You know, I used to think that staying positive, being perky, or cheery, or whatever you want to call it was my super-power. I was the master of positivity, of finding something to look forward to, no matter how small. If I was having a stressful day at work, and then had to go home to a big pile of marking, I’d sometimes decide to stop off on the way home, buy a latte, and browse the local Indigo bookstore for a new book. “A new book,” I’d say to myself, “That will fix me right up.” And usually it did.

When I was first teaching, I worked at an adult high school. I loved teaching there; the students and the staff were like family. Half the ladies in my classes were older than me, and sometimes they treated me as if I was their daughter. “Oh, Sue, don’t you look sweet in that new dress,” they’d say. It was definitely a lovely place to start my career. But I did long to teach in a regular high school. With teams and clubs and young people. So each spring I’d apply for a position in an adolescent school.

Teaching jobs were thin on the ground, but after a couple of years I was offered a position at a really great school. I was over the moon. Then the staffing numbers changed, and it turned out I’d be back at the adult school. “We-ell,” I said to myself, “I can revise my writing course and do something really different and interesting with it. Yeah, that will be great.” Then the job at the adolescent school was on again. The principal was trying really hard to find a timetable for me. Then it was off again. And then finally, when the staffing for the whole board was finished and everyone who had more seniority than me was placed, the new job was on. For real.

Phew. My head was spinning. I couldn’t remember whether I was happy because it was what I’d wanted all along, or sad because I’d worked so hard convincing myself that it would be fun to be back at the adult school. My positivity muscle got a good work-out that year.

Pre lunch walk.

I’ve written a lot about the positivity problem since the pandemic started. Because, of course, positivity is something we’ve all been digging really deep to find in the last two years. And it is two years this month since the first big stay-at-home order. Remember washing your groceries, and trying to find flour or toilet paper on the store shelves?

During lock-down, I exercised my positivity super-power like there was no tomorrow. Hubby and I started making homemade lattes and having our “elevenses” on the deck. We planned garden projects to do together. That one was a turn-up for the books. Ha. I prescribed gentle reading for myself. Planned walks with Hubby. Organized my closet. Started making “isolation diary” vlogs. Gosh, I almost feel nostalgic for that time. Almost.

Eventually, the cosy “just we two” feeling with which I first approached lock-down went a little stale. And I remember I wrote lots of posts about how hard I was finding the isolation, the worry over my mum and my inability to travel down east and see for myself how she was doing. Some things I didn’t write, or even talk about. The fear that Hubby would fall ill and with his history of heart disease, as fit as he is, he might end up on a respirator, or worse. The fear that by the time I was able to get home to Mum’s, it would be too late. The sinking feeling that our lives would never be back to normal.

And then that sinking feeling was getting harder and harder to magic away no matter how much I employed my positivity super-powers. No matter how many times I shook myself, told myself how lucky I was, sat and stared at my freshly organized closet, or listed the many, many things in my life for which I should be grateful. Was, in fact, grateful. None of my usual tricks worked.

Finally, I was in tears most mornings, and despite all my perky fashion posts, and jokes about my hair, I found I was working way too hard to try to feel like myself. And after a rather sobby talk with Hubby, at his suggestion, I reached out to our lovely GP. We had several conversations, and he said I had low-level depression, and eventually prescribed a mild anti-depressant for me. A few weeks later, I felt like me again.

This was, in fact, not the first time I had reached out for mental health help. The other times were long before the pandemic. I don’t want to get into the circumstances or the details more than that. I guess I just wanted to make clear that despite my admonitions about the value of reading gentle, restorative novels and having a therapeutic rummage in my closet, I know that sometimes we need the help of professionals.

It was months before I told any of my friends that I was on medication. And then I told only a few people I felt I could trust. Some of whom I knew had family members who had battled with depression all their lives, far, far more severe than mine. I began to feel that not saying anything meant I was ashamed. And I guess I was. In a way, I felt weak and whiney because I couldn’t just pull myself together and get on with things. I felt I was making a big deal out of nothing. Maybe I should scrub my floors, and do a good days hard work, like my grandmother would have recommended. Yep, that would fix me up. Ah… no, actually.

