My top performing story on Medium is my takedown of positivity culture. And I stand by it. Insisting that people comply with rigid behaviors exemplifying “positive” behavior is damaging.
That said, I’ve done a bit of work on my perception. And while I loathe performing positivity, I’ve noticed a difference over the past year as I’ve started to, not “think positive,” but “be positive.”
Therein lies the difference between positivity culture and positive living. It’s not even necessarily “positive.” It’s simply not negative.
Years ago, #FML was a common hashtag in my circle—and it wasn't always ironic. It’s short for Fuck My Life, and its uses ranged from life’s inconveniences to general statements about the quality of one’s life. I remembered, back when my life was a little more charmed (read: in college, naïve), thinking how negative these people were, writing #FML over a little thing like a lost umbrella. I understood more as my life got worse over the years, but I still tried to “remain positive,” much to my own detriment.
As a survivor of domestic violence who’s had everything from smear campaigns to horrible bosses, I’ve definitely had my share of FML moments. And as a Highly Sensitive Person who suffers from depression, anxiety, and suicidality, I’ve felt pretty inclined toward self-harm and self-destruction. I resigned myself to a hard life even when I resisted those feelings.
So what happens when someone with my conditions actively works on acceptance rather than self-denigration? Not acceptance of myself—hell no—but acceptance of circumstances and a perhaps-naïve belief that things might turn out all right.
Turns out, positivity is useless. Acceptance is everything.
Misfortune always predicted incredible despair. It seemed I was being punished excessively for the slightest missteps. Missed a bill? $150 late fee. Forgot my umbrella? Favorite shirt ruined. Overslept? Lost job opportunity. For a while that was my life, an endless parade of embarassment and incompetence. I worked hard, when I could, but the misfortune and mental health issues reinforced each other in a deadly loop. I could barely escape the confines of my depression. And when I did, I rarely prevailed. Damned if I did, damned if I didn’t.
I fixed my loop, in a sense. I learned to say, “Oh well, c’est la vie.” Rather than looking for the silver lining, I simply accepted the fray. And something changed…I started to have more fortune. Of course misfortune still happens. But now, if I’m caught in the Florida rain, my shirt is just a shirt. Nearly dying will give you that perspective.
I was in an abusive relationship. Upon escaping, I met the love of my life. I realize that’s a little rom-com, but it’s true. That said, it wasn’t as neat and pretty as a movie — far from it. Being a survivor of trauma in an intimate relationship is akin to being a bull in a china shop, or whatever metaphor you prefer. You doubt everything you do and say after being gaslit for so long. You jump three feet at the sound of a pin dropping. You smash delicate situations with your paranoia and PTSD.
Maintaining a positive attitude was near impossible. But being positive wasn’t. It was always possible to enjoy the nice moments in my new relationship. Eventually I learned to rely upon such simple enjoyments, to shun my perfectionism that well complimented my abuser’s initial lovebombing of me. I learned to find joy in the imperfect moments in which my new partner and I scraped together enough money to buy a single draft beer and share it. As we became financially stable, that enjoyment evolved into the ability to vacation together. We had the building blocks of acceptance of each other…and that’s the foundation of a relationship.
So while I won’t tell people to “think positive,” I must admit to myself that I’ve learned to be positive…or rather, to think about potential and enjoy the little things, rather than saying #FML. Maybe things will be better, even if my brain doesn’t want it to be. And little by little, I’m feeling good about things in my life. I’m closer and closer to #LoveMyLife.