend.

Yes, that was a true story. No, I did not seem concerned about potentially contracting rabies, because, to me, the animal was “cute.”


I seem to have a new nightly routine.

I go to bed super late, usually around 10 PM. I like to rage. I set myself up with two giant pillows on both sides of my body, and drift off into a lovely, cozy sleep, flanked by softness.

Then, I wake up anywhere between 1 and 3 AM, dripping in sweat. I realize I have sweat through my pajamas — which were merely short shorts and a tank top — and my buddy pillows and my sheets are also soaked.

I realize this phenomenon and, as I’m debating what to do, my stomach also wakes up. It is angry!

I then spend about 30 minutes in the bathroom, keeling over in sweet abdominal pain and muttering obscenities, feeling oh so glad I live alone during times like these. (Get excited to be my roommate, Brian! I’m awesome!)

When that’s done, I return to my sad bed, but not before undergoing a complete Academy Awards-style wardrobe change. This time, despite the sweat, I’m forced into long pants and a long-sleeved top. This way I can’t really tell I’m crawling back into a wet bed.

I sleep some more and then wake up with my alarm, ready to start the day.

During these increasingly frustrating hours, I tend to get a little pissed off.

But when I wake up in the morning, life is good again. The nighttime stuff was temporary, it’s over for now, and I can go on with my life. Lately the overnight and morning hours are the worst ones, when my stomach hurts the most and causes me the most discomfort. But during the day I’ve been feeling better. I’m sweating a lot at night, but I don’t seem to have a fever. Also, sweating is nothing new for me, as you can see from this carefully crafted letter to my vacationing parents, circa 1993:

I didn't know how to spell "sweating" but I did know EXACTLY how to spell Dairy Queen. Priorities, man. I've always had 'em.

Hey, you asked for more childhood literature. You got it. Uncle Glenn, you’re the best. Thanks for taking me mini golfing. Sorry that I probably sweat (sorry, “swet”) all over your clean car. I was such a beastly third grader.

I would have loved to wake up and run this morning, but between the fussy stomach, the ongoing hip and knee pain and the fact that I actually have to work a full day today, I opted for extra sleep instead. I’m fine with my decision.

One of the things I get asked a lot, particularly during Crohn’s flare-ups, is, “How do you stay so positive when your life sucks so much?” Maybe not those exact words, but something along those lines.

First, let’s put this out there right now: My life does not suck. I have Crohn’s disease, and while it’s frustrating and it pisses me the heck off pretty regularly, I know that things could be way worse. I wish there were a cure, or at least a reliable medicine that worked for me more than 50 percent of the time, but 50 percent is better than zero percent, right? Crohn’s sucks, but it’s not the end of my world or my happiness.

Second, understand that I am a naturally happy person. I’ve said this before, but I think life is really, really great. You just have to be willing to see it that way.

At first, I saw two girls blocking my perfect picture. Then I saw a crazy blue sky and picture-perfect flower tree. It's all about perspective.

I figure there are two ways to deal with crappy (ha! pun! Crohn’s joke!) situations:

  1. You can let them aggravate you and bring you down. Let the situation be stronger than you. Be the weak one. Be the angry one. Give in. Give up.
  2. You can see the positive in the circumstances.

I mean, choose whichever you want. But I tend to think life is going to be much more wonderful if you go with option number two, and also if you eat Mini Eggs.

I FOUND THEM AT CVS! Everyone can stop panicking now.

But I know, it’s hard to completely block out the negative. Trust me, I get that. Over the past few weeks, I’ve felt repeatedly knocked down by a flu, a bum hip, a busted knee, a Crohn’s flare-up, night sweats, and the fact that after I finally opened my windows to let in a little fresh air, I now seem to be sharing my apartment with a pesky fly that refuses to leave. And he won’t even pay rent.

Still, I’ve found some ways to stay happy even with the inevitable negative, shitty, frustrating things that come up in life. Here are my little tips and tricks:

Look at the big picture. OK, so in my situation I look at it this way: I have a stomach disease. It brings me down when it flares up. I think it’s fine to get a little sad or discouraged when I go through a flare, specifically if it’s at a really inconvenient time (like, um, during peak week of marathon training, damnit). But if that’s the worst thing that happens to me all year, that’s not so bad, right? Yeah it’s painful. Yeah it’s embarrassing. But am I living on the streets? No. Do I still manage to eat three meals a day? Yes, oftentimes six or seven meals, to be honest. Am I still living, breathing, walking and generally living a pretty OK life? Yes. I hate to think that “things could always be worse,” but it’s true.