So where am I going with all this? Well, I know that many, many of us are feeling even worse about the state of the world lately. Not just me. And I didn’t want to write a chirpy, “let’s all think positive and be grateful for what we have, and all will be well” post. Because sometimes all the distractions in the world can’t make us feel better. Even when we are warm, and safe, and not in danger of bombs falling on our homes, or on the homes of our loved ones. And we know how lucky we are and are truly grateful for that. Even then we feel bad. Not ourselves. Not able to cope. And if that’s the case for you, please reach out for help.

The blogger at “work”

Oh, I’m not saying that I don’t employ my rose-coloured glasses anymore. Far from it. My positivity super-power is in great shape. This week I’m watching season three of Portrait Artist of the Year on Amazon Prime. And catching up with Martijin Doolaard’s YouTube channel and the work he’s doing on his derelict cottage in the Dolomite Mountains of Italy. Watching people create and build things makes me feel hopeful. And I’ve been walking, of course, now that the weather has warmed up slightly. And reading, reading, reading. With my morning tea, after lunch stretched out on the sofa in the sunroom, and well, whenever.

I still feel overwhelmed some days with the negativity of the world. But I can manage that now. In the ways I always have. A new book. A latte treat on the way home from my haircut appointment. A brisk walk listening to a P.D. James book. A good closet rummage.

And maybe even a spring shopping splurge list. Mindful of the strictures of slow fashion, of course.

P.S. I received this really interesting article from Annie this morning. It is definitely worth a read. Thanks for passing that on, Annie.

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73 thoughts on “The Positivity Problem”

  1. I don’t know how we would cope without our long walks with the dog. It’s been above freezing most days this month here in southern Ontario so that helps also. Mind you it’s tiptoe around the muddy potholes but the sun is worth it.

    1. The sun definitely is worth it for me as well. I have now dug out my fishing boots and will walk right through the puddles. Something very freeing about doing that.

  2. Great post! Lots of insight here and I love your coping methods: brisk walks, a new book and a yummy treat. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. You’ve reminded me that I must find my rose-coloured glasses — I think I’ll be needing them!

  3. Thank you for sharing this, Sue. I can relate to those feelings. Good on you for reaching out for professional help and for encouraging others to do the same. You’ve got some great management strategies and, through the way you explore this issue so matter-of-factly, you’re supporting anyone in similar circumstances (and taking away that stigma that still lurks). Take care x

  4. Dear Sue,you are so wonderful,clever and nice lady! So are your strategies and approach! We are dealing with so many things right now,for so long…..Thank you for this post,I’m sure it will help,even if it was one person,it is great. To know that one is not alone and that there are things that may help a lot
    Dottoressa

    1. Thanks, Dottoressa. That means a lot, particularly because you are a dottoressa. 🙂 I think I felt a bit like an imposter by talking so much about distractions and treats…. which, as I well knew, did not work all the time.

  5. I’m sorry to hear that Sue but I’m glad you got the help you needed . The last couple of years have been stressful for all of us but it must have been very hard having your mum so far away at this vulnerable stage of her life . We all have black periods to get through & you’d have to be some kind of insensitive monster not to worry about the pain & injustice around us . My coping strategies are very similar to yours plus there’s been plenty of dog walking & dog cuddling going on . Poor Rory has been exhausted at times . Perhaps you could give a little kitten a new home ? meanwhile there are those two new tigers next door to enjoy . I would imagine your long hard winter is joy sapping , especially at this point , but spring is in my garden ( just ) & will soon be in yours . Your blog has been a little lifeline at times in all this , making Thursdays & Sundays
    days to look forward to .

  6. Exactly so. I was musing on this myself earlier as I walked to work. It would be peculiar if, given our circumstances, we were not experiencing ups and downs, days of gloom and emptiness, even hand-wringing frustration. How you approach this is how you navigate life generally, I expect. But, lordy, the old tried-and-true can get stretched after a while.

  7. Reading this at 1:25 am, insomnia having stretched my positivity to snapping point, and nodding agreement and relief all the way through reading your post. « Yes » and « It’s not just me! » thank you!

  8. I’m up later than Frances and I’ve got a long drive in the morning! Thank you for sharing this with all of us. Glad you were able and encouraged to seek help. We will all benefit from your experience.

