On not having constantly brilliant moments, and why that’s OK – 23/03/17

I’ve hit a bit of a low point during the past month or so, something I can now admit to with conviction (which means I must be coming out the other side). The reasons behind it I won’t disclose, but I felt compelled to share my experience of waiting for a bad period to pass, because being ‘strong’ or, like, going for a run, haven’t felt like viable (or at all possible) options. I began to come out of a drawn-out mopey period last week while I was washing the dishes. It sticks out in a blur of a week because I forced myself to remember how it felt, and it was only then, after days of feeling nothing, when I began to regain control of my thoughts and moods. I was washing up day-old plates looking out to the many back gardens I can see from my kitchen window, where a cat was licking itself clean on top of a shed. I could have been standing there for 10 minutes, just staring, although it was probably just a few seconds. I remember thinking ‘I’ve never felt like this before’. Or at least, not for a long time anyway, not since I was 16 years old, struggling at school, and kicked around the place just trying to get by every day. What did I have to worry about at 16? Well, nothing I suppose, in the same way I’ve got nothing to worry about today. Of course, there’s always minor things going on: money worries, relationship doubts, friendships drifting; although these things shouldn’t encapsulate your whole life and make you afraid to leave the house. But sometimes they can, and it’s really very hard to explain why. Mental health’s a difficult thing to open up about; you can’t see negative feelings, so will people even believe you? Will they care?

It’s also a hard thing to write about, because when I feel ready to form a sentence about tangled thoughts in a coherent way, I’ve usually come to resolve a tiny aspect of it. I can now detangle and rationalise how I felt and get it down in a way that half makes sense. But of course, when you’re at the bottom of the slump, nothing makes sense. I’ve been unable to write anything of any worth for weeks and although that sounds melodramatic, it hasn’t felt like it. I didn’t care. I’ve been feeling lousy, not in in a loud, hysterical kind of way, but in a very different way altogether. No energy, no desire to do the things I know that’ll make me feel better.

I think that’s the problem I have with dealing with spells of depression as I’ve grown older, I know exactly what would help me to feel better (getting out of bed before 8am, going for a run, showering, putting on a killer outfit to meet friends), but actually going through with any of the above is so out of reach, despite how routine it might seem when your mind’s being kind. Ellen Scott touches on this in a brilliant article posted on the Metro last week: ‘[Telling me to go for a run to fix my depression] is a reminder that I’m failing to do something everyone else finds simple, that I can’t do something that could help.’

And despite its immeasurable benefits on your self esteem, the endorphins released from exercise are more of a quick-fix mood boost than a long-term solution. Definitely – if I feel up to it – it can help, but it’s not always the answer and can make me feel worse about myself. It’s the horrible feeling of helplessness, knowing that getting your body moving will help give your overwrought mind some balance, but you’re stuck within yourself and your body and mind aren’t working in sync. So you just sit and maybe read and try not to feel, and think about perhaps having a shower (but then probably don’t).

It’s not as simple as doing something that might have worked before either – your circumstances might have changed since your last really low spell, so how you’re going to deal with it will have to change too. Perhaps once, your mental health hack was to pencil in some me-time where you could bob around in your own company, away from other people; but now you’re in a position where you need to surround yourself with others and feel more connected to your friends. If you have a bad day, but then those bad days merge into a string of bad days, and carries on into a bad month, you’re not going to feel that great about yourself. But as you’re already feeling shitty, beating yourself up for feeling bad and not your best self isn’t going to help you get out of that rut. It’s OK to feel quiet and tired and go through a bad patch without wearing make up and trying to put your game face on every day. Instead of constantly being angry at how you feel (‘Why do I feel so fucking awful! If I don’t buck my game up soon, how do I ever expect to achieve anything!’ etc) maybe try accepting that you’re not always going to be 100% fine with life every day of the year, and it’s a feeling that will soon and gradually pass.

I feel much better now, (the looming thing I was so dreading has passed, my friends are awesome, I’ve been extra kind to myself). I started reading fiction again, something that, in hindsight, helped me to crawl out of the hole a bit. I guess it makes sense, when you’re spending a lot of time with only your own thoughts for company – reading a book gives you another voice to listen to. And what joy at finding a sentiment within its pages that feels so right for how you’re feeling at that exact moment, and having that moment all to yourself (rather than seeing it’s already been retweeted hundreds of time). Ah, you think, someone knows exactly how this feeling-I-can’t-quite-articulate feels, and they knew how it felt in 2007, when they wrote this book. That always gives me a bit of a hope, if just for a second. It also makes sense that getting nose-deep into a book is a good way to spend time on your own, because people have been doing it for hundreds of years. Books are great if you crave company. My friend and I used to joke in A-level English that the only reason Tess of the D’urbervilles was considered a classic was because people’s attention spans in the ‘olden days’ could get through 600 pages of Hardy. Sorry if that’s sacrilege and it’s actually a really great read or whatever, I just lost interest four pages in and there was no going back from there. Anyway.

Spending less time in real company and more time scrolling through social media will rarely make us feel better if we’ve hit a bit of a slump and have been holed up inside with unwashed hair for three days. Ways to get around this: Switch off your phone, read for a little while, prioritise dental hygiene, try to leave the house today.

Writing this hasn’t helped me discover anything, really, I just had to write some words down to make something out of what’s been a pretty mopey fortnight. I feel like there’s lots of shareable/wannabe-viral ‘girl power’ posts on the internet that make you feel a little inadequate when you’re feeling down, rather than providing solutions to miserable moods. While the intentions are probably good, there’s less people going ‘I’m struggling right now… but that doesn’t mean I totally suck’. It’s unrealistic and boring to have constantly brilliant moments. Bad feelings will pass, let yourself feel how you have to feel for a little while and I promise, it won’t be forever. You’re doing fine; you are enough.

Here’s something suitably Neil Young to sum up the above:

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