I Can’t Look at the News

I can’t look at the news right now. Not the real, factually-based news, not the “infotainment” news, not the “I have an opinion” news, not even the “cute puppy dogs/cats/penguins/hedgehogs/[insert adorable animal here]” news.

I’ve had this problem for a very long time… I absorb news like a like a sponge absorbs water; it saturates me and weighs me down, changing my shape and viscosity, until it overwhelms me. Even when I try to tune it out, I always ended up taking it on.

I just can’t look at it! And it’s not because I don’t want to know what’s going on…in fact, I want desperately to know what’s going on! I already feel isolated enough being the only adult in my home almost 100% of the time (read: I’m a strong, independent single mom, but some adult conversation would be nice every once in a while, you know?) and I don’t want to shut myself off from my local community or the global one.

—When I look at the news, it makes me hold my breath and not want to let it go.

The world fucking sucks right now. And I say that as I’m personally just beginning to reach a period of “wellness” I haven’t touched in over a decade! I may be doing better overall as an individual, but what I see when I look at the news is monumentally depressing and disparaging. The images and stories of hope are far outweighed by the atrocities of our species’ loss of humanity. Greed and selfishness pervade all areas of society and the wealthy few make the same bold and egotistical decisions again and again to set themselves apart from the everyday people who are the backbone of our community and who simply want a life that falls into the category of manageable.  

I’m afraid that my children are facing a future of war and famine. I’m afraid that countless many will suffer horribly before our privileged selves will begin to crack and crumble. I’m afraid that I won’t see my grandchildren and that too many foolish egomaniacs will take too much and hurt too many.

I see our waters contaminated and our air polluted. I see our forests desecrated and our animals annihilated. I see hate-mongering and gaslighting; victim-blaming and victim-shaming. Women are losing their rights, children are being placated by sugar and screens, and men aren’t being allowed to feel feelings or put their egos aside.

When I look at the news, it makes me hold my breath and not want to let it go.

I try to tell myself that I can keep trying to live the best life I can and that it’s enough to do that, but I think that’s just false optimism at this point.

You know when you get into an argument with someone and you have this feeling—this unshakable awareness that you are unequivocally in the right—but no matter how hard you try to prove it, your opponent simply remains unmoved? That insanely frustrating and perplexing kind of experience? Well, there are so many voices screaming solutions out into the world right now and the solutions seem so incredibly obvious, yet things seem to keep getting worse!

We celebrate Kim and Kanye having another baby, an adorable dog performing perfunctory CPR on his handler, or the [possible] reunification of Brad and Jen *gasp*!

Wow.

Are any of those truly worthy of celebration? Is that where our focus should actually be?

Fuck no! And we know it!

We fucking know better! We do!

I dare someone to tell me that they don’t know what would improve humanity. Tell me about a time when you felt deeply moved or deeply connected—I guarantee that time did not involve celebrity gossip or superficial internet memes. We know that quality time with people we care about is insanely important. We know that eating healthy food grown in healthy ways is the best thing for our bodies. We know that we need to have quality sleep and get outside. We know that we need hobbies that inspire us and communities that support us.

We know that love really is all we need, because that statement, although seemingly trite in its Beatles-mania lyricism, evokes a deep sense of knowing that love means love for all and that love means respect and honesty. Love means empathy and awareness; it’s about giving generously and receiving humbly. It’s about connection and it’s about togetherness. It’s putting ego aside and humbling ourselves to not only hear what needs we can fulfill, but also spurning ourselves into taking action.

I may not seek out news in any form for the foreseeable future, and I’m aware that I may miss out on some details that may be interesting or informative. But somehow, the important stuff always seems to trickle in, so I’m not really worried about missing the big stories that need real attention. I’ll continue to try to live in a way that betters the world. No, I’m not ready to give up my safe home or the beautiful natural space that surrounds it. I’ll admit selfishness on that part… but I will challenge myself to life with a conscious mindfulness of how my life impacts everyone else’s. I’ll move slower and more deliberately, and teach my children to do the same. I’ll challenge myself to stay accountable. I’ll create and I will grow; I’ll enjoy simple pleasures and seek to find a like-minded community. I’ll live like love is what really matters, because it does and it is.

I can’t look at the news, but there is a hell of a lot I can do. It’s about fucking time I did it, and so did you.

xxJ

Look to the skies, look to the trees, listen to your heart. News be damned…we all know what we need to do.

The Proliferation of False Positivity

My biggest pet peeve is the proliferation of false positivity.

False positivity litters Instagram, Facebook, magazine pages (wait, does anyone still read actual magazines??), blogs, web sites, self-help books, and almost all other media and advertising. We seem to be living in an era where we are told that simply having the “right” attitude is what will fix all of our problems:

Okay, first of all, no one should be taking advice from a fictional character, ESPECIALLY not Jack Sparrow (or Johnny Depp…ew!). Secondly, I’ll buy that the way we think about things affects our experiences of them, but I refuse to promise myself or anyone else that just “changing my attitude” will solve all my problems. In fact, I see this kind of bullshit approach to managing mental health and personal well-being as reductive and limiting. It tells me that if I’m feeling shitty, it’s because I just don’t have the right attitude! As a survivor of abuse and a person with diagnosed mental health disorders, I’m offended by the suggestion that my attitude about these traumas and struggles is what’s affecting my ability to heal or feel well.

