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To Anyone Who Tells People With Chronic Illness to ‘Just Think Positively’

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“All that negative stuff isn’t healthy. You just need to move on. You just need to think positively. You need to stop perceiving that darkness. Maybe you should pray to God. I don’t know why it’s like that, but there are people worse off. You’re not the only person like this, you know. I don’t know why you’re being so dramatic. I’m sorry I can’t handle all your sadness anymore. At least it isn’t cancer. You can still walk, though. Why do you always talk about this? Why can’t you just talk about happier stuff? You should get out more. You should exercise more. Buck up, it’s not that bad. You just need to pull yourself up by your bootstraps. You’re fine. Stop worrying. Maybe you need a vacation. When are you going to just let it go?”


“But they mean well. You should just appreciate their positive thoughts. You just need to thank them for their prayers and good vibes. They were being nice. You’re just making a big deal out of nothing. You’re so ungrateful.”

Your intention is irrelevant, if not selfish. You’ve exploited the sick with your brand of “empathy.” It’s fake. You may tuck yourself in carefully to get a good night’s sleep, but this culture is a gimmick. It’s a cop-out.

Seriously, your silence would be better appreciated. Didn’t your mother ever say if you don’t have something nice to say, you shouldn’t speak at all? Your “positivity” is tired, it’s old, and I’m over it. You’re trying to minimize, marginalize, dismiss, invalidate — move on because that will not be accepted.

My dearest chronically ill friends — that is what you need to say if anyone should ever utter a word of their positivity or inspiration spiel. Don’t get me wrong, a healthy dose of positivity is important for experiencing the spectrum of human emotions. Happiness cannot exist without sadness. Grief does not overwhelm without ecstasy. Calm doesn’t breathe without anger swelling on the other side. We are a culmination of these experiences. Each emotion, each experience, each feeling and attitude has a place and should be weighed when we consider the human condition.

And please don’t mistake this as me saying that pain equals strength, because that is not the case. There are people who have moments of strength and weakness, with and without pain and illness.

But this culture of positivity needs to stop.

It is preventing legitimate strides towards a more equal foundation for the chronically ill and those in pain and with disabilities. People are prescribing happiness in the place of medicine — medicine that is supported empirically and scientifically. It’s intended as a placebo, a dose of sugar on our sh*tty lives. But we can stop it. We are sick and we are in pain, but we have a voice. Our voice matters. We are relevant. We are human beings, and our health isn’t inconsequential. We are not collateral damage to a misguided drug war or political mismanagement. We are in pain and we are exhausted. But we have the right not to be, as much as able.

Talk about it. Do not accept merely accept this positivity. Positivity isn’t a cure for genetic disorders. It can’t fix a congenital brain condition. Call your friends, family and doctors out on it. Correct them. Set those boundaries. And never accept less. This is critical. Do not sacrifice your mental, emotional and intellectual safety for that. Intention is irrelevant in this context. Your well-being is not.

woman in front of glacier
Shiloh in front of a glacier in Alaska.

A version of this post first appeared on salvationisadhoc.

Originally published: March 3, 2016
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