Focus on what you can still do. When my stomach is really bad, I am not so good at running. Speedwork, for example, is completely out of the question. But I can still run, I just have to be strategic about it. This weekend, I ran twice. On Saturday I ran 10 miles and on Sunday I ran six. Even though Saturday’s 10-miler took me seemingly forever, it was still perfect. I took a ton of walk breaks, my pace was slower than anything I’ve seen on my watch in months, and I had to make two bathroom stops. But I was in Central Park on one of the most perfect spring days ever, and even though I wasn’t setting pace records (actually, I was, for slowest run ever) or blazing around the Bridle Path at full speed, I did still enjoy getting out there.

Look at you, Bridle Path! So springy and perfect!

I tried not to dwell on the annoying bathroom stops or the too-frequent stomach cramping. Instead, I kept my eyes on the blossoming trees and reminded myself that many people can’t run at all. I can, even on some of my worst days. By the time I ended my run, I was so happy to have gotten out there. I may have even developed tiny little sports bra tan lines. Success!

Also, I foam rolled a lot this weekend. Knee pain, hip pain, you don’t stand a chance. Get out of my life.

Here I am foam rolling and drinking a healthy drink. I AM THE PICTURE OF HEALTH AND SELF-CARE. You know, minus the disease and stuff.

And I drank juice. And took cool self portraits.

Find other things you love to do, and do them! I’m not spending much time in the gym these days, so I’m finding other things I love to do. Remember reading? Yeah, you probably all do it regularly, but I don’t. Lately, I’ve been doing some reading. Really important literature, mostly, like Food Network Magazine and the J.Crew catalog. I like to dream in pastels.

Surround yourself with positive people. There are people in my life who make me feel good and there are people in my life who make me feel terrible. Normally I can just brush off the terrible people without much thought. But when I’m sick or have too much going on, I can’t even be in contact with people like that. I only stay in touch with the good ones. They understand, they make me laugh and they’re fun.

This weekend, I spent a ton of time with some of my very favorite people. It was a maxed-out girl’s weekend, in fact. Friday night, Lindsay, Susan, Kelly and Jocelyn came over for a “sweatpants mandatory” low key evening. I got to be in the comfort of my own apartment with people I’m comfortable around. On Saturday, Susan and I ventured all the way to the Lower East Side for Lindsay’s birthday party (I didn’t drink, sat on the couch the whole time and left early when my stomach hurt too much — don’t forget to invite me to your next fiesta!).

I don't remember the last time I got a wrist stamp. I don't go out much these days.

On Sunday I ran with Lindsay, SoulCycled my heart out to Broadway tunes and then got frozen yogurt with a whole group of lady friends. It was all relaxing and wonderful. I also walked through Central Park a lot. Here’s another pretty photo:

These are flower trees up close.

Eliminate the negative. I used to read blogs that pissed me off and I’d go to websites that frustrated me. When I realized I was voluntarily bringing stress into my life, I immediately stopped and I haven’t looked back. By simply ridding myself of stress-inducing situations, I am so much happier.

Do something nice for someone. It’s amazing how doing one little act of kindness and making someone else happy can, in turn, make you happy. Send a friend a nice email. Call your grandmother. Tell a lady on the street that you like her polka-dotted top. Plus, this is probably good karma.

Make yourself a priority, if only for one minute a week. For me, this means taking a guilt-free 20-minute blazing hot shower. Please leave me alone while I’m in there.

Know that it’s only temporary. OK, so in my life this mostly relates to the Crohn’s stuff, which I’m sure you’re painfully tired of hearing about by now. But this mentality really helps. I know that a flare-up won’t last forever. Will I have this disease forever? Yes, probably, unless you doctors and scientists kick things up a notch in the lab.

But I know that the really bad pain, the really awful bathroom stuff and the really high fever won’t go on for longer than about 2–3 weeks usually. After that, I’m typically in for a few months of flare-free living, and that’s a wonderful thing. So whatever your situation is — a lost job, an illness, an injury, a financial burden — try to see past it as best you can. Look toward the future with rosy-colored glasses and sequins.

When in doubt: jazz hands.

My name is Ali and I am an elf.

You may feel silly at first, but then look in a mirror and watch yourself jazz handing it up. Try not to smile. Maybe wiggle your fingers a little, or really go all out and shake them. Still not smiling? You have a heart of stone. I give up.

