When Positivity Becomes a Problem

Kristin Neva avatar

by Kristin Neva |

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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!”

Snow settles on Fraser firs in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. (Courtesy of Kristin Neva)

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.


Note: ALS News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of ALS News Today or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to ALS.


Bob Ives avatar

Bob Ives

Interesting post, but not quite the way I address my situation. I'm an all-time glass half-full guy and focus on putting the things, the people and the processes in place that I think I'll need. I know, respect and acknowledge the 'end-game', but do everything within reason to meet my family's needs and delay the latter stages.

Kristin Neva avatar

Kristin Neva

That's great, Bob. After initially grieving the diagnosis, my husband has been much the same, although there have been occasional milestones that have hit him--like the first time he couldn't squeeze the ketchup bottle. I think it's about authenticity. If you don't have many sad moments, no need to manufacture them. Even if you aren't grieving, your family may have sad moments. Everyone processes differently. Thank you for your comment.

Merrill Leaphart avatar

Merrill Leaphart

Wow, thanks. Accidentally met you on the caregiving video. 49 years caring for son born too early. Yours was the first honest and helpful advice, sharing the how-to get the needs met. So often I have heard, "you make me uncomfortable ". I just wanted to know how to get the job done. Also, will be reading your books. Merrill , mother of Michael A. Leaphart

Kristin Neva avatar

Kristin Neva

I'm glad it was helpful. Thank you for commenting!

Alexandra avatar


Your closing quote struck me. Thank you for it.

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