The Tyranny of the Positive

This one has been chewing on my brain for a while. I am not sure how coherent this rant will be, but let’s start.

How often have you heard this:

“It will get better, I promise.”

“At least you don’t have [cancer] [dementia] [something totally unrelated].”

“Just spend more time on self-care and you’ll feel better.”

Or the ones that bug me the most right now…

“You just need some more sleep…”

“Just spend some time practising mindfulness.”

Okay let’s dive in. There’s no doubt (to many of us) that life is stressful. Having a body sucks because it gets ill, broken, sore, stiff (and not in a good way), and otherwise reminds us of our painful mortality. Having a mind might be worse. It can play and replay memories, old scripts, and remember all those painful moments. Emotions? Don’t get me started. Of course we feel for a reason – my take is that it is a signal system to pay attention to whatever is linked to the emotion. But you sure can get lost in those signals. To the point where the signal is the noise and you want to curl up in a ball until it all goes away.

So here we are, all curled up, hands over eyes and ears (try doing that, not so easy). Our gut churns. Our heart aches. Our mind races. It’s hell really. Let’s be honest – no one enjoys feeling like crap, however one got into that state in the first place. But here we are. And what happens? We risk saying something out loud. And the response is, “oh just get some rest, you’ll feel better.” (FFS, we were just lying on the floor and now you want me to go lie in bed?) Or “aren’t you into yoga? Maybe go do some more yoga…” or mindfulness… or maybe you should write in your gratitude journal about why your silly little problem is not as big as … what… racism? starvation? abuse and violence? war? [pick your thing].

Sometimes the (hopefully) well-meaning advice we get just doesn’t cut it. More to the point, the advice boils down to one core element. You. As in you, already suffering, are then blamed for that suffering. Sad? You didn’t do enough gratitude in your journal. Anxious? You didn’t do enough relaxation and breathing. Angry? Obviously you didn’t do enough mindfulness. The list goes on. Got cancer? Diabetes? Must have been that bad eating, lack of exercise, and maybe one too many unwiped toilet seats.

What ever happened to Freud’s misery of everyday existence? Okay that was a bit tongue in cheek, but in essence, once upon a time, it was okay to be angry, or restless, or sad, or anxious – without the tyranny of all those health experts, those well-meaning “buck up kiddo” comments, and the Goop-level advice about how to feel better. What’s wrong with feeling like crap – and I make a distinction here – between the everyday neurotic crap and the serious crap. The everyday experience of life isn’t happy all the time.

The big question is how do we come to terms with the fact that life, this life, in a body, with thoughts and emotions, will be an up and down kind of ride? And how do we navigate the everyday crap in such a way that we don’t find ourselves sliding into the serious crap?

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