How the Positivity Only Movement Has a Negative Impact on the Disability Community

Napkin with "think positive!" written on it. On top of the napkin is a mug of coffee and next ot the napkin is a pen.

In September of 2012 I was young, hopelessly optimistic, and terrified of the implications two newly diagnosed autoimmune diseases would have on my existence. Having already been diagnosed with bipolar disorder at 18, I knew that this would be a life-long experience. But I did not know how heavy it would be. The weight of it all settled in my chest and threw me into an unmanageable depression.

I hadn’t even grasped what I was going through before I was tossing out any negative (and, for that matter, natural) thoughts I was having. It was at this point that I stumbled into a movement known by names such as the Positivity Only Movement and the Recovery Movement. The narrative of this movement is “Reject negative emotions and embrace the positive.” As a scared kid, this seemed like a beautiful idea. It was cleansing to absolve myself of doubt and fear. It was refreshing to only let my brain soak in the glory of hope. Reminding myself that my recovery may just be around the corner held me together for a long while.

However, I was not allowing myself to grow in thought and advocacy.

In trying to remain positive, I was missing glaring truths. Not only was I sick, but I was also living in extreme poverty. It took me a while to realize people living like me were harshly underrepresented in Positivity Only and Recovery Movement media. Most of the popular bloggers in this niche were insured and had living situations that helped them thrive. That was something I could only dream of. In the haze of chemo and sleeping medications, all I ever wanted was for the rest of my life be stable. My intersectional identity was harshly ignored by the movement, and participating in “positivity” slowly drained me.

A line in the “Positivity Manifesto” of a positivity group I once moderated reflects this line of thinking: “You are not a victim of your circumstances.” But what if you are, and have been?

Positivity- and recovery-based movements contribute to the notion that you’re continuously in control of your body, your recovery, and what happens to you. It assumes that you can simply remove yourself from situational stresses, and you’re to blame if you can’t. But recovery isn’t just based on an individual’s actions. Situational, environmental, and class-driven factors all play a role. These movements often ignore poverty, race, illness, disability, and class, and instead are usually targeted at supporting cisgender, white, thin, and middle/upper-class people.

And they ignore the fact that we can’t separate ourselves from the intersection of our identities or how they impact our lives.

By ignoring realities of disabled people, ignoring that race affects the quality of healthcare, and ignoring that poverty (which 22,508,075 disabled people experienced in 2014 alone) impacts quality of life, we are committing a grave disservice to our community as a whole. Nothing is beyond repair, however. If we all work to accept the truths and realities of intersectional identities, we will be better able to build a sustainable model of support within and across movements.

Ignoring the realities of living with physical or mental health disabilities doesn’t make them go away, but rather prevents people from being able to assess and deal with them. Instead, I am allowing myself space to be bitter. I am accepting that my situation is unfair, and that it is a struggle. This allows me to accept that I don’t deserve what I’m experiencing, but it has happened anyway.My “negativity” allows me to be realistic in my expectations and goals, and that lets me live a more sustainable lifestyle. With that knowledge, I am able to move on and start dealing with it.


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