I am so glad to see the end of January. Since my brother went missing in January 2018, I have found this bright and bubbly first month of the year incredibly difficult. Thankfully it’s a busy month, so I have always kept myself occupied to try and put grief out of my mind. It’s hard when January just happens to be the month of positive messages. It’s common for social media to be filled with motivational and inspiring messages, especially during the start of a new year. “New Year, New You” messages flood social media, but true change comes from within. Don’t let the hype fool you, personal growth is a journey unique to you.
We don’t suddenly break all the habits of previous years, just because it is the beginning of a new one. Sure, we can manifest success, and we should plan and set goals, quite honestly when I choose to plan, I am more successful, but the pressure to start afresh in January can be too great for some of us. It’s up to each individual to determine what works best for them and make meaningful changes in their own way and pace.
In December 2017, I bought Grahame and I matching planners, they arrived beautifully wrapped, and we were excited to plan our year. His was blue and mine was pink, we set about creating our goals and going into 2018 we were pumped. Then my brother died, and it all went out the window. Since then, until recently, I have not successfully used a diary/planner. I could not look at a planner without fearing that I was set for failure. I have negotiated with this year’s planner and given myself some time, and one rule was that I wouldn’t start using it until February. I wasn’t making plans in January, and self-care in January didn’t include making plans for the year. It is important for me to acknowledge “me” and my vulnerability, I know that I will always feel grief, and that to honour my brother I must talk about him and our memories together, but also remember how he left this world. His legacy is not defined to his suicide, he had many happy times, but he obviously didn’t believe that he had permission to talk about how he was feeling. He would want his time on this earth to have made an impact, he would want to see people being supported and talking about their feelings. At his funeral one of his mates spoke about how when James was running a building site, he would down tools and give group hugs, that made me so proud.
I have long been concerned with the rise of toxic positivity. Our feeds are filled up with quotes from people who are making a career out of inspiring others. Once again, it’s great to be positive, but it is not possible to be positive all the time, and the sheer volume of these positive posts can become overwhelming, especially for those with mental health problems. We must understand that without failure, we will never understand what success looks like, and we must be prepared to be vulnerable if we are to experience real connections.
When positivity is pushed to an extreme, it can be bad for us. It is a fact that those who acknowledge and validate their emotions progress much better than those who live in denial. By living in a fake positive emotional state, we don’t get to experience real positive emotions. It is unrealistic that we can be happy all the time. The problem with pushing positivity on to yourself or others, is that it shuts down the conversation, stifles vulnerability and could actually reduce the opportunity to have a real conversation that could then lead to people seeking help.
Many years ago, I reached out for help about my business, and I was asked if I had tried being positive? That’s where the conversation ended. I am in a very successful coaching group now, we set goals, plan our weeks, months, year. We celebrate our wins, but we also have an opportunity to be vulnerable. It’s true, nobody wants to hear negativity, but emotions like sadness, anger and grief are not bad emotions, they are real. All emotions are important and if we are to lower the suicide rates, we must open up the conversation and lose the stigma.
I too have previously been guilty of telling people that they are lucky to have their health, a roof over their head. I have tried to get mates and people I care about to look on the positive side. I understand now that those things can’t make you happy if you are feeling incredibly sad. I also know that perhaps whilst putting out the “let’s be positive” vibes, I was hiding from the truth about my own happiness. We need to reframe the conversations, not only the conversations with others, but the way we talk to ourselves. Naturally we want to put out good vibes, we don’t want people around us to feel depressed just spending time with us, but we need to find our tribe, because our true mates will listen and respect us for being open and honest.
Be kind to yourself.
I now acknowledge that to be vulnerable is to be brave.
In the words of leading vulnerability advocate Brene Brown;
“Vulnerability is the core, the heart, the center, of meaningful human experiences.”