Autumn is a magical time of year. Everything turns golden, the heating comes on. People don’t look at you strangely for wearing big chunky boots with your pretty dresses… the best mornings are full of blue sky and steam that rises from inside your lungs when you breathe. You get to smell woodsmoke in the air, cook stews and casseroles to come home to. Leaves crunch under your feet or the mud squishes underneath your wellington boots as you meander through woodlands that smell of damp and earth and allow you to feel completely grounded and at one with nature.
It is also the prelude to December… I was born a week before Christmas and I normally look forward to that special week – full of family and friends, twinkling lights, good music (Smith & Burrows’s Christmas album will always be a favourite), amazing food and of course the presents, although I’ve always been much more of a giver in that respect. It’s wonderful…
Until it isn’t.
Until the tiredness snakes its way into your bones, or the kitchen gets too hot whilst you are cooking what feels like your eleventh thousand Christmas dinner. Your bank account is looking sorry for itself, you’ve forgotten to buy your husbands aunties cat a Christmas present (true story), you need to write a heap of cards for the neighbours or people at work, you need to have dinner with your extended family and you know that the noise of eating, the amount of food, the anxiety around getting it ‘just right’ and the feeling of being too full are all triggers to your own issues with food. Maybe you count on work as a distraction and routine to keep you sane and the thought of an enforced holiday scares you more than you would like to admit. Perhaps you are breaking bread with people that don’t understand your sexuality, maybe you would love to be spending your day with a loved one but can’t because you need to spend it with family who don’t understand. There is alcohol, so – much – alcohol, and that can be incredibly hard for so many reasons. It’s not an easy time. Last year I wrote on another platform about how we can never fully understand how hard Christmas can be for each other and this year I’m feeling the truth of that even more so. It could be the first Christmas without someone, or the last Christmas we know we’ll have someone with us. And it’s merry and jolly and bright because it’s Christmas… but in reality, it’s not at all jolly and bright… it’s hard, and it’s a struggle and that is ok.
It’s ok because it is ok not to be ok. It’s ok to find all of this too much – all of this preparation and buying stuff and thinking about food and making arrangements with people you haven’t spoken to for the last 11 months. It’s alright to go to a quiet place and just sit and do nothing, or to cry, or to scream into a pillow. It’s healthy to get the lead on the dog and whisk him out of the door faster than his paws can touch the ground because you just need to get out and away and breathe the fresh, cool air into your lungs for 10 minutes, by yourself, for yourself.
These few weeks are stressful. They are stressful for people who seem to have everything together and they are stressful for people that let us all know about it when they don’t. Most of us still have to do the everyday stuff – going to work, keeping ourselves healthy, care giving, paying bills, looking after kids – and then we have this big day looming on the horizon which everything has to be perfect for, which we need to be perfect for.
But we don’t. Not really.
Because it’s a day.
Just a day.
Take it hour by hour, remember to breathe. Meditate, go for a walk, sleep. Look after yourself and be considerate to those around you.
I should probably make one thing clear before I get into this post, I am not against positivity – not in the slightest. I believe that positivity is wonderful and can aid recovery, can undoubtedly make life more pleasurable and of course can make us more enjoyable people to be around. Despite the depression, I even think of myself as a generally positive person – my thoughts in this post aren’t about positivity per se, they are more about how positivity can sometimes feel forced, and pushed upon us…
Because I think we have all reached that point at times where positivity is really, really hard to muster. A bad day, week, month, year… an amalgamation of events, a mental or physical illness, instances of inequality or discrimination. But still, we have this message pushed upon us by social media especially that we should be positive – because its ‘healthy’.
But… what if its not always the healthy option? What if our
constant drive to put this positive front out to the rest of the world is
actually damaging our wellness and our growth? We’ve all scrolled through Facebook,
Instagram and Twitter looking at everyone else’s highlight reel, we’ve all come
away feeling that little bit sadder, that little bit less accomplished.
