Toxic Positivity and Chronic Illness

I'm not positive about chronic illness, but before you judge me for that, let me explain.

I don't think my life is awful, but I do think it's hard. I don't hate my chronic illnesses every day, but I do sometimes. I don't want pity, but I also don't want you to tell me it'll be fine when we both know you can't be sure of that.

I'm a realist. It's personal preference of course, but this is the outlook that helps me cope with chronic illness. This post is absolutely not intended to sway you away from a positive mindset if that is what helps you. I'm genuinely so glad you've found something that helps.

My issue is with people forcing their coping mechanisms on to others. You might say that this post is doing exactly that, but I would disagree with you there. I don't want to change your mind about how you cope. At all. I simply want to remind you that maybe not everyone feels the same, as I'm sure many of you reading disagree with my outlook. That's fine, that's allowed, we're all different.

Everyone's version of support is different , and I think this is something we all have to keep in mind - including myself. We all want to help people, but we can't always centre ourselves and our wants instead of the person needing support.

The way people prefer to receive support is a bit like love languages I think. You don't have to surround yourself only with those that share yours, but we must be mindful. Some people like to be given space, while others might find that lonely. Some people like to receive physical touch, while others might find that uncomfortable. Some people like to share their feelings in the moment, while others like to sit with them for a while before sharing.

People change their mind on these things too, and it's not always set in stone. For example, my mum's a hugger. But if she's upset about something I'll always ask her if she'd like a hug before I go straight in. 9 times out of 10 she says yes, but it's still important I ask for consent.

We also must remember that what we need and want in our times of crisis might not be what strengthens our relationships with others. For example I like to sit with things myself for a bit, but I recognise the importance of then sharing with my loved ones so they're not left in the dark.

We have to work together while both receiving and offering support, and that includes our use of language and positive versus realistic phrasing. Anyone that knows me knows I don't want to hear that it'll work itself out, that it'll get better, that I won't be sick forever. Because truth be told, you can't assure me that, and I don't need you to. I'd much rather be told that even if I don't get better, they'll still be there.

If I'm going through a hard time I don't want to be told it'll be fine, I want to be told that my emotions are valid. It's not okay, it's not fine, but it is allowed. That means far more to me. Saying that there's light at the end of the tunnel is all fine and well but it doesn't change the fact that, quite frankly, this tunnel stinks. And I hate being in it.

Again, if these sorts of phrases help you that's great. But before we share them with others in their time of need we must assess if it will be helpful for them, or it's just helpful for us. I like to stick to a simple approach of support giving, and ensure that people know they're not alone. It applies to people that want to maintain a positive outlook and those that want to moan, vent, shout and cry. It applies to those that want a bit of both too.

You can generally gauge what sort of language would help someone based on the language they use themselves when discussing what they're going through. And if not, you can always ask. I'd much rather someone asked me how they could best support me through this, as opposed to us both feeling awkward and skirting around the subject. Don't be afraid to ask.

I know it can be awkward when you don't know what to say and "Get Well Soon" just seems a bit shit. I know it's hard. I know our instinctive reaction is to fix things but pushing positives isn't always helpful and can sometimes feel quite minimising. Not for everyone obviously, but for some of us. It doesn't mean you can't have a positive outcome from your conversations though.

By not pushing positives it gives people the space to be honest, and share how they're really feeling. It gives people the opportunity to listen, and gain a better and more realistic understanding. "You're not alone" is still a positive message, and I find it can really strengthen relationships between individuals.

If someone wants help focusing on the positives then I'll absolutely help them to do that. If someone needs space to share negative feelings I'll give them that instead. It's not about me, it's about them. As long as boundaries are clear and support givers aren't experiencing emotional burnout. That's valid too you know. If you're not in a place mentally or physically to offer the type of support that someone needs, tell them that. It's valid, and all we can do is be honest.

If you know someone like me that likes to be realistic, and you'd like to give them space to share, I've got you covered. I've just launched two new A5 card designs on Thortful designed for this exact circumstance. No fluff, no bull, just real honest support giving for those that need it in this way.

Here's a sneak peak...

A flat illustrtaion of a navy greeting card laying over a grey envelope. The card features handwritten text in block capitals, that changes the phrase "this too shall pass" to: "this too shall test your limits, push you to the edge and probably hurt a bit. Sorry about that".

A flat illustration of a mid tone blue greeting card laying over a grey envelope. The card features white handwritten text in block capitals. The text changes the phrase "life is tough but so are you" to "life is tough but you're not alone".

If you'd like to order a card you can do so here. Simply write "I'm here" on the inside and you're done. What an easy way to show support. There's plenty cards out there with positive mantras on them, and in no way do I want to discount them. They're great, but they suit a particular type of person, and these another.

One of these cards won't necessarily change things and it definitely can't "fix" anything, but it will help someone know they're supported. It could be a small opener to a larger conversation, and who knows, that might really help.

Worth a try right?