Personal reflections · Religion and Spirituality

When Positivity is the Problem

The mask I’m grieving is a forced smile.

This makes therapy difficult, because many of the solutions to depression include focusing on the positive. My counselors have said they’re working with a rare case – usually they work depressed people toward seeing the bright side of life, but I worked my way to depression through positivity.

I was the happy fairy. I smiled when I was alone, to brace myself for things I didn’t want to do. The reason this made me depressed is that I couldn’t handle the cognitive dissonance of denial. I thought everything was fine when it wasn’t. I blocked out memories of abuse, and I participated in a cycle of self-blame for everything that went wrong. I couldn’t explain why pain was so attractive to me; it would take years to realize I needed to physically express what I was emotionally suppressing.

People told me I was too optimistic. It was always condescending, though – I was naïve and inexperienced and hadn’t had my heart broken or been jaded enough to the depravity of humanity.

Now I take careful steps, hesitating at every emotional instinct. When I want to get angry or upset, I’m trained to minimize all the negative aspects of the situation, and to talk myself into deferring to the other party.

That’s what it means to be raised in a world without consent: you can’t say “no.” If you do say “no,” you’ll be made to feel like you did something wrong, and it doesn’t matter. You won’t get your way. Children must, after all, be trained to submit and obey; otherwise they’ll be unruly.

The solution, then, was to talk myself into it. It cannot be changed. When I learned the prayer, “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,” it carried with it the implication, “…and nothing can be changed.”

Be positive, see the good side, be optimistic. Force yourself to see it for what it is not. Lie to yourself.

Except for the annoying side effects of depression brought on by dissonance and self-harm brought on by a need for an outlet, it worked. I believed things were okay, and this helped me to get by. What scares me is that I didn’t even leave – I was forced out. I wonder if I ever would have left if my dad didn’t snap that one time, making me realize what always took place behind the mask.

Positivity was the problem, but I’m still being told that I’m either too optimistic or too focused on the negative.

I’m learning not to force my emotions anymore. Sometimes happy moments surprise me, and I don’t seize the moment to take notes on it; I just let it happen. Sometimes I have rough days where I can’t stop crying and feeling the urge to relapse again. I don’t overanalyze or try to adjust my course; that’s what I did before.

Natural emotion is difficult to learn when it’s never been fostered. Apathy is not an option, and going into disconnected limbo between emotions doesn’t work, either. Though my own brain has betrayed me before, I still have to live with it, damaged by the bad habit of over-optimism.

So I stumble forward, working with what I know now. I haven’t lost my reasoning, and I certainly don’t aim to use my own emotional stability as an appeal to pity.

When positivity was the problem, all the well-meaning advice people offer makes me shudder. It’s more complicated than learning to smile. I’ve done that; it didn’t work.

Sometimes getting better means trying again.