One of the hottest trends out there today is inspirational quotes. Many people have something to say, whether original or repeating what someone else has said, and just about everyone likes to read them.
And I’m not judging – I’m definitely one of those people. Just check out my social media accounts and you’ll see that I have a small mountain of inspirational-quote-based accounts that I follow. I even subscribe to a few mailing lists just to receive inspirational materials in my inbox on a regular basis. Like most people, I enjoy receiving a daily dose of positivity and I always have.
So, what’s the problem?
I think there is a need to step back and question what we’ve typically considered inspiration and take fresh look at what some of these things are actually telling us. If you’ve read my post on consent, then you already know I’m a proponent of questioning things we, as a society, tend to assume are givens in our lives.
Now, I’ll be honest. Even with my outlook on questioning norms, it never occurred to me to do that with inspirational quotes until recently.
As I mentioned, I subscribe to and follow a lot of accounts that provide inspirational quotes on a regular basis. And because I am still learning to manage the impacts of my childhood, I tend to be a little obsessive about always reading everything that comes to me.
Yes, this is less than ideal. Yes, it means social media has thrown a wrench into my anxiety-management techniques. And yes, I’ll be writing about this topic soon.
But one of the benefits of this kind of thing is that I’m able to see enough content for patterns and connections to emerge.
And I started to see a lot of them.
Let’s look at a few popular inspirational quotes that have been around for a while. There are some slight variations out there, but I’m sure you’ll recognize them all.
“This, too, shall pass.“
“Don’t overthink. Just let it go.“
“Just change your mindset.“
“Keep calm and be positive.“
Go back and read those again (yes, even though you’re already familiar with them).
Do you notice anything? Can you identify the common thread between them that landed them onto this curated listing?
Maybe you’re wondering what the big deal is – those are nice quotes, right?
Or maybe you’ve scrolled back up a few times, sure there must be something there, but you can’t tell what it is.
And there will be some reading this who didn’t even need to read the list a second time to see the common thread between them.
So what’s the big deal?
Raise your hand if you have anxiety.
Is your hand up? Mine is. If anxiety disorders and PTSD are a buffet, I’ve got a plate with full portions of just about everything you see, and I’ve been gorging myself for decades.
If you’re like me, if you’re raising your hand, I imagine you likely fall into one of the latter two categories above. And this is why.
For someone with anxiety—and I mean clinical anxiety, not your normal run-of-the-mill everyday-life anxiety that everyone experiences on some level—there are a lot of things beyond your control.
When you’re having a panic attack or a flashback (visual or emotional) or something has triggered your anxiety to go full steam ahead, there isn’t much you can do in the moment. And when you are told to do something that you are physiologically incapable of doing?
You feel misunderstood.
You feel inadequate and broken.
You feel like there is something horribly wrong with you.
And then your episode will only get worse. You may not understand why; you may only know that it happens. You may even fixate on trying to “fix” yourself and do what you think you should be able to do.
Regardless of their level of awareness about what is actually going on, anyone with anxiety could easily tell you that hearing certain things will instantly make that anxiety worse. Do a google search and you’ll see that there are a large number of articles and blog posts out there on the topic, but once you start actually reading them, you’ll see the same things popping up on just about every list.
Being told to just let it go.
Or to just calm down.
To just decide to be happy or calm or positive.
To stop overthinking things because it’s really not a big deal.
And how powerless does that make you feel when you can’t do something that society is telling you is so simple? How broken do you feel that you cannot do something so seemingly insignificant? How many times to you think, “What is wrong with me that instead of feeling inspired I’m having a panic attack?”
You’ve likely figured out the common thread in the quotes above, but if you haven’t, it’s that they will all make things worse for someone struggling with anxiety. They’re based on the premise that everything is a simple choice, but that’s just not the case when it comes to mental illness. And, yes—anxiety is a mental illness.
Remember the salt?
I want to be clear – there’s nothing wrong with these quotes. And there may be days when that’s even true for someone with anxiety. I know for myself, when I’m having a low-anxiety day, I can read any of those quotes above and I feel inspired. Motivated.
Like I’ve got this.
But maybe the next day isn’t such a good anxiety day. Maybe it’s a day when I’m having panic attacks that come on so suddenly I can’t even identify the trigger. Maybe I was awake all night worrying about anything and everything, all my tricks for quieting my mind having failed. Maybe it’s one of those days when I feel incapable of having a conversation with any other human being, even my husband.
On days like those, the quotes above used to send me into a tailspin. I’d be wondering what was so wrong with me that I couldn’t just be normal and change my mindset, just choose to be positive and let things go.
Yes, I said “used to.” Because once I figured out that the problem wasn’t me, but rather that quotes like those above do not take into consideration those of us who don’t have the ability to choose, I was able to figure out how to respond on those high-anxiety days.
And what I figured out was that I needed to take those little bits of inspiration with a grain of salt.
Katherine Turner is the author of Finding Annie, a contemporary romantic women’s fiction novel that explores the power of love and human resilience in the wake of trauma and abuse. She blogs about mental health, trauma, and ways we can be more compassionate as a society. Sign up for her newsletter to stay up to date and get the first five chapters of her novel Finding Annie free!