Don’t Pressure Yourself to Stay Positive during Isolation 

People maintain the one-meter distance in between each other as they stand in a line to buy groceries at a supermarket in Colombo, Sri Lanka, March 24, 2020. (Dinuka Liyanawatte/Reuters)
It has been helpful to remind myself that feeling negative and down about this situation is in no way a failure.

Ever since the quarantine, I have found it difficult to go on social media without seeing some version of the exact same sort of joke:

Our grandparents were called to war! You are being called to sit on the couch! Stay inside!

Anne Frank spent years in a tiny attic, and she didn’t even have Netflix! Stop complaining! 

Honestly? All of them drive me nuts.

Now, that’s not to say I don’t get the point. Like, yeah, you’re right — being in my apartment is, in fact, not as bad as fighting in a global conflict that killed 75 million people. And yes — it’s true, this whole social distancing thing is nothing compared with being trapped in a tiny apartment in an attempt to save yourself from being murdered by a genocidal Gestapo.

You’re right; you win, checkmate!

But does any of this mean that you are somehow wrong if you find yourself coming unglued anyway? I don’t think it does. What’s more, I think it’s actually harmful to insinuate otherwise.

Yes, gratitude is important, and it can be both healing and humbling to think of how much better you have it compared to others. At the same time, though, I really reject the idea that just because I’m not risking my life on a battlefield, or being hunted by Nazis, it means I am somehow a spoiled a**hole for being upset or complaining.

Because, if I’m being honest? These last few weeks, I have been upset. Throughout my life, I’ve struggled with anxiety, depression, and ADD, and these things have gotten worse during this time because a lot of my coping mechanisms have gone away. I can’t hug a friend; I can’t blast Misfits songs and wear myself out on the elliptical machine in the gym. I can’t go to any of the concerts I’ve been excited to attend, and the last time I tried to play my own music and dance around my apartment to cope, my neighbors called in a noise complaint after less than three minutes.

It sucks; it’s okay for me to say that, and it’s okay for you to say it, too.

After all, I know that I’m not alone in this. I have had a lot of people reach out — friends and strangers alike — to tell me that they’ve been experiencing similar things.

Yes, comparatively speaking, things are pretty good for me, and I recognize that, too. My life isn’t at risk. I don’t have to go onto a battlefield — in fact, I’m even able to keep working at my career without having to take more than 300 steps per day.

But guess what? At moments, I am still completely, inconsolably miserable. I’ve cried in every room of my apartment. At times, I’ve been too depressed to get up off of the couch. And guess what else? That doesn’t mean that there is something wrong with me; it doesn’t make me weak; it doesn’t even make me weird.

If you are upset too, I would challenge you, just for a second, to wait before telling yourself that you just need to stay positive. Instead, take a moment and tell yourself this: You are upset, and that is normal. You are living in the middle of a global pandemic and society has collapsed. Everything is unrecognizable; everything is uncertain. If you didn’t feel like s*** sometimes these days, I’d have to question whether you were even capable of feeling anything at all.

It may seem counterintuitive, but one of the things that helped me the most recently was to write down a physical list of all of the things I hated, with the only rule being that none of them could have to do with the coronavirus or the isolation — making sure, of course, to not judge myself for having bad thoughts about those things either, but just not writing them down on the list. Oddly enough, it was kind of fun to not think about how much I hate the world being on fire and get back to hating Bon Jovi’s music again.

Oddly enough, this exercise in negativity actually brought a little of normalcy to my life; it’s kind of amazing that negativity gets so little credit for the way it can energize you. I mean, I was thinking about things I hadn’t thought about in a while, even though they were things I hated. Eventually, even a thought or two about how I was actually kind of lucky the last time I heard Bon Jovi’s music, because I must have been out at a bar, and that bar was at least somewhere other than the handful of rooms I call home.

I guess that means that eventually, what happened was I experienced accidental, or incidental, positivity — and yes, that felt good.

But here’s the thing: I didn’t try to force myself into it, which is the entire point. I’m not denying that positivity can absolutely be an instrumental part of mental health — but the pressure to stay positive can actually wreck it. Think about it: If you keep telling yourself that you must maintain a positive outlook, and then you struggle to be able to do that? Well, then you have failed, and now you just have something else to feel bad about.

For me, it has been helpful to remind myself that feeling negative and down about this situation is in no way a failure, let alone some kind of subconscious disrespect to the legacy of Anne Frank. Not at all — it is okay.

See, I’m not saying positivity is bad. As cheesy and cliché as it sounds, it is totally true that, if you’re still breathing, then you have something to be grateful for. Practice gratitude for the things you have, look on the bright side when you can, but when you can’t? Acknowledge it, recognize it, and tell yourself it is completely fine to not be a ray of f***ing sunshine all the time when the world is crumbling around you.


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