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Toxic Positivity

I’ve been hearing this phrase banded around on Twitter. Usually directed at the neurodiversity movement, or more specifically at “Pollyanna Autism advocates”, by our critics.

I had a taste of toxic positivity yesterday, and now the meaning and consequences are clearer to me.

I’ve been struggling with IBS worse than ever since my son Iggy died in April. It is affecting my running, especially in weeks where I’ve agonised over decisions or worried about anyone else in the family.

My ankles and heels have been hurting too. Not Achilles tendinitis, but more widespread tightness in the muscles and tendons that support my ankles. I’ve still pressed on, because running is what passes for a social life for me and it is important for my mental health. I’ve had to abort or cancel quite few runs due to IBS, but continued on the sore ankles and heels.

3k into a local 10k trail race yesterday, I felt unwell. Abdominal cramps, nausea and sore ankles. During every walking break somebody shouted “keep going”. Starting my second lap was ill-advised. “Come on, you know you can do it!” shouted a marshal. By 7k I was clutching my belly and walking with my thighs pressed together. “Go girl, you’re doing great!”.

“Sod this”, I thought. I removed my race number and binned it in disgust. Slowly I hobbled towards the toilet near the start line, my first DNF (did not finish).

Physical medical problems are not helped by pep talks, and people should not make assumptions about what others are going through.

Had I continued, I’d most likely be unable to run for months, and I probably wouldn’t have made it to the toilet. My mental and physical health would have suffered as a result.

This made me wonder again whether my own autism advocacy is too sugar-coated. IBS and other gastro-intestinal problems go hand in hand with autism, as do delays finding continence, bed wetting, compaction, faecal leakage and other unpleasant issues autistic kids often struggle to cope with. The same autistic kids that have problems soiling and bed-wetting at school grow out of these problems only to be struck with food intolerances and IBS in adulthood.

In darker moments I wonder, would my son have been able to confide in me about what had been troubling him, had I sugar-coated my own disability less?

After all, there’s no use talking about silver linings if you deny the existence of clouds.


Author: Charlie Hart

Late-diagnosed autistic working mum, attempting to write an amusing semi-autobiographical novel with a twist.

6 thoughts on “Toxic Positivity”

  1. I relate deeply to your Polyanna thinking (also a late diagnosed Autistic, with IBS).
    I flit between ‘Yeah, I got this. This gift of self-context from the diagnosis is gonna make everything easy and logical and all fall into place’…and ‘Shit, this isn’t going to go away with smart thinking ..and no amount of self understanding seems to help me be understood by anyone else’. There is an exhausted wrangling that goes on always. I sometimes consider acceptance a blessed gift and other times, an expression of hopeless surrender.


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