The Insidious Cruelty of Positive Thinking

“Good humor is a tonic for mind and body. It is the best antidote for anxiety and depression. It is a business asset. It attracts and keeps friends. It lightens human burdens. It is the direct route to serenity and contentment. ”
~Grenville Kleiser

I hate this cliched overly simplistic statement with a loathing that seems at odds with its intention.   It represents an abysmal lack of understanding of what being seriously and deeply sick with depression and anxiety is all about.

It makes me despair that any of my real life family or friends will ever understand my illness or that they will ever forgive me.

Kleiser is dead but this sentiment keeps dogging us.  If I could call up his spirit I would do it just so I could slap the shit out of him.  In fact if I could build a field of dreams I would do one just for all the fuckers who built the train tracks to the train station of positivity – I’m looking at you Normal Vincent Peale.  And then I would I would just start to rant at them.

Sadly, you will have to do as stand-ins.

I know, I sound like big pile of negativity when I say these things.  But idiots spout this crap at people who are struggling with depression and anxiety.  Apparently they think its just a switch in our heads.  Just turn on the SMILE!

When this is said, there is an implication that because we aren’t turning on that positive switch, this entire illness is just our fault.  Its a character flaw.  We must actually WANT to depressed/anxious or we would just be good humored!

People think we’re just sad or being downers.  ’Just think Positive!’ they say.

Yeah.  Thinking isn’t really the problem, is it?  Positive, negative, – any thought at all will come and even roost for awhile.  But it still doesn’t make any actual movement happen.  No motivation is delivered with it.  No changes.

No happiness takes root because I think of happy things or funny things.  I may laugh, and even smile.  I may even feel hope occasionally.  But it is fleeting moment and overwhelmed by apathy and despair.

You CANNOT think your way out of Depression and Anxiety.  I know.  I’ve spent years trying.  Depression is a sickness of thinking.  Overthinking.  Ruminating on things.  Cogitating.  Sometimes we even have positive thoughts.  Shocking, isn’t it?

But these thoughts positive, negative, weird, horrible, funny, insightful… They never actually result in a change in our lives.  Because the thoughts live in one place and they never connect to the part of our brain where action happens.  Its like there is a big canyon between the idea and the action.

Anxiety will take you into thinking holes that your rational brain can distantly see are NOT issues, but a stronger part of your brain is funneling in an emotional ick with these thoughts and now you are swimming is an sewer of fear and horror.   We don’t invite those emotions into the brain, they show up and they don’t go away when we smile.  Instead they can start to take over our bodies and then we have REAL physical symptoms of the horror show that is going on in our heads.

Depression comes with an apathy that is so deeply etched into our brains that many people with depression will tell you that it didn’t occur to them that this utter lack of interest was not right.  That’s the trick of depression.  It makes what it completely abnormal seem like its just normal.

Nor do the random positive thoughts turn all of it into a wave of serenity and contentment.

The longer you struggle against depression and anxiety the more if feels like a monster with endless tentacles that pull you back just when you feel like you might have gotten a foothold to get out.

When you say these sorts of “Smile!” “Be Positive!” things to us, you are showing how utterly invisible our struggle is to you. How our incredible battles with minor things are trivial to you.

But to us, these things, these tiny things that are everyday matters to you – they are HUGE.  There are people in the world right now who are proud that they took out the garbage today.  That was their triumph.  For most people its just one of dozens of everyday tasks they do and so they don’t get it.

People think if we would just smile it will get better.  It won’t.  Please believe me.

Saying those things reiterates the feeling of isolation and self hatred in the mentally ill.  It announces that this is my fault, because if I would just think the right thing this will all go away.  But it doesn’t go away when I think positive, so I am a failure, I am not trying hard enough, I am not good enough at smiling.

That’s what happens when you tell someone with a mental illness to be positive.

It’s an insidious and well intentioned cruelty.

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4 thoughts on “The Insidious Cruelty of Positive Thinking

  1. “Today is the first day of the rest of your life!!!” 🙂 🙂 🙂 ! That expression made me gag the first time I heard it. Hard to believe there are people who find this idea profound.
    You explain the thought cesspool of depression well. And you are certainly right that people are made to feel that something is wrong with them if they are not upbeat all the time.
    I try to let my daughters know that whatever they are feeling, it’s okay. Feelings are not good or bad or right or wrong – they are what they are. Denying them their place will not make them go away.

    Liked by 1 person

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