  9. Whew! I’m so glad your blog exists and kudos to you for being brave and honest! I think we all can relate to what you have experienced. The pandemic and now this senseless war! Watching human suffering every night on TV is gut wrenching. Add on top of it, the normal stuff of family and life…it’s often too much. Often we suffer in silence. I am glad things are improving for you because you are a gem in the wilderness in heels/sneakers or flats!

  10. I can relate to this post in many ways. The past two years have not been kind to people like myself who suffer from anxiety at the best of times. I was also raised to believe that “getting outside” or cleaning, baking, gardening , crossing something off your to-do list would snap anyone out of a funk. Now we know that sometimes we need a little more❤️.

    1. My grandmother did actually say that about a good hard days work. She lived a hard life herself and the odd thing is sometimes that can make people less empathetic.

  11. You are not alone! Positivity can only carry us so far…even those of us who consider ourselves natural born optimists. Kudos to you for getting the help you needed and for writing about it. It’s nothing to be ashamed of, and we need to remove the stigma. Cheers!

  12. Nice post and so happy you were brave enough to seek help. That is really the key. I went through a challenging time in 2016 and was so reluctant to seek help because I saw it as a personal failure on my part. I had to *almost* hit rock bottom before I realized I couldn’t cope on my own. Some medication and therapy was so helpful for me.

    By the way, I am new to your blog and have been culling through all your past posts! You and I have a very similar style aesthetic, although not body shape (I am a short-waisted hourglass). But I am really enjoying your blog!

  13. I can relate to this post and share your feelings. I have to work hard to be positive and appreciate your wonderful insight. I will be trying some of your coping ideas- getting outdoors helps me but that is difficult this winter. Thanks for showing me that I am not alone!

  14. Cheers to you for talking about asking for help when you need it…
    I am grateful I got back into group therapy right before lockdown began. We did Zoom sessions the whole time, and it was like having a “floatation device” thrown to me.
    We have all been tested by this once-in-our-lifetime set of circumstances, and I looked forward to your positivity each week. Thank you for taking care of YOU so you could spread some light and cheeriness out into the world!

    1. Leslie in Oregon

      Group therapy via Zoom sounds like a particularly good idea to help one cope with the isolation of lockdown. I know how much church services by Zoom helped me, and I wish I had thought to seek out and add Zoom group therapy sessions.

  15. As a first year baby boomer, I was raised to believe that if I remained strong and always grateful, I could handle any difficult situation. Ultimately, I found myself in the emergency room, feeling very much like I was having a heart attack. My heart was fine, even quite amazing for my age. It was a terrifying example of anxiety and how very real these feelings can be. I had no idea that this was possible. Years of caring for my children, aging parents and just thinking that I can do this. Life is fragile, there is help, if only we ask.

  16. As you so beautifully write, positivity can work to a point…and then that sharp point begins to poke us in our head and heart and it is time to seek help. Well done.

  17. So glad you felt you are in a safe enough place with all of us to share this. There comes a point when either you or those around you realize the need for a bit of help, and those days of weepy mornings are recognized for what they are, a cry for help. Low dose anti-depressants and cognative training work for me and the difference is just a sublte smoothing out of the nasty feelings. There is no shame in asking for help, and no one needs to know if you don’t feel like sharing. I sincerely hope you are feeling more like yourself, and doing what you need to do for your own well being. Funny thing is, I am a wardrobe diver when I am needing some settling down and smoothing out too.

  18. Thank you for sharing this Sue. Last night I was on a Zoom Soul Care session and shared with the other four women how I have been having feelings of anger and rage that I thought I had overcome long ago. It seems the last two years have brought out many non-positive thoughts. It was therapeutic for me to share and have a safe place to feel heard and understood. My husband has been supportive and caring, but sharing with other women, who also shared their darker harder thoughts brought much comfort.
    I appreciate your sharing and honesty. ❤️

