July is Disability Pride Month 🌈 So I wanted to end this important month by sharing a poem I wrote. I feel it ties in nicely with the sentiment.
For anyone who is living with a disability, visible or invisible – you matter and deserve to feel connected to the world and everyone in it. I see you xx
I prepare for a daily battle, Against something that cannot be seen. The chance of attack is quite certain, From a foe, relentless and mean. I try not to show how I’m feeling. Knowing my fight’s just begun. It is hard to carry such pain all alone, The shame of a war never won. On bad days I want to surrender. It all feels too much to bear. Yet something inside me just keeps pushing on, I know that I must persevere. This invisible force is tyrannic and cruel. In its wake leaves massive destruction. Compassion and hope will lead the defence, Against this satanic affliction. Be kind to others as you walk through your pain. For you have no idea of theirs. Together our force is unyielding, Its powered by all that we share.
We are encouraged now more than ever to talk about our feelings. To reach out to those closest to us when we are faced with struggles. We may need supporting through a serious life crisis or it could just be a vent about day to day issues. Either way the message is everywhere; from social media to TV campaigns and mental health charities – don’t suffer in silence, keep talking.
Expressing our feelings is a way of releasing the burden. Even if our confidant can’t actually solve the problem, simply feeling heard and validated can be incredibly uplifting. A problem shared and all that!
Yet what happens when talking actually makes us feel worse?
How many of us have reached out for support only to be met with the following responses?
“You just need to think positive”
“You should be grateful for what you do have.”
“Never mind, it could be worse.”
Did these pearls of wisdom ever make anyone feel better. I would say – absolutely NOT. In fact, the recipient is more likely to feel guilty or ashamed for having what are actually completely normal and appropriate human emotions.
Is the belief that no matter how awful or difficult a situation is, people should maintain a positive mindset.
Of course there is no denying that having a generally optimistic outlook is good for our wellbeing. Re-framing difficult situations can often supply a more compassionate and balanced perspective.
However, when positivity becomes overzealous and rigid it is not only unhelpful, it’s toxic. This attitude doesn’t just stress the importance of optimism, it minimises and denies any trace of human emotion.
In a nutshell – we shouldn’t have to pretend everything is OK when it isn’t.
What if it’s not only acceptable for us to feel all the emotions that accompany the bad stuff – but it’s beneficial? By providing opportunities to process, feel and accept we are able to move forward in a healthy way.
Difficult as it may be, undesirable emotions are best met with open arms. Dismissing pain and forcing positivity is a false economy. The negative energy will eventually find a way out – it has to. And it is unlikely to be released in a healthy way.
Facing all emotions, good, bad and ugly is all part of the authentic human experience. My feeling is that even the unpleasant aspects of life are integral to living fully. As such they should be embraced and shared.
The pressure to appear ‘OK’ invalidates the range of emotions we all experience. It can give the impression that you are defective when you feel distress, which can be internalised in a core belief that you are inadequate or weak.
As cited in Scully (2020)
Symptoms of toxic positivity
Hiding/masking your true feelings.
Trying to just ‘power through’ a situation by dismissing emotions.
Experiencing guilt or shame for feeling what you feel.
Minimising other people’s sad experiences with ‘feel good’ quotes/statements.
Trying to offer a different perspective instead of validating their emotional experience.
Shaming or berating others for expressing frustration or anything other than positivity.
Can lead to depression, self-doubt and denial.
So what is the alternative to smothering someone with a blanket of positivity?
Acknowledging that we all have a myriad of complex emotions is a good starting point. For example, you can be grateful to the NHS for treatment you receive but still feel resentful of the fact you need treatment in the first place.
Empowering people to recognise and accept their thoughts and feelings is ironically more positive than following the urge to ‘buck them up’ using toxic positivity.
Our minds are busy places. It can be difficult to manage our daily lives, let alone our emotions and mental well-being. Yet just as we can compose a to-do list for chores and appointments, writing things down can also help us to stay on top of our psychological housekeeping.
Journaling has grown in popularity for many reasons. It may be as simple as organising all the thoughts swimming around in our heads. Getting them out and seeing them written down often brings a clearer perspective. Our brains are particularly good at clinging on to worrying thoughts and playing them on a loop. This can be agonising and pointless because while they are stuck on repeat, problem solving becomes virtually impossible.
