Combating Positivity Porn
Last updated: February 2023
Living with a chronic illness, like multiple sclerosis, can be filled with challenges. Sure, there are the rough symptoms like pain, fatigue, spasticity, and many others to contend with, but I’m not referring to anything like that today. What I want to point out is the extreme amount of what I like to call “positivity porn” that we are constantly bombarded with.
What is "positivity porn"?
From magazine articles to Instagram accounts to Facebook posts, when you have a chronic illness these days, you are bound to encounter a seemingly never-ending parade of feel-good stories that are meant to inspire you. If you are inspired by these types of things, great, but I know these have the opposite effect on a lot of people. So I’m here to say, hey, it’s okay if you haven’t run a 5K recently.
"Inspiring" physical feats
I’m sure you know what I’m talking about. The lovely posts from all over, even the MS Society, highlighting how someone has seemingly conquered their disease. They’ve often completed some sort of major physical activity, like running a marathon or swimming the English channel. Usually with their beautiful, always-there-for-them, significant other cheering them on and awaiting them at the finish line.
Highlighting academic successes or even romance
There are all sorts of things that fall into positivity porn, not just physical feats of strength. Sometimes the stories are about someone “beating the odds” and finishing their degree while still battling MS. Occasionally it’ll be a romance story, about how they’ve truly found that in sickness and in health companion and everything is just fantastic in their life, despite their illness. Positivity and inspirational stories are everywhere, and if you have a chronic illness, you’ve definitely been targeted by them.
Inspirational or rubbing it in?
Now, I don’t begrudge anyone in these stories. I’m actually extremely happy for them. However, I also realize that many of these stories are not the norm. They are folks who are early in their diagnosis (fun fact, I too completed my degree and ran a marathon in the early years of my life with MS, I wasn’t special, the disease just hadn’t damaged me enough yet) or who simply have an easier course with the disease (remember, we are all different). While I assume many of these stories are told with the hope that they will inspire others, I think that backfires a lot of the time.
These stories can weigh on us
For many, it can even seem like others are rubbing it in that they’re better at the disease than you are. That can have a profoundly negative effect on people. If you’re constantly seeing stories about people with MS completing 5Ks or other very physical activities, while you can barely stand, that can really start to wear on you. It’s no wonder depression is such a big component of this disease.
It’s okay if you can’t run a road race
Inspiration and positivity have their places, and they’re important, too. However, I wish there was more diversity when it came to the tales that people tell. When I was healthier (even with MS) and ran a marathon, sure that was tough, but not nearly as tough as a few of the times I’ve fallen and gotten myself off the ground by myself. Honestly, I’ve had trips going a few feet from my couch to the bathroom that were actually greater accomplishments than running a marathon. So, it’s important to stay grounded and have perspective when you see these articles, memes, and even video stories pop up. Chances are, you won’t be seeing a “Devin makes it to the bathroom!” story anytime soon (actually, if you read this site, you never know).
You are enough
Don’t let the stories frustrate you or make you feel any less than you are. Be happy for those folks, but realize that it’s no reflection on you. It’s okay that you can’t do everything, MOST people can’t. You are living every day with an incurable disease, and you know what, you’re managing to survive. Now THAT is inspirational (and you didn’t even need a pair of running shoes).
Thanks so much for reading and always feel free to share!
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