***Disclaimer: I am in no way qualified to provide recommendations for mental health. I am speaking from my own experiences, experiences with others, and representation in the media. If you are struggling with your mental health, please connect with your doctor and a counsellor or therapist to discuss your mental health in more detail.***
“It gets better.”
“Just think positive.”
“Focus on positive vibes.”
“Eventually you’ll be so happy you didn’t give up.”
“You just need to hold on a bit longer, and you’ll get there.”
Have you heard these phrases before? They are all too familiar for many of us who are reassured to keep going and pushing through in the midst of hard times. Today, I’m calling bullshit. Here’s why.
These phrases play into toxic positivity. Toxic positivity urges the consistent expression of happiness and positivity, as suggested by some of these common phrases. The problem with toxic positivity is the focus on consistent positive thinking and experiences, and general overall happiness, which can be dismissive of other experiences of emotion. Dismissing various other emotions is not productive, as most people experience a range of emotions and it is not realistic to be happy all of the time. However, toxic positivity could cause people to think that if they are experiencing emotions other than happiness, there is something “wrong” with them and they should hide these emotions. Therefore, it could be difficult to see when someone is struggling as they may be hiding it, and if someone does express their struggle, they could be immediately dismissed of their experience by messages of toxic positivity. This could then cause them to shut down and no longer share the struggles they may be facing. Again, not being open about various emotional experiences is not productive as many of us experience a wide range of emotions and should be able to share these experiences, regardless of whether or not that experience radiates happiness.
The phrase “it gets better” in particular is problematic. This phrase reinforces toxic positivity as it encourages returning to a positive state of mind, and dismisses the other emotions someone may be feeling. This can be even more controversial in dismissing mental health concerns, encouraging people to keep pushing through because eventually, it will “get better.” It presumes whoever is experiencing emotions other than happiness will need to continue to sit with those emotions until the undetermined amount of time passes for things to “get better.” For some people who may be struggling, it is possible that it “gets better” at some point in the future – but, at what point does that occur? For how long do we have to suffer until we reach that point? The undetermined amount of time is problematic. Furthermore, it assumes everyone has to have a struggle before they reach the point of happiness, and inherent in that assumption is the belief that any emotion other than happiness is an undesirable state to be in and we should all aim for happiness. The focus on happiness as the end all, be all can dismiss the validity of other emotional experiences.
I am calling bullshit on this entire set of assumptions and circumstances around the “it gets better” message. Not only is the assumption about happiness as the ultimate emotional state of being a concern, even more problematic is the dismissal of mental health challenges. Because sometimes, it doesn’t get better. It is unfair to continue to suffer for an undetermined amount of time until the day everything magically “gets better.” Though some may be lucky enough to persevere through their circumstances and reach the point of getting better, not all of us are that lucky, and it is not an excuse to not get help. That is another problem with this claim: it can discourage those who are suffering from seeking the help that they may need if they believe that one day, things will get better. Chances are, things do not get actively better on their own – it is usually a lifestyle change or some sort of active steps taken to create a feeling or situation of betterment. If you are struggling or feeling stuck in your life, it is absolutely okay – and should be encouraged – to seek out help and support from others.
All of this is to say: don’t downplay the experiences of others. If someone is struggling, acknowledge their struggle and allow them to sit with their feelings without trying to turn the situation into a positive one. I am definitely guilty of doing this as well and am working towards accepting what is rather than what we may want to be. Furthermore, if you are struggling, don’t hesitate to seek out help and support. Asking for help when you are going through a rough time – and even if you aren’t and just want to work through some things – is something to normalize. It is completely okay to do so. Let’s stop trying to sugarcoat varying emotional experiences and the impact they have on our mental health. It’s okay to not be okay. You are not on this journey alone. You are allowed and encouraged to reach out for help.
These days, many people are suffering and struggling with their mental health. Particularly in the times of COVID-19, things are even more heavy and uncertain than usual. We don’t know what “better” is going to look like, and in these particular circumstances, if it even will “get better” and go back to normal pre-COVID. But, we are in this together and have each other to lean on. Please know that you are not alone. Please reach out to a counsellor/therapist if you are struggling and need someone to talk with. There is absolutely no shame in reaching out for help. Know that coping with life is a lot right now and you are allowed to feel whatever you are feeling. It is completely valid. Sending love to all of those who are struggling with their mental health right now <3
All my love,