  19. Ms Burpee you get an A+! Talking openly about depression is the first step to dealing with it. If you had found something ‘odd’ on your body you would have called your doc post haste. Depression is an illness like any other, nothing to be ashamed of. We are though aren’t we? We see it as a weakness especially those of us raised by ‘stiff upper lip, get on with it’ parents. I have been challenged by clinical depression for years and worked with an amazing psychiatrist who helped me immensely. I also found out I had ADDHD and was very much a square peg, so many questions answered. Today I do not take meds and have developed coping skills and resiliency but I also know when I am standing at the precipice and extra help is needed. I freely share my journey and that of my oldest son who attempted suicide, my nephew’s and my brothers and cousins have dealt with it too. My family is rife with depression as some families are with heart disease, certain cancers or eczema! Yet we are all high functioning, successful adults. We saw how previous generations turned to alcohol for relief and decided there must be a more proactive way out. Medication and therapy helped us. We were, unknowingly, all on the same medication at the same time!
    Brava Sue for reaching out and sharing your story. Maybe someone reading it will seek much needed help because you shared and that is something to be positive about!
    For your Canadian readers there are many resources available, start with
    https://cmha.ca
    The Canadian Mental Health Association.

    1. Thanks for that link. I was a bit worried that it read like a poor me post, when that was the last thing I wanted. I just wanted people to know that even eternal optimists struggle and need help.

      1. Leslie in Oregon

        Such important messages, Sue and Ainsivalavie. Talking with partners and friends can be helpful, but there are times when professional help is necessary. Frankly, I”m surprised that mental health professionals haven’t been besieged by people seeking help during the last two years. (Maybe they have….) A low daily dose of an anti-depressant and a skilled mental health professional have helped me immeasurably.

        1. I heard a doctor speaking on CBC the other day saying that people needed to reach out if they were in despair that they could not handle themselves. Especially now with the added tragedy in Ukraine.

  20. Sue, the more people open up about depression, anxiety, mental issues in general, the better So thank you for this post.
    We lost our son to suicide a year ago, he had a serious mental illness, and suffered from depression as a result. He hated the side effects of the medication he was on and refused to take it any more. But anti-depressants help millions of people function, I am taking them myself since we lost him, on the advice of a psychiatrist, mostly to help with sleep, and to feel a bit better, as she says. The only problem is that I want to eat all the time. So I may not take them for much longer.
    We were open about the cause of our son’s death from the start, hoping that it would help others.
    I have always been prone to anxiety, it seems to have gotten worse since the menopause. My way of coping with this and generally when the world seems a terrible place is to keep busy, cleaning ,tidying , closet sorting of course !
    And being British, lots of cups of tea. But most of all, losing myself in a good book,entering another world is the best therapy of all I think.

    1. And being a New Brunswicker… I also believe in the necessary cups of tea. And in not being afraid to speak openly. Thank you for telling us about your son. I can’t imagine how difficult that was.

  21. Thank you for being open, Sue. It is a very rare family who has not been touched by mental illness in some way. I have also, on two separate occasions, taken low dose anti-depressants and have thrived because of them. I also completely agree that looking on the bright side of life for these past two unprecedented years can only get you so far. I was still teaching in March of 2020 and the roller coaster of work expectations was mind blowing. Hopefully we are now in a more upward and onward trend in Ontario. Cheers to you! – Jenn

  22. Thank you, thank you, thank you for being so open and honest. I can relate totally to this and have had to get help from time to time from my doctor just like you. You have made me feel so much better. Keep posting. Love your blogs.

  23. Several years ago, a therapist told me “Adopting positivity as one’s primary coping method in life is simply not sustainable. Life requires multiple coping skills and support to endure.” During our lifetime, therapy and medication have become commonplace and accessible, fortunately. Sharing your mental state and following through with professional help is healthy!

    1. I’m going to remember that line. Thanks, Nan. I used to feel if only I could see the positive, everything would fall into place. It became like pushing an increasingly heavy rock up a hill.

  24. Thank you, Sue, for sharing this. The shame that can accompany the perceived “failure” of being simply unable to adopt a perpetually positive outlook can lead people to a very dark place. Knowing that someone as “together” as you needs help at times let’s those who don’t feel nearly as together breathe a little easier. Humans are fragile, just to varying degrees. ❤️ All have value.

    1. People used to be ashamed to admit that their marriages failed. Seems silly now. Maybe one day we can look at the shame of admitting to mental health issues as silly. I guess every human is fragile in their own unique way.

  25. I believe that you are an extraordinarily healthy woman!
    There is no doubt that your proactive approach to your mental health has ensured it!
    Thank you for your witness to the importance of one’s emotional growth and wellbeing….we must all attend to every dimension of our human-ness.