I came across a post during my scrolling on Facebook this morning which was a quote taken from Rachel Hollis’s bestselling book ‘Girl, Wash Your Face’
Now… my problem isn’t with Rachel Hollis, or her book. I
haven’t read it so it would be unfair of me to pass any form of judgement on
it. My problem is with the quote – a quote, which apparently comes near the end
of the book and is taken (perhaps) out of context.
If you are reading this quote in the book, then you are someone who has chosen to read what Rachel has to say. You have been given time to grasp the approach of the book, you are perhaps already a fan of Rachel Hollis – maybe from this book itself, or perhaps you heard of her through her event planning company, lifestyle website, or the media company she runs with her husband. Maybe you’ve read one of her novels, own either of her cookbooks, been to one of her conferences or even attended one of her ‘getaway weekends’. The Rachel Hollis brand is huge and she evidently has a massive following of people that know who she is, what she stands for and also her approach to ‘wellness’.
However, if like me, you had to Google her…. then the quote is out of context. What this quote says, to someone unfamiliar with her tough love approach, is pull yourself together girl, stop dwelling on the past. Be positive, love yourself…
And this is something that I cannot get on board with.
Sure, that message is positive; it screams positivity and motivation. But what it doesn’t address is why these ‘positive’ things are not happening in the first place.
Lets break it down a little and see why reading a quote like this out of context can be so problematic…
‘Girl…’ – I get the impression that her target audience is middle class women, usually mothers. But can we take a moment to recognise that men also suffer with the issues that she is trying to address?
‘Get ahold of your life’ – how? Is it easy? It that something that people who don’t have a job because of a mental health condition can do? Is that something that someone who is being discriminated against because of their sexuality, race or gender can do? Is it something that a single working mum (or dad) can do when every penny goes on shelter and putting food in their childrens mouths? Is it something an addict can do? Or someone with a physical health condition? Or someone who is grieving? How about uh…. Someone who is processing trauma? Someone who has major anxiety and cannot go outside? Get ahold of your life – five words that are very easy to type, but that have different meanings, difficulties, connotations and shame attached to them, for so many people.
‘Stop medicating’ – I am giving her the benefit of the doubt here, I’m presuming she means ‘self-medicating’ rather than actual medication. But still, coming from a woman who wrote in her bestselling book that she would use vodka and Xanax to deal with stress when she was going through the fostering process, you’d think she’d perhaps have a little more compassion for people that do resort to coping mechanisms to get through. Two words, but they don’t delve into the complexities of addiction, they don’t offer any forgiveness for how we try and cope with our pain. They don’t encapsulate how hard it is to stop behaviours that have helped us in the past and that can be very easy to fall back to, even when we are ‘recovered’.
‘Stop hiding out, stop being afraid, stop giving away pieces of yourself’ – these are good snippets of advice, but they are delivered in such a simplistic way that they lose all meaning. Its safe to hide, especially if you have experienced trauma or discrimination – hiding becomes a learned and subconscious behaviour to some – including myself. And how could you contemplate just telling someone to ‘stop being afraid’? Fears and phobias are bad enough but if we are talking about being afraid of putting ourselves out there, of being seen, or taking huge steps forward and managing our own recovery – then that becomes something else entirely. As for giving away pieces of ourselves – sometimes that comes down to self-worth, to co-dependency, to being abused and to having to, because that’s how we have learnt to survive.
‘Stop saying you can’t do it. Stop the negative self-talk’ – So this part, is perhaps the only part that I do agree with. We are all so hard on ourselves and we do need to learn to talk to ourselves more gently, to be more forgiving to ourselves and to acknowledge that we aren’t perfect, and – in fact – no-one is. Unfortunately, the compassion that we need to offer onto ourselves in order to begin to do this, is not really offered within this context.
