Mental health professionals and lay folk alike have taken to social media to suggest all kinds of aggressively positive activities, from how to craft the perfect banana bread to 15-minute yoga routines to center your day. Maybe it’s the overuse of the word pandemic that’s making people feel like this should be a time of productivity and spiritual enlightenment: the word rings sterile and faceless, and it leaves too much space for self-projection. We’re living through a plague and anyone trying to put a positive spin on the mass devastation tearing through our planet is missing the enormity of this event. Now is not the time for grotesque positivity.
Americans are historically allergic to negative emotions (#TooBlessedToBeStressed). We are a culture obsessed with positivity and a people without traditional customs to appropriately navigate grief. Instead of acknowledging overwhelming, painful situations, Americans shove our feelings down and sputter out phrases like, “It’s for the best,” “Now we can appreciate…,” and the most offensive catch-all, “It is God’s plan.”
Toxic positivity is a disease of its own. It doesn’t make room for dealing with the complexities of the current global trauma we’re living through. Instead of being permitted space to grieve, we are being fed ideas about how to maintain productivity. Humans across the globe are dying, often alone, from a rampant disease. People have lost their jobs and livelihoods, families are separated, schools are closed, and we cannot adequately provide for our health care workers. This is not a time to learn a new language or conquer Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking. This is a time to survive, by whatever means necessary, and to pull out our tried and true coping mechanisms, even the mediocre ones like disassociating and taking too many naps. You cannot heal or learn new skills inside of a trauma. This requires temporal distance and a sense of safety, neither of which we can access at the present moment. It would be like trying to study a tornado while inside of one.
In an effort to opt of toxic positivity, here is a list of activities I will not attempt (full disclosure, I couldn’t muster the energy or faux excitement needed to accomplish any of these):
- Feel “thankful” for this “pause” in time
- Participate in online happy hours
- Bake banana bread
- Feel my feelings
- Keep count of my alcohol units
- Keep count of my caloric intake
- Read 5 books to my son every day, as recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics
- Brush my son’s teeth twice a day, as recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics
- Brush my hair more than three times a week
- Connect with friends
- Search for silver linings
- Talk to my therapist regularly
- Watch Game of Thrones
- Learn a new language
- Stay present
While I do believe people posting online in cherry dispositions are delusional (which, again, delusion is a fine coping mechanism), and some might think they’re helping, we should all cut each other some slack and show one another extra kindness during this time. For example, I’ve started smiling and waving to strangers on my rambling afternoon walks, as apparently, it’s customary in my in-laws’ suburban neighborhood. I’ve even extended a few “how are you holding up?” to show my amiable spirit. The only exception: do not extend good graces to people not supporting essential workers. People who have the financial means to pay their dog walkers, nannies, housekeepers, and landscapers but chose not to are monsters.
To summarize: grieve, eat, sleep, numb out as needed. And instead of aiming for positivity or productivity, focus on being kind – to yourself, and to the ones you love.
Top photo via Pexels / cottonbro
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Samantha is the author of Putting Out: Essays on Otherness. She regularly contributes to BUST. Reach out: firstname.lastname@example.org