Diaries have always been viewed as private and only for the eyes of the author. This alone is incredibly freeing. You can write exactly how you are feeling, no holds barred. It can also be quite useful if you are unsure what it is you are feeling. Writing things down can reveal the emotions hiding behind the masks of anger or irritation. Once we are aware exactly what is happening for us, we can take steps to return to a more balanced emotional ground. It could be that we are burnt out from taking care of everyone except ourselves. We may be unaware of how much we have been neglecting our own needs until we see it in black and white.
Make it a habit.
Journaling is something that works best when done regularly. The real insight comes from writing down the good, the bad and the horrendous! So try to write when you feel OK, when you feel fantastic and when you feel distressed or exhausted. This is all valuable information to look back on. Sometimes when struggling to cope it can really help to know that we have survived these feelings before. It can also help us to identify what has helped us to overcome difficulties in the past. A bit like having a personal manual for fixing (or at least easing) difficult emotions.
Track those moods.
Another useful aspect of journaling is the mood tracker. By logging your mood for the day, be it happy, sad, stressed, angry can help us identify any patterns or triggers. This information is a great way of managing our mental state and eliminating or preparing for things that may have a negative effect. You can make it fun by using certain colours or emojis for different moods. If you find you are tracking a sad mood, it may be worth stepping back and looking at what is going on for you at this time. Are you feeling lonely or missing someone? Do you need human interaction and what steps can you take to achieve that? Naming our emotions gives us the opportunity to take action which is both healthy and empowering.
How else can writing help?
If you find yourself ruminating about certain things or have worries constantly popping into your head, then worry time might offer relief. Firstly, allocate yourself a specific time, every day to sit and focus solely on your worries. It doesn’t need to be longer than 30 minutes. Then when a worry sneaks up on you, simply jot it down and tell yourself you will look at it during worry time. This allows you to call the worries up in a controlled and calm way. Much better than a sudden intrusion of anxiety. There is less panic, and the worries often feel less overwhelming and easier to problem solve. You may even wonder why you were worried at all!
This is exactly as it sounds. Just sit and write. It doesn’t even have to make sense, just dump all of your thoughts and feelings down on paper. Get them out of your head and lighten the load.
Write a letter you would never send.
This sounds odd but it works! If you are struggling with bad feelings towards someone who has treated you badly – tell them in a letter. Write down everything you wouldlike to say to them and don’t hold back. You can rant and rave all you like because they will never see it. Once you are done, rip it up into tiny pieces. This exercise is incredibly cathartic and a fantastic way of letting go of pain and anger.
Self-expression is a great way if dealing with past traumas and difficult emotions. You could make up a story or write a poem. Or perhaps you could write about your own life experiences. Everyone has a tale to tell, and you may discover a hidden flair for writing!
Write some positive mantras on brightly coloured card. Words like “I am enough” or “I can cope with this” are examples but choose whatever speaks to you personally. You can carry them with you and look at them when you need reassurance or a boost. A fantastic tool for calming nerves before a big event such as a job interview.
No matter the form, writing is an excellent therapy tool. Whether you treat yourself to a top of the range journal, use a smartphone or simply scribble your thoughts on a notepad, the results will be the same. It doesn’t have to be perfect or clever (unless you want it to be). Our worries tend to look and feel quite different when written down. So take a few minutes, pick up a pen and let the ink work its magic.
Does your mind often resemble a chaotic theme park? Are you thoughts jumping on every white knuckle ride available, leaving you nauseous and dizzy? Is there are huge cinema screen in the middle showing reels of your past you would rather forget?
Sounds horrendous right? I imagine even the most hardcore adrenaline junkie would think twice about visiting! Unfortunately, due to the way our minds work we often find ourselves stuck there.
So what can we do when our thoughts are racing and overwhelming us? How can we cope with painful memories forcing their way in uninvited? Is mindfulness the answer?
We are always thinking. Experts suggest we have between 60,000 – 80,000 thoughts a day! Not a problem if our thoughts are all sunshine and roses. Of course that isn’t the case.
How does living in the moment help us?
Well, thoughts focused on past events, particularly things that have caused stress, pain or embarrassment can cause low mood. Focusing too much on the future, or rather how we anticipate the future to be can exacerbate anxiety. Therefore, the most mindful place for our thoughts to be is in the here and now.
While this makes sense, it is easier said than done. Mindfulness needs to be practiced regularly to be of benefit. Many people don’t get on with it at all. Like every aspect of mental health and wellbeing, it will unique to the individual. Finding what works for you is key!
“Mindfulness is a way of befriending ourselves and our experience” Jon Kabat-Zin