The Problem with Positivity

The problem with positivity is that it rejects grief a valid emotion essential to the healing process.

Growing up, I was known as the girl who was always smiling. I remember my fifth grade volleyball coach saying, “Marell, I don’t think I can ever see you get angry.” I just stood there and smiled, knowing that I very well could. But growing into my teen and even young adult years, I never lost this image of the girl who was always smiling. I absolutely loved it when teachers, family, and friends would characterize me this way. I saw positivity as more appealing and attractive than constant negativity. After all, who doesn’t?

Although I’ve had my fair share of adversities, no one ever saw me upset or even knew about my problems because I never allowed them to.

Being positive became associated with being strong, and there is something terribly self-destructive about this.

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When I was diagnosed with cancer, one of the most difficult challenges for me was my effort to maintain this image- to uphold this expectation that people saw and constantly reminded me of in hopes that it would “keep me strong” in the midst of pain. The problem with this was that at times, all I really wanted to do was fall apart.

I went into treatment with high spirits. I made jokes to my nurses about my love for food and putting on weight, jokes with my family about dying my hair with “frosted tips” as soon as it would start to grow back, anything to show my loved ones that I was positive, and therefore okay. But there were times when I was vulnerable and depressed and just couldn’t find it in me to be positive, and it my took my supporters a while to understand how to deal with my sadness.

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As a fairly positive person, I found theories of “positive thought” to be the most annoying pieces of advice anyone could offer me. I did not share my thoughts with people who told me to “think positive,” “seize the day,” or worst of all…”look on the bright side.” Because if I could, I wouldn’t be so upset right now.

It came to a point where all I could do was cry and isolate myself. My sisters would try endlessly to pry out what it was that triggered a specific breakdown, but all I could say was “I’m exhausted.” I had no other explanation for it.

My mom always worried that any negative emotions would have physical consequences on my health, she would come into my room and say: “Marell com’on, you’re better than this.” She did not mean this in a negative way whatsoever– my mother is the most supportive person I know, but during that time, I was visibly more depressed than usual. My smile had completely disappeared, and she had a right to worry about me. I would often find myself saying, “Mom, I’m fine, I’m just sad. Let me be sad. I’m allowed to be sad.

I knew I was going to be okay, but at that time, nothing felt okay. At that time I was battling a sickness. At that time, the things that used to make me happy no longer did. I was dreading how much more there was yet to overcome, I feared what other road bumps would come along the way, and I wasn’t sure how much more I was willing to take. I was young, had given up school, work, and everything that made me “me.” I didn’t feel like myself, I didn’t act like myself, and I missed everything about my old life.

Being in treatment for a little over two years, my family eventually learned how to help me work through my bad days. The best thing they did was tell me: “I know, I’m sorry. You’re almost there” and take me out for a drive to clear my thoughts, lay next to me while I cried it out– just be there for me. There was nothing anyone could do but to let it pass.

Don’t get me wrong; sometimes it is absolutely necessary to remind someone to stay positive. Negative thoughts do lead to negative outcomes, but when someone is so utterly overwhelmed with grief, part of the grief is not being able to look on the bright side. Please don’t make light of the situation by suggesting positivity as an easy fix.

I need your empathy, not your sympathy. Put yourself in my shoes, try to understand where I’m coming from- level with me. Passing platitudes of positivity off for advice will only distance yourself from me. It puts you on a spectrum where I’m not, and at that moment, positivity doesn’t resonate with how I’m feeling.

So, forget about positivity right now. 

Embrace Grieving.

Grief comes with losses of any kind. We grieve when we lose a job, a relationship, a loved one, even when we lose our sense of self or our self-constructed expectations. The worst thing we can do is reject our right to grieve in efforts to stay positive, because this will only lead to guilt when we can’t. Shed all of those images that you harbour of sadness and tears as weakness. They are emotions. They are bodily reactions to your circumstance. Don’t avoid the process.

I wish I could tell you that the pain will end soon, but I can’t, and you probably know this yourself. But when things just aren’t going your way, or when you just plain feel like it,

Cry.      Scream.      Shout.      Grieve,      then sleep.

As Megan Devine says perfectly:

“Some things in life cannot be fixed. They can only be carried.”

When we grieve, we are ultimately accepting our situation, and only then can we move towards healing. Learn to live with your grief, let it come and go. Sometimes there are only bad days, and better days- and that is alright for now. Strive for the day you can feel positive again, because it will come, but never reject your sadness.

Until then, we’re all rooting for you.

With love,

Marell.

All Rights Reserved

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7 thoughts on “The Problem with Positivity

  1. The Average Rose says:

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts on positivity!
    I actually found this very relatable because I was also the kind of girl who always puts a smile on her face. Until one day I was so tired and exhausted, but didn’t know if I can actually take off that mask.
    Although I’m commenting for Ex10, I’m NOT gonna refer you to my blog, but share a post from my favourite blogger who has been really inspirational to me! (This post isn’t on her blog but a guest post she wrote for the topic on mental illness). http://journal.esmewang.com/beth-kirby-owg/
    In case you don’t have time/don’t want to read it, I’ll share with you my favourite line, “work hard when you can, rest when you can’t — it’s okay when you can’t”.

    also with love,
    Kate

    Like

    • marelltomeh says:

      I totally get you Kate, its hard to take off the mask and its just as hard to keep it on. Its a big change from what you or the people around you are used to when it comes off, and sometimes the “positive push” is the only solution the people around us can see. For me at least, I didn’t like the idea of being the “sad girl,” but also, because I am known for always smiling, It’s hard to get people to understand that at times its was an exhausted effort. Thank you for sharing by the way! I wouldn’t mind reading your blog or her blog at all!

      Like

  2. jalynn buczok says:

    Hi Marell,

    I loved this blog as i thought your post was very authentic and you approached a senstive topic with compassion and understanding. I think many of us can relate to this post as positivity is looked at as a strong attribute to have and trying to stay positive constantly can be draining. I know i have times where i want to break down and cry and i think we should embrace those moments as they make us human. I have kept up with your blog posts, and i think you are an inspiration. I love your content, you are genuine, informative, and thought provoking.

    Keep up the good work!

    Like

    • marelltomeh says:

      Thanks so much Jalynn, I really appreciate the feed back, and i’m glad you were able to connect. The struggle with staying positive is something I definitely beat myself up over, but you’re absolutely right the struggle makes us human. Thank you so much for all of your sweet thoughts and thank you also for checking out my post!

      Like

  3. healthandfitnessssblog says:

    Hi Marell,

    I really enjoyed the post you made in regards to positivity. I love how open you are by sharing yourself with your writing and hope you continue with the great work! It is a great way to open doors on speaking about something goes through from time to time. It is a great way to maintain the positive mindset! I agree with most you have to say on the topic!
    Stay positive!
    Love,
    Karen

    Like

    • marelltomeh says:

      Hey Karen, thanks for taking the time to read the post and for all of your positive feed back. Im glad you could agree and relate! Thanks again for the visit!

      Liked by 1 person

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