Lastly, for anyone who may have doubted that my sixth grade love affair with Deke was, in fact, reciprocated, this weekend I found proof! I was cleaning out some things from underneath my bed (it’s scary down there), and why this love letter made it all the way from sixth grade to my adult apartment in New York City 15 years later, I will never know. However, Deke loved me back.

Brian, why have you never given me an envelope covered in scribble-hearts? Maybe you need a love lesson from Deke.
Deke had the BEST stationary.

OK so in the actual note, I realize it’s unclear whether he loves me, or something else. You may notice that he neglected to include the crucial word “you” in this letter. But I think all the “ooooooooooo’s” speak for themselves. Right? RIGHT?

NOW SHARE YOUR SECRETS: When things get you down, how do you stay positive? Or do you give into the frustration for a while? (Which, by the way, is a totally fine option. Whatever you’ve gotta do.)



54 Responses

  1. Love this post, and needed to read it right about now.

    When I feel I’ve hit rock bottom, I first have to let myself check in to the Rock Bottom Hotel for a few days.

    “You can let them aggravate you and bring you down. Let the situation be stronger than you. Be the weak one. Be the angry one. Give in. Give up.” I think in the beginning, you have to let this feeling take over you for a few days (weeks, however long it takes you). You have to be sad. You have to mourn, and be pissed off, and snap at that random guy on the subway. For me, if I don’t let out that anger/frustration and go straight to trying to be happy, I end up bottling my emotions and bursting later.

    Then, when I’m ready to be happy again, I am “full-out” ready to be happy. I’ve had my closure and can leave it behind.

    I agree that it’s also so helpful to be around positive people even when you’re temporarily a Debbie Downer. If they love/care about you they’ll know you’ll get back up again and return to your normal awesome self.

    Michelle Obama nails it: “Do not bring people in your life who weigh you down. And trust your instincts … good relationships feel good. They feel right. They don’t hurt. They’re not painful. That’s not just with somebody you want to marry, but it’s with the friends that you choose. It’s with the people you surround yourselves with.”

  2. When I’m down and being negative, I definitely give in to the frustration. For a little while. Then I usually realize there’s nothing I can do about it, and I stop being down and start being neutral. Then I force myself to think of positive things, and I slowly make my way back to being happy. Or at least neutral plus.

  3. What a beautiful post. Thanks for sharing your spirit, enthusiasm and will. For much needed positivity, usually a(n initially begrudged) workout / a phone call with an old friend / or a good book can lift my mood!

  4. I hope you feel better soon! That’s awesome you still went to Lindsay’s despite feeling under the weather. Next time I expect to see your and Brian’s dance moves!

  5. Hilarious–I am loving your daily journal entries. I dont think we have those mini eggs in oz–however, i did just find a snickers shake, which was incredible. Reminded me of a blizzard, sort of. Ice cream and good friends who get you are the best cure for funks.

  6. Love this post! As a fellow crohns sufferer, I agree with so much of what you wrote!! It’s so important to realize and recognize all the positive things we have in our lives, even during the rough times! Good for u for getting out there this weekend and just enjoying your runs. I did 10.5 on Saturday (with 2 bathroom stops as well), but I’m still thankful to be able to get out and run! Sorry about the night sweats and crampy yuck tummy in the middle of the night. ..been there many times. Hope the Remicade kicks in soon and you get some relief! So thankful for your blog and just hearing about someone else…especially a fellow runner with crohns…who has the same issues, problems and happenings related to this lovely disease that I do. Just nice to know someone else understands!

  7. Since I’m currently in the hospital after surgery for a perforated ulcer, this was nice to read–er, rather, to read about ways of staying positive. I actually find that dealing with health issues makes me MORE positive, because I get so grateful for what I do have. Heck, today I’m just grateful not to have lots of tubes in me and to be going home tomorrow.

    I mean, yeah, it’s a bummer in a lot of ways, of course, but there is always this upside: you know what you’re dealing with and mostly how to treat it, right? I’m still not sure what I have, but figuring it out and having a bunch of doctors working on it seriously helps with peace of mind. That plus now knowing what foods to avoid (all acidic or spicy foods, foods high in fat, most fruit, coffee, alcohol, chocolate… yes, chocolate–sad!).

    But if you can cope with chocolate eggs, man, please enjoy one for me, along with the running–both are off my plate for awhile.

