Learning to read the room

I don’t have an Instagram-approved home office. In the bedroom I share with my husband, along the wall opposite the bed, are two desks. The one on the left, made of metal with a glass top, is his. He bought it used from one of the parents at our daughters’ school. My desk, plywood with a peeling plastic veneer, has been around so long that we can’t remember where we got it. To the right of my desk is a window that looks at the blank side of our neighbor’s house, about four feet away. My desk resembles a haphazard archaeological dig. On one side are piles of books, the most recently referenced on top. The other side is a jumble of objects ranging from unused notebooks to greeting cards I hope to get around to sending. In between is random junk. This state of affairs isn’t new. The reality of my life, pandemic or not, is messy.

In the last week, my newsfeed on every conceivable form of social media has been splattered with images of idyllic-looking home offices interspersed with motivational memes and handy charts telling me how I can “maximize” my personal growth through this crisis (apparently the answer is not Double Stuf Oreos). This content springs from the 10th Circle of Hell, where there are good vibes only. The underlying message is that those of us who find ourselves unable or unwilling to pretend that everything is OK are weak. The “strong” and “good” people choose to be positive. As I have written before, positivity has become toxic in our world.

When someone tells you that you need to choose to be positive, this is what they are saying:

Your feelings of hopelessness, sadness, anger, hurt, and anxiety make me feel awkward. Because I have money and social status, it is your responsibility to keep me from feeling bad. My comfort demands your silence. If you cannot be quiet, at least pretend that everything is fine so that I am not confronted with emotions that I do not like.

The folks who have the financial and physical security to stave off paralyzing anxiety during this time should be grateful and keep it to themselves. Demanding that people who are anxious, depressed, out of work, trapped with their abuser, facing eviction, sick, unable to access basic medical care, or experiencing any other threats to their well-being, suppress their feelings is cruel and dangerous. It needs to stop and we we need to call it out when we see it.

We need to stand up to the Jerk Brains of our society.

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