At the start of the lockdown here in the UK, there was hashtag doing the rounds called “Now is the time”. Its premise was that as we were suddenly going to be stuck at home, we should think positively and just use the time to do whatever it was that we’d been putting off for the last 30 years… Now was the time to write your book, or become a domestic goddess or take 100 day beachbody challenge. And of course, on one level and for some people, that might have been true.
But the vast majority of us it wasn’t.
Leaving aside the fact that so many of us did not find ourselves with extra time at all, this Pollyanna approach was actually harmful.
When this pandemic hit, most of us were in shock. We were fearful and anxious – for ourselves, for our loved ones. We were trying to come to terms with the reality of the situation – what did it mean for us, for our children, for our finances? Our lives had been turned upside-down. Even if isolated days were stretching out before us, we needed time to process our grief and confusion before we could even consider how we were going to fill our days. For many of us those early weeks were filled with an awful lot of sleep as we tried to come to terms with the situation.
Buying in to the idea that on top of all of this, we were supposed to be actively conquering the world, would only add to our sense of overwhelm and likely induce a torrent of self-flagellation that we would need to deal with on top of the current situation.
I’ve seen so many people face events in their lives with forced positivity – desperately trying to plaster a smile on their faces whilst dealing with a tumble of emotions inside.
Denying our emotions doesn’t mean that we’ve dealt with them. When we repress them, they don’t disappear. Pushed to the back of our minds, they nonetheless drive our actions and resurface when we least expect them. We’ve all had experiences of continuously biting our tongue only to lose it at someone undeserving later. Or we become depressed -feeling overwhelmed, powerless and just plain “off” without knowing why or how to begin to untangle the pit of emotions we’ve created by ignoring them for so long.
Optimism isn’t about pretending that everything is ok, regardless of what it looks like on the surface. Nor is it about finding a silver-lining and pretending that because you’ve found it – the rest doesn’t matter. When my father passed away at the grand old age of 89, I could console myself that he had lived a long and full life – but I still grieved his loss. Yes, losing your job may free you from the shackles of a career that you loathed and give you an opportunity to try something new – but you’ll still feel betrayed by their actions and scared for the future.
Optimism involves acknowledging how you feel about a situation, dealing with the emotions that come up and then moving forward regardless knowing that even if things aren’t going well right now, it won’t last forever and that things will change and get better. Optimism is about knowing the sun will eventually come out from behind the clouds, not denying that the clouds exist.