  8. HA! I love that you saved all your journals from when you were young! my dad did that for my sister and me, and apparently I had an obsession with chocolate chip cookies because I mentioned them ALL THE TIME…even if it was totally off subject…wonder what your Deke is up to! HAH! Gotta love young love

  9. Haaaaaaaaaaaa!!!!
    Your car wash letter caught me – actual uncontrollable laughs for about a minute! How you can go from a car wash, to sweating like a pig, to going to dairy queen so nonchalantly cracks me up!!
    I’m right click copying that for a laugh tomorrow! 😀 Hope your flare up gets gone soon xx

  10. Hi Ali, I’m a new reader (and fellow Crohn’s sufferer). I just wanted to say that it’s nice to hear I’m not the only twenty-something female out there with this disease. I hope your flare-up passes soon. In the meantime, have you tried sleeping on a towel? It’s perhaps not the comfiest, but I find it’s worth it to avoid the wet bed feeling!

  11. Same thing used to happen to me – the night sweats that is. It still does very rarely, but nothing like it used to be when I still had the gut. As a result I still sleep in next to nothing with a fan on almost all year round…and you’re welcome for that visual! ha. But that’s all the advice I can muster now…that and maybe skip the eggs. Sorry dear, but sugar is the enemy during a flare! Feel better!

  12. Your sleep schedule is just like my current steroid-filled evenings, although I usually am up at 1, 3, and 5 (how is it always the same time? How does the body just know??) Sometimes I get lucky and wake up closer to 2:30 and then I get to watch Hoda and Kathie Lee while I am curled up in a ball! I always feel grateful for what I have and when I don’t, I drink tons of water and it magically makes me happy!

  13. Life is what you make of it. If you choose to be pissed off at everything and only see the negative, then everything will always piss you off. For the first year after my Dad died, I was pissed off at the world and constantly focused on what happened TO him instead of remembering HIM. Now that it’s been almost two years, I find myself smiling at memories and remembering him and no longer dwell on the accident and the bastard who wasn’t paying attention and killed him.

  14. I try to limit my “I’m so pissed” time to a few minutes, depending on the severity of the thing that did the pissing.. uh.. you get it.
    Then I resolve to move on and try not to dwell. It’s not always fairy land but it helps to force myself to move forward and understand that being angry doesn’t help anyone. I appreciate your peppy attitude all the time.. You are realistic but optimistic and encouraging. Go Ali! 🙂

  15. Jazz hands, elf costumes, and elementary school love letters? This qualifies as best post ever.

    I was a negative Nelly all last year. It was just a crap year in a lot of ways, and I let it (and the people around me) get inside my head and make me miserable. I finally decided that, if I continued to live my life that way, I would be…well…miserable. Forever. Since then, I’ve been trying to be as positive as possible, even when life really, really sucks for whatever reason. Because, as you stated, my life is pretty awesome. It doesn’t really suck AT ALL. Once I start realizing and respecting that, I’m a much happier person overall.

  16. LOVED this post!! 🙂
    two questions: did you ever find a new, nicer, running-friendly doctor?? and whatever happened with the colitis diagnosis??

    hoping you feel better soon!

  17. You crack me up, girl! These past few entries have been some of your best! If I had a Cadbury mini egg to give you, I would.

  18. Love the positive happy post- you have a great attitude to life and its hurdles.

    Cadbury mini eggs solve many problems. I too have hit up the local CVS… so good!! When I am feeling down, I like to curl up in bed with some choccy and watch tv. It helps to chill out. Then afterwards I tell myself “time to cheer up” and go for a run/have a shower and get on with things. I have been a wallower in the past but I don’t think it helps things.

  19. Man, I was a little on the nerdy end of the scale (a little? who am I kidding?) in jr high. I wish I had a boyfriend then only so I could dig up this kind of stuff now. I probably have an inordinate amount of mad libs that i saved though.

  20. I couldn’t agree more with “surround yourself with positive people”! Sometimes when I’m feeling crappy it’s so easy to want to just be in the woe is me mentality and sulk with a bunch of people who are feeling negative too. But that never helps!

    Positive people + mini-eggs + girl’s weekends = pure happiness 🙂

  21. I like to cry it out when it gets super stressful, and then I move on with my life. Eh, I more like eat on . I definitely let the sweets make me feel better.

  22. I try to stay positive and focus on all the great things. Seeing poverty everyday in the city, helps keep perspective in check. Having meniere’s definitely sucks, but I am thankful I have only had it for a few years. I think of you and other friends with chron’s and I really think you guys are champs. It can’t be easy to deal with an unpredictable health issue as a kid!