‘Stop abusing your body’ – So, this is a very interesting one. I haven’t read Rachels book, but in preparation for this post I have read about Rachel and I have read snippets in order to gleam some sort of idea about the message she is trying to promote. This is a quote from her book:
“Humans were not made to be out of shape and severely overweight. You can choose to continue to abuse your body because it’s all you know […] but please stop making excuses for the why’s”
It is also worth noting at this point, that Rachel Hollis does have posts on her Instagram about loving your body and your worth isn’t dependant on your appearance – which is wonderful and is a very important message. But unfortunately, she seems to be completely disregarding the fact that millions of people suffer with mental health issues which are directly linked to food. Some people undereat, some people overeat and some people do both – and these are all valid reasons for emotional distress. Anorexia is an abuse upon our bodies yes, but it is not a choice, it is not an excuse, it is a deep rooted and traumatising illness – and the same applies to binge eating and bulimia. Also, if we take it away from food for a moment and move onto exercise then can we at least recognise that the ability, time and often money to do so is a privilege not afforded to all.
‘Stop putting if off for tomorrow or Monday or next year’ – if you are tired, if you are unwell, if you are recovering then sometimes you need to put things off. Sure, don’t put them off forever, don’t put them off to the point of never doing them – but again, it comes down to kindness. It comes down to recognising that something might just be a bit too much of a hurdle today, but tomorrow it might be easier. It is a difficult one, because sometimes we do need to do that hard stuff in order to move forward – but do it with kindness, do it whilst recognising your own limits and whilst also rewarding yourself for how far you’ve come! And that distance will be different for everyone – on some days getting out of bed and showered may seem like a hundred-mile trek, but recognise the power it took to do it, and forgive yourself if today you just can’t.
‘Stop crying about what happened…’ – No, don’t stop crying about what happened. This is perhaps the worst command in this entire list. Its ok to cry about what happened, its healthy to cry about what happened. Tears are healthy, addressing past issues and traumas and learning how to deal with them so that we can move on, is healthy. Never feel ashamed for crying, never feel ashamed for what happened to you and never feel ashamed for talking about it. We need to open up these places of safety, we need to get better at discovering why we sometimes do the things we do and why we react the way that we do to certain things. Brushing things under the carpet, painting on a mask of wellness and positivity and moving forwards is not going to help us find the root causes and is not going to help us address the issues that we need to move on from. Confide in friends you feel safe with, go to the therapy if you are able, take the medication if it helps makes things more bearable and cry when you need to cry – but please don’t ever feel ashamed or embarrassed to do so because you cannot skip these parts, you cannot ignore the past.
‘…and take control of what happens next’ The same rhetoric as ‘get ahold of your life’. We do have to take responsibility for ourselves at times, but it is important to recognise that these decisions can come much easier for some than for others. If you are being discriminated against, if you are poor, if you live in a rural community and don’t have good transport links, if you are in an abusive relationship, if you don’t have adequate healthcare or are on a long and never ending waiting list for help – then you can recognise that need to take responsibility as much as you want, but you cannot control what happens next.
The ‘tough love’ approach may work for some. It certainly
work’s for Rachel’s devoted audience – but it doesn’t work for all. For some,
it will feel judgemental, it will feel unkind and it will reinforce the belief
that they have in themselves that they are not trying hard enough and that they
are to blame – when so often, this isn’t the case.
Rachel Hollis has very successfully built a brand – and the brand is her. But to my knowledge, she doesn’t hold a medical degree, she does not have a background in mental health and before she founded Chic Events with her husband, her working life was spent at Miramax Studios. Rachel doesn’t know, or understand your individual pain, or your trauma. Her message is that of positivity and motivation and that is wonderful – unfortunately her message becomes skewed when her words are taken out of context and are read by people who haven’t bought into the lifestyle brand that she has created. If you cannot do the things you see in a quote all about positivity, that doesn’t make you a bad person. It doesn’t mean you have failed, and it doesn’t mean that your inability to do so is your fault.
It is ok to not be positive, it is ok to be sad or angry, or
to feel pain, or to still be in the process of recovery. You do not need to
brush yourself off and get on with it just because it’s the done thing, you are
allowed to feel your feelings and to talk and cry and revisit the past in order
to find ways of making your future bright. We do not all need to be shining
beacons of positivity all the time – and we do not need to know where we are
going or how we are going to get there.