When Positivity Becomes a Problem
Last week, we had an early snowfall, even for Michigan’s Keweenaw Peninsula. Snow frosted the tips of trees and blanketed the grass, leaving small bits of green peeking through. I posted a picture on social media and wrote, “It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas. Gearing up for wreath-making in just a few weeks!”
Embrace the snow, because it’s all about attitude, right? My son, Isaac, made snowballs and started talking about ski season.
The snow that followed was wet and sloppy, and mixed with rain, and the novelty wore off after a few days of gloomy weather.
One morning when the temperature was in the 30s, Isaac complained, “It’s so cold.”
“No,” I said, looking out at the gray sky. “The sun is shining, and it’s unseasonably warm. It’s in the mid-70s. It’s a beautiful day.”
Isaac laughed at my deliberate denial, and I kept up the charade for a few more minutes until it was past the point of funny.
I noticed that I actually felt better pretending.
That got me thinking about how positivity can cross the line to become a form of denial.
We live in a culture that embraces positivity. “Fake it ’til you make it.” There’s something to be said for looking on the bright side and trying to find the silver lining. Some research even shows that if you intentionally smile it triggers endorphins in your brain that make you feel better.
But we still need to face reality so we can prepare.
With winter coming in the Keweenaw, we need to get hoses drained and stored, the summer tires swapped for snow tires, and the snow blower put on the tractor. It’s time to make sure gloves, boots, and snow pants still fit the kids, and order whatever is needed. And then, once winter arrives, we can embrace the snow by snowshoeing, sledding, and skiing. Or we can spend cozy nights curled up with a book by the fireplace.
With ALS, we need to prepare for what lies ahead as best we can. Preparations may include writing letters to loved ones, reviewing finances, voice banking, and securing necessary equipment. We think through accessibility issues. This might entail renovating or moving. And then, when life gets hard, we can make the best of a bad situation, because although we can’t change a lot, we can certainly make things worse than they could be.
However, there is a point where positivity becomes toxic — when we deny or avoid unpleasant emotions.
We can’t process what we don’t feel. Living in denial long term isn’t good for a person’s psyche. Accepting and talking about negative emotions can decrease their intensity.
Embracing joy while feeling ongoing sorrow is tough, but learning to live in this duality is part of what makes us human.
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