I’ve mentioned recently that I wanted to practice gratitude on a daily basis. I resolved to find one thing every day to be thankful for in order to strengthen my gratitude finding muscles and improve my mental health. For 30 days I planned to pair a lovely picture with a little snippet about what was so great that day. Well, true to form, I lasted 3 entire days before getting irritated and abandoning the whole project. Then I was ashamed of myself for being unable to stick with the program and labeled myself as an ungrateful failure – but this troubled me too. I wouldn’t normally describe myself as an ungrateful person. However, in the face of forced gratitude, I end up feeling worse about myself when the goal is quite the opposite. But I’m willing to bet that I’m not alone in this and that those of us who struggle with mental illness know all too well the negative effects of “toxic positivity” and I’ve got a bone to pick with these folks.
I’ve been seeing a lot of articles fly around the internet over the past year about the power of positivity. Think positive, be grateful, practice yoga and all your mental health troubles will fade away and you’ll be a glowing example of the power of the human mind to overcome any obstacle. Change your diet and you’ll change your brain! Practice deep breathing and you’ll never have anxiety again! Envision your future success and you’ll create your reality! Start a gratitude journal and you’ll transform your unworthy self to worthy! I don’t mean to completely discount the well-intentioned but severely near-sightedness of these claims. But truth be told, these statements make me feel about 2 inches tall. As if I have done nothing to help myself over the past 20 years I’ve been dealing with this illness. I did everything under the sun to help myself before approaching the topic of pharmaceuticals. Medication is what ended up changing my life and I’m truly grateful for it. But that doesn’t mean I take a passive role in my mental health now. I still eat healthy, exercise, meditate, etc. but none of those interventions does a damn thing to slow or stop a manic episode or lift me from a deep depression. Then I read articles with headlines like the ones I mentioned above and they seem to insinuate that if I were doing things correctly, I wouldn’t be sick. It’s not helpful and not what those of us who suffer from mental health disorders really need. Further, it creates more stigma because it insinuates the patient is choosing to suffer from their illness.
So, what is one to do? It’s simple. Disengage. STOP reading all the flowery positivity articles. If it helps you, then by all means please go for it. But if it doesn’t, then don’t go there. Don’t keep reading until the article is finished and all you are left with is a bad taste in your mouth from someone who doesn’t know what it first handedly feels like to have Bipolar Disorder, Schizophrenia, Borderline Personality Disorder, you name it! Don’t fill your cup with anything that doesn’t have an authentic ring for you. If it leaves you feeling worse about yourself, then let it go. You are in charge of what you allow into your psyche. Gratitude may be great and I sure wish I could fill a journal up every month without wanting to pull my hair out. But for now, at this point in my life, I’m okay with it being a distant star.