And this is the problem, I feel, with what I’m calling “false positivity”. False positivity reduces our legitimate struggles into memes and clichés that essentially instruct us to ignore or disassociate from our problems. OR they create a sense of shame and blame that we can’t just “attitude” our way out of them!

Look at this bullshit! I guess it’s supposed to be uplifting, but it feels like anything BUT uplifting to me! If only I could simply use my supernaturally powerful thoughts to think away the abuse I endured, the chemistry of my brain, and the long-term trauma that’s resulted from my struggles with these things! Wow! Either I’ve been handed a magic key to happiness (nope!), or I’m being blamed for the trauma I experienced (yep!).

And this! This actually makes me angry. Like, I want to go punch something right now, because it’s so wrong to suggest that betrayal by someone you trust and love is actually a blessing or a gift! It’s the same with suggesting that my anxiety is a gift in disguise. Or that emotional abuse was a blessing because now it’s fueled this blog and my writing.

My anxiety is a daily and lifelong struggle. It was exacerbated to the extreme by my abusive partners. I did not asked to be abused. I have not fully recovered from that abuse and likely never will. And most of all, it’s NOT MY FAULT that people took advantage of me. Telling me that I should just “think differently” or see my experience of abuse (or the aftermath of it) as anything other than trauma is exceptionally upsetting to me.

I found these and many, many more after spending only about 10 minutes scrolling through Instagram. All of them create so much unease within me. I’m frustrated that people seem to think that comments like the ones in these screenshots are helpful, authentic, or reasonable. In fact, I would go so far as to say that they are more damaging than anything. They offer, at best, a temporary sense of relief from whatever mental anguish is ailing us, but the consequence of that is, I believe, a perpetuation or deepening of the shame/fear/struggle/anger/issues that we are trying to cope with.

You can’t solve real problems with fake positivity.

So what is an alternative? How can we offer better support and cultivate hope for people who are struggling for any reason? Why do we continue to rely on cute memes and catchy Instagram posts instead of addressing our problems in more authentic and lasting ways?

I believe that vulnerability and authenticity are the key to managing these problems better. For example, my writing with head/strong is based on relating my first-hand experience and offering insights into how I *actually* manage (or don’t) based on the  knowledge I have right now. You don’t have to swear like a sailor to be authentic; you just have to be consistently honest and allow yourself to admit fault, to share struggles, and to relate the real experiences you have.

Therapy can be a great tool for cultivating self-awareness and authenticity. Good therapists don’t hand you answers (which is effectively what the images above are trying to do); they help you work through your struggles and co-develop the coping strategies that work best for you.

Unfortunately, therapy isn’t accessible to enough people. And it can be really hard, even IF you can afford and find therapy, to get a counsellor whom you work well with! Just because they’re qualified as a social worker, psychologist, psychiatrist, or mental health worker, doesn’t mean that they’re able to support you in the ways that you need. My experience is that I have the most success in finding therapy when I reach out to referrals from trusted people in my life and then set up what are essentially interviews with these prospective therapists. If we don’t mesh in that interview, then I try someone else.

My first therapy experience was with someone who didn’t care to know me as an individual. We made progress in some regards, but the lasting impression from that experience is more trauma that I carry with me. I’ve learned how to speak up for myself so much more now that I’m not willing to accept people like that in my care team or in my life in general. (‘Bout fucking, time, eh?) It’s been decades of learning to get to this point though and I know how lucky I am that I can access exceptionally high quality counselling as I need it.

After learning so much in therapy, mental health programs, and lots of hard work, I can’t look at bullshit like what I see on Instagram and buy into it. I guess I can imagine, though, that some people feel good when they read something like this:

At least, they likely feel good for a moment or two…

But really, how practical is it to “walk like you are made of magic”? Like, how the hell do you even do that? What does this have to do with improving your mental health (the screenshot came from a mental health support post) and how effectively does its message of “walking with magic” reduce the legitimacy of mental health (or any) struggles?

My god, I wish I could feel like magic all the time! I can’t. No one can! And I don’t want to feel a sense of shame for “failing” to walk like magic when clearly that’s exactly what I should be doing to fix my life.

What do you think about false positivity? Do images like the ones in this post lift you up in authentic ways, or are you like me and view them cynically (and likely cringe) whenever they show up in your news feed or wherever?

I plan to continue avoiding and remaining skeptical of messages like the ones I screenshot for this blog post. And my goal with head/strong (and in general) is to continue being authentic and offering real, tangible ideas for how to manage as an abuse survivor and a person with mental health problems—we can do so much better than telling ourselves that our attitude is the problem, instead of the problem being the problem.

xxJ

My attitude towards false positivity (artist unknown, unfortunately)