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The National (Scotland)
The National (Scotland)
David Smith

In the age of information we need to favour experts over influencers - David Smith

Life happens. It only takes a short look online to see what has become known as “toxic positivity”.  You know, the posts that have over-smiling individuals telling you to just be positive, providing a list of things you should do to live the good life.

Never has there been so much access to information and knowledge. The internet is awash with influencers giving out psychological advice on how to live. It’s not that the information is wrong, much of it can be useful, but it must be taken in context.

In a recent article for The Atlantic, Arthur Brooks spoke about what is known as the illusion of explanatory depth. In short, “Google is not grad school.”

Much of what Brooks talks about is how having so much knowledge at our fingertips can be dangerous as it can lead us to thinking we know more than we actually do. This is then shared to more people via social media messages and can cause more harm than good.

There is not a week goes past where I don’t receive an email from

either someone newly paralysed or diagnosed with cancer, and as much as I want to help I am not a trained psychologist or therapist.

I am an avid learner of psychology from Google and websites such as Psychology Today. Much of this is to help me manage my own trauma and, alongside therapy, help me to understand what’s going on inside my own mind.

I try to work out what my trip wires are and how I can become less

reactive to them. I do have lived experience of paralysis and what it is like to sit in a hospital room planning radiotherapy, as well as  constant discussions around ageing with a spinal cord injury. So, I try to help those who message, but I am aware that I know that I don’t know.

Maybe as humans we are programmed to help. If something has worked for us or we have read about it in a book, and we have this knowledge and want to share it with the world, are we wanting to help others or just show them we have this knowledge?

I heard someone say, “It’s why we have two ears and one mouth. Learn to just listen and be with someone without offering advice or telling them to get up at 4am, take an ice bath, practice mindfulness and do as I do.”

Humans are complex, I know this much, and most of us are trying our best. I know I like my mornings to be calm, quiet and peaceful: it is when I reflect.

This works for me but it might not work for you, so I would never tell someone to do it. I do think lots of us would benefit from psychological support, though.

When I did my Masters in Sports Psychology, we reframed it to training the mind alongside the body; we spoke about tools we could use each day to perform optimally, but it is important to remember behind every athlete is a human, and humans are complex.

It’s impossible to get through life without a level of trauma, for some it can be small T and others it’s big T.

Even for the small T it is worth getting support so you can function better as a human being, and I would encourage this support comes from trained professionals – not from social media influencers with deep levels of knowledge gained from reading Google.

Why I am sharing this is that another week on my journey with paralysis caused massive amounts of stress that left me broken by Friday.

I could feel my whole body tighten and could hardly breathe. A phone call to my therapist, and I found myself sitting down to write this week’s column on the Isle of Skye below the Old Man of Storr.

Connecting with nature and calming my anxiety as the rain soaked me through was just the perfect solution to a hard week in a paralysed body.

It was hard to watch others jump out their cars and walk, but I tried to remind myself of how lucky I am just to be here, to see such beauty and to sit and just breathe – but the athlete in me desired the challenge of climbing.

However, for today I am happy to accept paralysis and enjoy the beauty that I can still feel when the rain is hitting me.

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