The Puzzle of Positivity

I was surprised, in the mid-2000’s, when the Strengthsfinder test said that one of my Top 5 strengths was Positivity.

It surprised me because, at the time, I was feeling very negative about everything. I felt cynical and picked on. I disliked myself and everyone around me. I felt like I was in a constant battle with everyone and everything. I was anxious and also depressed.

Positivity did not seem like a word that applied to me.

However, I agreed with the other strengths. I liked Strengthsfinder and I remembered how, when I originally took the test, my Top 5 Strengths had included a different strength, one that I also disagreed with until I understood more about it. So I read the definition of Positivity and learned more about it.

I discovered that people with high levels of Positivity are at risk of the huge shadow side of Positivity, which occurs when you are surrounded by negative people. And I was certainly surrounded by negative people. Negative, nasty cynical people who delighted in tearing me down and telling me that my ideas were bullshit. People with positivity who are surrounded by negativity risk falling into negativity themselves.

Recognizing this brought out the rebel in me. I decided that I wasn’t going to let negative people define who I was. And I changed my attitude. I stopped hanging around the negative people. I used their negativity as fuel for my positivity. I started looking on the bright side, and things got better.

My Positivity is struggling again now.

It’s not just the pandemic, although I feel like it slowly circling my family like a shark. First my mom’s caregiver tested positive (mom was negative) now my sister in law is anxiously awaiting her test results. Where did she get it? My other sister in law, who is in infectious disease, says there’s so much community spread that contact tracing has stopped being effective. A good friend who lives alone here has fallen off the map – I’ve been reaching out to her since early November and haven’t heard back. Is she dealing with her own shit, mad at me for some reason I am too insensitive to recognize….or is she lying on the floor of her apartment, too sick to call for help. I don’t know. Another friend went off the map earlier this year – I still don’t know why — and she seems to be back now.

My amygdala seems over-stimulated.

Part of it is the News. I stopped watching Stephen Colbert and Trevor Noah and all those guys because all they did was rag on Trump. I agreed with them, for the most part, but the negativity was getting me down. It’s not funny.

I keep quitting MSNBC for the same reason. But then my husband has it on and I get sucked into it.

I need to quit my news feeds. My Google news feed, for some reason, thinks I need to know about weather in Pittsburgh (where I do not live), traffic accidents and random shootings anywhere in the U.S., and every crazy ass thing that Trump’s legal team says, including inciting violence against people who are just doing their jobs or the jobs that they were doing before they got fired for doing their jobs.

All this negativity is making me nuts.

A few weeks ago, on Air Disasters – a show I love because I like finding out what caused the problems that brought the plane down and what the continuous improvement is to prevent it from happening again – the story featured a routine commuter flight in Indonesia that slammed into the top of a mountain. In listening to the cockpit voice recorder, the investigators realized that they didn’t hear the ground proximity indicator, which should certainly have been going off for several minutes as the plane descended through the clouds into the mountain. They checked the mechanical systems and couldn’t find anything wrong with the proximity indicator. Then they rewound the voice recorder and listened to an earlier flight, where the indicator was going off then suddenly stopped. They realized that the maps that the indicator were tuned to were notoriously inaccurate in that geographic area and the indicator had been sounding false alarms. So the Captain had unplugged it. And forgotten to plug it back in later. The proximity indicator could not have sounded the alarm.

Right now, I feel like my amygdala is a proximity indicator that is always on. It’s on for worrying about the pandemic. It’s on when I leave the doctor’s office and my choice is getting on an elevator with another person or waiting for the next elevator in a crowded waiting room. It’s on when I have an allergy attack – I sniffle, my throat hurts, I feel achy, I have trouble breathing – until I take an allergy pill and the symptoms go away almost instantly. It’s on when I can’t get ahold of a friend. It’s on when I read about the lame duck replacing military leaders with loyalists; or about McConnell rushing to stack the bench with Republican appointees in the next two months. It’s on when I read about faithless electors.

When will all this end?

Several years ago, my husband and I started doing jigsaw puzzles. It was fun, something we could do together. This continued for several months, until I brought home the puzzle from hell. Yes, it has a lot of pieces and an intricate pattern – we could have handled that. What makes this puzzle so hellish is that the pieces fit together in a number of different ways. We’d think we had the edge right, for example, all except those last two pieces that we just couldn’t get to fit together – and then we’d realize that was because the whole thing was wrong. My husband and I started fighting over who had placed the wrong pieces (or something, I can’t remember what exactly); finally we put the puzzle from hell back in the box and stopped doing jigsaw puzzles cold turkey.

Earlier this year, my sister sent me a puzzle and we started puzzling again. When we finished that puzzle, I pulled out the puzzle from hell. My husband wondered if I was out of my mind, but we started working on it in about June and we’re still working on it. We’ve taken the damned thing apart several times. He has suggested giving up on it – my sister sent me another puzzle to work on that we haven’t started yet – and, at first, I resisted. My amygdala was telling me, with no logic whatsoever, that if I could just finish the puzzle from hell, sympathetic magic would kick in and everything would go back to normal. Trump would quit, his supporters would get bored and wander off, the pandemic would end, McConnell would come to his senses… I know it doesn’t make sense, but nothing makes sense this year, so why not believe in magic?

Since the election, we’ve doubled down on the time we’re spending on this stupid puzzle and we’re almost done with it.

Cross your fingers.

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