“Positive Vibes Only”

When I was in high school, my mom usually came home late after work. So, if I wasn’t working, me or my sis would cook dinner for the family before she came home. It was usually instant stuff, like hamburger helper or Kraft dinner, but sometimes it was an opportunity for me to work on my cooking skills, much to my siblings displeasure. When she did come home, I would ask her how her day was. I didn’t ask initially, but my Mom expressed that it was a nice thing to do, so I asked her every time. She wasn’t always responsive, even being angry with me for asking about her day; you can imagine the confusion my fifteen year old self felt at the time.

I learned slowly that work can be a point of contention, and to even talk about it would only continue the anger or frustration that was experienced in the day. I have also learned this from other interactions in my life, usually receiving the response “Work is work,” and then whomever would distance themselves from the topic. I always wondered why though. If our jobs make up a major portion of our lives, if our careers are something that bring us meaning, why not talk about the hard times in conjunction with the good times? I have gone out with co-workers from some jobs in my life, and I have received different responses about discussion of work: either you use that opportunity to discuss the job and ideas to improve it – if that is the case, or to never talk about it as it isn’t important nor necessary to do so.

In the last few years I have started seeing and hearing the phrase “Positive vibes only!” On the surface it sounds like a declaration to keep it upbeat and happy to better the social environment; however, it can also be a way to silence people from speaking on hard to talk about issues. Life is challenging no doubt about it, and our vocations can provide us with much stress and sadness at times, but to not talk about anything negative can also further that stress or sadness we experience from life. If you haven’t heard of Brené Brown, I highly suggest you watch her Tedtalk on the power of vulnerability and how being vulnerable is a key to growth.

Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.

-Brené Brown

I think there is a difference between talking of hardship and uncomfortable topics, to being negative and cynical about life. The “Positive vibes only” puts up a wall to any form of negativity, whether a hard time that needs to be talked about in order to grow, or modern day cynicism or nihilism.

There is much going on in our country, and talking about any of them can and will bring emotions to the surface, but the conversations are necessary. We can’t just leave it to our MP’s and other government officials to have these discussions, sometimes we have to bring awareness to certain issues by actively learning and talking about them. The whole pipeline protest, Trek, healthcare, Bill 1 and indigenous land settlements are all important discussions to have. If we boil those down to negative talk, or discussion that is only going to sour the mood, well, why are we paying taxes? Why do we contribute to the economy? We still have a voice, and using social media as both a place to remain ignorant, or a place of hate mongering (Facebook, Twitter, I am looking at you) only makes it harder to talk and understand each other.

Let’s get back to talking work. I can see that talking about work would be a sore subject for some, and can bring reminders of the day to the surface, granted. But how do you cope with those feelings? And what about personal problems? If we are to remain positive at all times, then when can we talk? If the best version of ourselves is the only one acceptable in public, then how do we form connections with people? Superficially? I suppose interruping that glass of wine, or cup of tea is too much of an inconvenience.

There is a darkness in all of us, in everyone, and while I am not the biggest fan of Jordan Peterson, he makes a point in reminding us to acknowledge that we are all capable of being monsters, and that we aren’t perfect by any stretch. Yet, you see this idea of perfection all the time on social media, whether you see perfect families, perfect romance, perfect bodies, perfect jobs. I think “Positive vibes only” allows people to deny the harshness of reality. But the fact that there is a minister of loneliness in the UK should be indication that perhaps having those hard talks are necessary, and denial may not be what we need. And with mental illness affecting 1 in 5 people in Canada, and 50% of the population having experienced mental illness by age 40 according to the CMHA website, perhaps we should try to be more open.

Coping mechanisms like drinking, drug use, or the seldom acknowledged activity that can be an addiction: exercise, those mechanisms can silence those feelings for a time; but then starts the chasing of happiness – the short bouts that lead to addiction. However, opening up and being vulnerable can help to identify how you really feel about something, work and otherwise. I have been attending classes at the Calgary Mental Health Association (CMHA), and I have been learning about coping and how best to approach hard to discuss topics, like setting and understanding other’s boundaries, and masculinity. Talking about such things was pretty damn tough as I wasn’t used to opening up, but I was surprised to see people in their 50’s and 60’s attending some of these classes and struggling all the same. It goes to show that sometimes the reason to not speak up is from a societal understanding that we got to keep it positive, “Positive vibes only.” Each generation probably has their own way of saying such things, and men as an example have been conditioned to lock away emotions and to never show weakness of any kind. If you aren’t sure what I mean, check out this bit about Bill Burr and his dog. I get the mindset, and I see how countless men and women do what they have to do for themselves and their families. The matter of how is the problem I notice.

I was chatting with a friend the other day, and he spoke of impulsiveness and how toxic it is to our well being and continued development in life. He was speaking of his own experiences and how being impulsive affected how much he procrastinated, but I noticed how relevant that is to coping and denying tough times. Think about it, being impulsive is usually tied to seeking pleasure, and finding the shortest route to it. If you understand why people have addictions to gambling, sex and porn, you’ll know that it comes from an impulse, whether biological or chasing a pleasure that is hard to satisfy. Erica Garza’s memoir Getting Off: One Woman’s Journey Through Sex Addiction and Porn Addiction, is about how she coped with her feelings of worthlessness growing up, and how sex was a way to escape, to not deal with her troubles.

Why didn’t she talk about it sooner? Perhaps it was because the social stigma prevented that kind of discussion, and the people around her weren’t open to that form of dialogue. If you think about it, it is similar to how victims of sexual abuse wouldn’t speak about what happened for fear of reprisal from their abuser, but maybe the public.

Ultimately, I believe the reality, for the most part these days, is that people are talking openly about their troubles to better their sense of well being. But when I see cult like attitudes of “Positive vibes only,” I just want to smack whomever upside the head and remind them that they can be a monster and aren’t perfect, of course where would that get me. I am tired of feeling guilty for how I feel and not attending events because I am not feeling “positive,” and neither should you. If you have had days where you didn’t feel like going to the gym, you know that the gym won’t deny entry to you, they welcome it. And usually you feel better for it. The gym is a great example of acceptance, because everyone benefits from moving, and everyone deserves to feel happy for going. I think the journey of intrinsic wellbeing comes from acknowledging our darkness and our troubles, not denying them.

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