A little bit about me: I’ve lived with chronic depression since about 10 years old (ranging from dysphoria, or Persistent Depressive Disorder, to Major Depressive Disorder), raised in a religious family who was very anti-psychology/psychiatry. I’ve been on several different medications and combinations of medications, as well as different types of therapy. I’m currently in the most stable state that I’ve been in several years, and it’s allowing me to see my life from a different perspective, which I’d like to share some of.
Toxic positivity was one of the most painful parts of my childhood and young adulthood. My parents had no clue how to handle depression, and it showed. It was so devastating to be told that I just had a “bad attitude” or I “just had to smile”, when all I wanted was to be able to do exactly that!
Some of those things, while incredibly difficult to hear at the time, actually held a kernel of truth. Honestly, sometimes we do have to “fake it ‘til we make it”. Did you know that forcing yourself to smile actually leads to a chemical change in your brain that triggers positive feelings? It’s true! Also, many people in the medical field have attested that a positive attitude in critically ill patients can mean the difference between life and death. There are many benefits to positivity. It’s okay to put a smile on, even when you don’t feel like it, and no one should be shamed for trying to look on the bright side.
However, it’s important to realize that when the brain is set in a pattern of depression, these platitudes and “tricks” fall far short of being helpful. Where it becomes truly toxic is when someone tries to force their positive outlook onto someone else. Occasionally, a reminder of the positive things in life can be helpful, however, often when we’re going through something difficult, we just need someone to say, “Yeah, that sucks, and I’m here for you,” rather than to come up with some cliché platitude that’s intended to neatly cover up our wounds, like some sort of verbal bandaid. As though saying something “positive” is supposed to magically change the reality of unpleasant circumstances. Positivity can also become toxic when we use it to ignore the pain we’re in, both mental and physical. If we pretend everything’s fine, then we aren’t getting the help we need to heal, which allows things to fester and worsen.
Now, I’m going to take some liberties with the phrase, “Toxic Positivity”, because I’ve noticed a trend that has been bothering me, lately. In our well-intended attempts to encourage others, we’ve taken to assuming that everyone is perfect “just the way they are”. I’m sorry, but I just can’t get on board with that. See, I know that I’m not perfect. I have many areas of my life that I need to grow in, and I’ve seen that in everyone I’ve ever had a serious conversation with. In fact, I’m not even sure that I can honestly say that I’m doing my best. I want to think that, because that’s who I *want* to be, but at the same time, if I’m truly doing “my best”, then there’s no hope for anything better. No hope for growth. I’m stuck, and doomed to stagnate in this state of brokenness for the rest of my life. Talk about depressing!
However, if I allow myself to step back and look at my life as objectively as possible, I can see where I desperately *need* to change, and begin to plan how to make progress in that area. I’ve learned that change can be HARD. It can take much longer than I would like, and it might not be obvious to anyone else but me (maybe not even me, at first). However, the alternative, living a hopelessly stagnant life, is just something I’m not interested in.
All that to say, FYI: you’re not perfect. I don’t know how you treat those around you. I don’t know what your work ethic is like, or much else besides what you post on The Mighty, which is subjective at best. However, I know you have issues, because you’re human. Welcome to the club! You’re in great company! Does that mean you have less value as a person? Absolutely not! Does it mean that you aren’t worthy of respect? No! It just means that you are a living, breathing, *growing* human being, and as long as you continue to seek ways to grow to be a better person, you’re heading in the right direction. Personally, I think that’s better than perfection, because it’s something real and attainable, no matter where you’re at in life.