  23. oooh Ali, I love this post so much! and not just because you were a very sweaty third grader. I am a 100% believer in the fact that life is great if “you’re willing to see it that way.” sometimes it takes a little more work to do this, but it’s so worth it!
    I can’t believe I’m missing the cherry blossoms on the bridle… maybe I should go for a, gasp, walk? hehe. Sweatpants mandatory nights are my new favorite.

  24. Ok, Ali, I know you poured your ever-positive heart out at a difficult period of your life. But Oh.My.God. I love that elf costume. That is all.

  25. I freaking LOVE this post!(Minus your horrible stomach issues…) I was literally laughing out loud at work (because I’m so professional. And on task at all times, obviously.) You are inspiring me to dig out the pic of me from my 6th grade dance recital. I got to wear a peach unitard. It was amazing. And I LOVE Cadbury mini eggs. Wow. (Can we be best friends? )

  26. I actually saw a whole rack of those mini eggs at a grocery store this weekend and thought of you, but I wasn’t sure your want of eggs would be enough to overcome that whole thing where you’d have to give a total internet stranger your mailing address. I mean, I hope I seem legit, but….you know, some people care more about safety than chocolate. Probably for the best.

    And yes to an all broadway spin class.If they offered that at my gym it might be enough to get me to actually go to a spin class.

  27. I HEART this post, like whoa. I completely agree with every single point, especially about making yourself a priority, even for a minute. And realizing that getting frustrated about a situation won’t change it, so rather than do that and waste energy and cycles and frustration you don’t need, accept it and learn to live with it. Great post!

  28. I loved this post because it said so many things I needed to hear. My first 10K yesterday put so many things in perspective for me and I think running will become a bigger part of my life because its free therapy. Also – thank you again for the e-mails. They really do mean so much.

    xo Marie
    Chocolate & Wine

  29. 1. That big banner of mini eggs at the top of this post is a beautiful thing!!
    2. “By simply ridding myself of stress-inducing situations, I am so much happier.” WORD.
    3. I’m also wondering what Deke is up to these days. Wouldn’t it be awesome if he commented on this?!

  30. Sometimes, like this morning, I wake up and decide to make the best of a situation. I find that focusing on other people helps me do that. Whether it’s favors, compliments, asking questions about them instead of talking about me, or just working hard to do something for someone, I feel better about life.

    Sometimes, though, the only cure is ice cream.

    And by the way, I bought a bag of those eggs after reading so much about them on your blog. I’m not allowed to buy them anymore.

  31. I absolutely agree with you on removing the negative from your life. I’ve unfriended people on facebook and stopped reading blogs that piss me off. I also have cut politics out of my life which has helped, except for my husband that wants to tell my the dumb thing of the day. Kudos to you for being so positive!

  32. I love this post! For me its doing something for someone else, running and baking. No matter how badly I feel, those 3 things can usually turn it around. I also try to remind myself that while, yes, crappy things happen, I have an amazing life and I have created it for myself, so I should give myself a freakin break and enjoy it!

  33. Even better than Mini-Eggs at CVS – the London Candy Company (94th/Lex) sells mini eggs straight from the UK. The only thing better than Cadbury is Cadbury from the motherland.

    (I’m obsessed, too, thought Creme Eggs are my ultimate weakness)

    1. Cadbury Creme Eggs are my weakness as well (in fact, I just ate one that I brought back from the US to Paris!) and my friend just told me that McDonald’s in London makes McFlurry’s with Creme Eggs!!! Thinking about going to London just to try one…

  34. 1) love the random cursive in your letters.
    2) no letters about your big brother, or are those not appropriate for public viewing?
    3) I’m ellie the elf, I’m sitting on a shelf

    1. Oh Ryan, there’s an ENTIRE FOLDER of “brother-specific” entries. They’re so sad. We did not get along. Don’t worry, they’ll get posted.

  35. Usually alcoholic beverages with friends always help… but in the event of adulthood (or stomach issues) I would say that a good Saturday morning yoga class followed by brunch always peps me up!

    PS Your love letter is TOO FUNNY!!!

  36. hahaha I wish I saved notes/notebooks from school like you did. Nothing better than reliving the great love affairs of your young 10-year-old self. Love your outlook as well – life doesn’t suck that much. It will all get better.

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about ali

I’m the creator of the Ali on the Run blog and the host of the Ali on the Run Show podcast. I’m also a freelance writer and editor, a race announcer, a runner and marathoner, a mom, and a huge fan of Peanut M&Ms, Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again (way better than the first one!), and reliving my glory days as a competition dancer in the early 2000s. I’m really happy you’re here.
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