It can be challenging and scary to acknowledge and profess your vulnerability for all the world to see. Recently, I did just this, chronicling the worsening of my symptom of FND, and the impact that it has had on my mental health. I received many messages of support, especially from those within the chronic illness community. But, I also received comments such as “don’t worry so much, you’ll get through it,” “stay positive, it will soon pass, and the cliched “get better soon.” While many see these as supportive and well-meaning messages of support, for those who are chronically ill, they are examples of toxic positivity.

What is Toxic Positivity?

But what it is toxic positivity? Toxic positivity describes the concept of being positive and only being positive while rejecting everything negative. It is a culture which prescribes feeling or acting happy and cheerful even if not the truth.

“Toxic positivity describes the concept of being positive and only being positive while rejecting everything negative. It is a culture which prescribes feeling or acting happy and cheerful even if not the truth.” Click To Tweet

The Idea That Positivity Is A Magical Cure Is Itself Toxic

For those living with chronic illness, positivity has become regarded as a Fairy Godmother like presence. That by merely being positive and happy, we can magically cure ourselves of our sickness. And positivity alone can wondrously compel symptoms to disappear. Or worse, that surrendering to dark, gloomy thoughts is a sign of wanting to be ill.

“For those living with chronic illness, positivity has become regarded as a Fairy Godmother like presence. That by merely being positive and happy, we can magically cure ourselves of our sickness.” Click To Tweet

Of course, I would love for my Fairy Godmother to exist and cast away the debilitating symptoms that have wreaked havoc upon my body and life. But they do not exist, and I am never going to get better. I would love to get better. But sadly it’s unlikely ever to happen. It isn’t pessimism or negativity; it’s reality.

That does not mean; however, I oppose the idea of positivity. In my sanctuary, I have surrounded myself with positive and uplifting quotes printed on greeting cards and postcards. Or even ceramic decorative objects adorned with an inspirational quote or affirmation. On my Twitter and Instagram accounts, I often like to share inspirational and motivational quotes when they resonate. I love, therefore to surround myself and operate in positivity whenever I can.

The positivity that I choose to exude, however, is not to deny or avoid my problems but to make them more tolerable. For the truth is, that no matter how positive and exuberant I am, it is not a magical cure for my affliction. Still, I am sick.

“The positivity that I choose to exude, however, is not to deny or avoid my problems but to make them more tolerable. For the truth is, that no matter how positive and exuberant I am, it is not a magical cure. Still, I am sick.” Click To Tweet

Positive, Yes, But Still Sick

No matter how cheerful or optimistic I feel, the pain is always present. Regardless of how buoyant I may be the trembling and weakness is still severe and debilitating. Despite feeling on cloud nine, the dizziness never dissipates. Becoming a Pollyanna isn’t going to fix my broken brain. I cannot think or will myself to be and feel well; I am unable to control the symptoms that accompany FND; it just is.

“Becoming a Pollyanna isn’t going to fix my broken brain. I cannot think or will myself to be and feel well; I am unable to control the symptoms that accompany FND; it just is.” Click To Tweet

No matter how positive and cheerful we may be in our lives with chronic illness, still, we are sick. Photo by Blu Byrd from Pexel.

But the truth is that the ray of sunshine that positivity provides transforms into dark clouds caused by such persistent and debilitating symptoms. In reality, it is exceptionally challenging to cultivate positivity whilst in the throes of agonising pain; the type of agony that medications cannot subdue. It is hard to maintain positiveness when the world will not stop spinning; or when left bruised and injured after yet another fall. Being peppy and animated cannot suddenly compel my legs to stop trembling or make them any more robust. A smile and positivity cannot always meet the rigorous demands of life with a chronic illness. And on the worst of days, I do not possess the ability to adorn a happy face or gloss over the struggles that I continually face.

“A smile and positivity cannot always meet the rigorous demands of life with a chronic illness. And on the worst of days, I do not possess the ability to adorn a happy face or gloss over the struggles that I continually face.” Click To Tweet

When I am experiencing a significant flare, I only possess enough energy to survive each day that it lasts. I am unable to find the strength to search for the ray of light that positivity radiates. And I feel every emotion under the sun bar the happy and positive ones. Instead, I am alone and isolated with only pain and suffering for company.

If Not Positive All The Time, Am I To Blame For My Continued Sickness?

And this loneliness and isolation are magnified when scrawling through social media only to be met with memes about the power of positive thinking or inspirational quotes. Such posts, and those who post them make me worry about expressing the reality of my feelings for fear of being judged or harassed for not being positive enough.

I am grappling not only with the disabling symptoms of a neurological disorder but also the guilt and shame that somehow I am the cause of my continued ill-health. If recovery is dependent on what you believe, or how hard you fight, then the failure to do so becomes just that – a failing.

“If recovery is dependent on what you believe, or how hard you fight, then the failure to do so becomes just that – a failing.” Click To Tweet

After internalising the power of positivity for many years, I question whether I brought FND on myself. If only I meditated more or were more positive, would I be fully recovered, and not crying in agony? As such thoughts run through my head, it is easy to experience shame and feelings of incompetency at the idea that I have not tried hard enough to be positive.

Being sent positive and inspirational quotes such as the one above only make us question whether our negative thoughts and feelings are the reason we are still sick. Photo by Binti Malu from Pexels

It does not help me feel any better or more positive when sent cliched inspirational and positive memes of quotes. The words do not cure or even alleviate tormenting symptoms. Instead, it puts relentless pressure to be positive and cheerful, and feelings of inadequacy when failing to do so.

“It does not help me feel more positive when sent cliched inspirational quotes. The words do not cure tormenting symptoms. Instead, it puts relentless pressure to be positive and feelings of inadequacy when failing to do so.” Click To Tweet

But I Have Learnt That My Thoughts Do Not Influence How I Feel

At the coal face of living with chronic illness, I have learnt to accept the reality of it. Every day, I face the symptoms. Some days are good, while others are bad, but my thoughts or feelings fail to influence the kind of day I am going to experience. Even if I could suppress the negative thoughts and feelings that arise from the challenges of living with a chronic illness, they would still exist, however. When struggling, I do not want force-feeding positive and inspirational messages, but for my feelings to be heard, accepted and validated.

“I have learnt to accept the reality of it. Every day, I face the symptoms. Some days are good, while others are bad, but my thoughts or feelings fail to influence the kind of day I am going to experience.” Click To Tweet

Living with a chronic illness is demanding and challenging. A terrible thing is happening to us, so are we not allowed to feel negative about it?

Yes, positivity can make the experience easier to bear, but it is no magical cure.

But, by making it out that it is, is what turns positivity toxic.

“Yes, positivity can make the experience of living with a chronic illness easier to bear, but it is no magical cure. But by making it out that it is, is what turns positivity toxic.” Click To Tweet





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