  26. “You are not alone” comes through loud and clear both from what you shared in your post and from all of your commenters. Thank you! It’s easy to feel as if everyone else has it all together, and I know that to a casual observer, I probably seem to navigate life on an even keel even during times when I am far from feeling as if things are under control. When I needed counselling during a difficult time a few years ago, the therapist I saw told me that I could be climbing the walls with anxiety and no one around me would know because I come across as being so calm and self-contained. Which, like your wonderful positivity, can be deceptive — you never know what someone else may be struggling with.

    Thank you for your honesty and vulnerability. I would be willing to wager that you’ve nudged more of us than you might imagine to consider whether we should reach out for help rather than “toughing it out.”

  27. This was a very powerful post and it really resonated with me. I have really struggled with anger? disappointment? terror? frustration? at the months and now years that feel wasted at a time in my life where I can ill afford to lose a minute. Plans set aside, loved ones out of reach, uncertainty at seemingly every turn. No amount of positive thinking has helped completely. I applaud your honesty about seeking professional help and guidance. Too often social media worsens our collective state of mind by reinforcing a facade of perfection which makes us feel less than. Thanks for showing us your wonderful humanness.

  28. Fabulous post Sue. What we do to ourselves to keep on, keeping on. I broke out in a rash around my neck last fall. Apparently call anxiety itch, who knew. That was me trying to ACT normal, when all I really wanted to do was hide, and not hear any more horror.
    We are just mere mortals who try to be positive in a very difficult world situation when we have so little control.
    Ali

  29. Thank you for your honesty, Sue, and for reminding us that there’s nothing wrong with asking for help when the load becomes too heavy. I, too, have found it increasingly difficult to remain positive in recent days.

  30. Thank you so much for your suggestion about the Portrait Painters series! I have been treating myself to one episode most late afternoons, and have even been joined by my husband a time or two when he has come home from teaching early.
    You ARE a positive person, and so am I, but I know that there are days when it just seems impossible to entertain the willful child in me, and days I just want to cry from the moment I turn on the news.
    So knowing that if you are normal and sometimes depressed then I must be too is quite a comfort. Sincerely. Thanks for your blog, which I looked forward to all through Covid and now as we emerge from our caves and come out to greet the sunshine.

  31. Well done Sue! Your bravery in admitting you needed help, actually seeking help and then sharing with all your blog friends has probably helped us more than you will ever know. These last two years have been hard on us all in different ways and we have tried to develop coping mechanisms but sometimes they have not been enough. Thank you for your writings which have provided a sane and comforting voice during this time.

  32. Sue … It’s been a struggle to be positive during the past 2 years with our restrictions and the constant worry for our loved ones. Then stir in our own Canadian dark news and now on to the horrors in Ukraine….non stop!!
    I’ve been using the word, aimlessly languishing … many tears have and still are being shed…now for the war. I know I relied on my walks and Britbox, Accorn, Prime, Netflix for mindless escaping. Yup…we weren’t going out so this was my entertainment!
    Positivity is work and sometimes can’t be met. I think my life saver was my IG account and when I finally felt comfortable with air travel, I visited my son in BC for respite/refresh/self care visit.
    Seeking assistance during a bleak period only shows strength in a character. I’ve been there. Thank goodness we have that resource.
    Robin

  33. Thank you Sue for talking about your depression time!! People are ashamed!! I don’t tell people because of the awful reactions I’ve gotten in the past!! I went into a deep depression after my son was born and struggled until he was in college. Well, I had a deep depression again and I finally sought help!! I’m now on medication that has straightened me out!! I’m able to handle great deal now!! I’ve been on dialysis 26 years. I have many other medical problems!! I see physicians one day a week as well. I’ve been unable to drive for over 12 years now and on a walker longer than that!! But, I’m doing well. Currently I’ve began to cross-stitch again and I’m looking forward to learning how to embroidery!!

    1. It’s hard to reach out, isn’t it? I mean, I’m fine. But in order to get fine I needed help. I’m afraid anything with a needle (except for knitting) is an anathema to me. I did learn how to embroider as a kid from my grandmother. Now the only thing I embroider are my stories. Ha.

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