After a storm comes a rainbow: thoughts on a monochrome year

I’ve forgotten how to write. It pains me to type this, and it sounds defeatist and perhaps even ignorant to say it, but I’ve found that not journalling much is what’s helping me get through this bizarre time. As someone who has always deemed keeping a diary as a life-saving activity (and it for sure has saved me from a complete brain bust, many a time), I’ve found that resisting to analyse each and every thought I’ve been having lately has not only been helpful, but necessary.

I only feel able to write now because somehow I feel Not in a Bad Way for the first time for a few days. I’m still learning how to be depressed, or – the alternative title to my memoir – at least accepting that every few weeks I most likely will have a few days where I just stare at the wall for minutes at a time and feel my heart sink. Increasingly I’m thinking this isn’t a sign of madness, or low mood, it’s actually an evolutionary necessary thing my body (and brain) is doing that forces me to rest. (Aside: I learned this week that the Punjabi ‘translation’ for stress-related depression is ‘sinking heart syndrome‘. I like that, because that’s exactly right, isn’t it.)

I’d been riding on almost manic-levels of feeling great for most of the summer. It was inexplicable to me, as I was (and still am) dealing with a huge grief for the first time in my life. I think, now, I feel exhausted by trying to pretend that what had happened, hadn’t happened, for quite a long time. Eventually, things will catch up with you.

My uncle was one of the greatest men I’ve ever known. Hands down, and without doubt, he was the funniest person I’ve ever met, the type that made you cry laughing (and continue sniggering days after, when you were reminded of one of his impressions that he’d perform perfectly in a well-rehearsed double-act with his daughter, my dear cousin).

I’ll remember him for his kindness, his graciousness, his interesting and informed conversation, his ability to maintain his cool composure in a typical Italian family set-up where everyone talks all of the time at a volume that’d undoubtedly deafen the uninitiated.

I would never, could never, forget the face of my own father absolutely tearing up laughing as my uncle would re-tell an anecdote about when they were teens, or in the band together, a story he’d probably told countless times before, but, having the rare ability to tell a story with a freshness that’d make it new again, we’d all be on the edge of our seats listening, waiting, for the punchline and – boom! – my dad is giggling at a pitch that’s driving the dog mad, repeating ‘Marone, marone’.

We lost him in April this year to coronavirus, at just 54, an avoidable and untimely death.

My family is all still very much in a state of disbelief, as we try and navigate this sense of loss, as news bulletins inform us that the death tolls are creeping up again and people complain about not being able to go to parties. Honestly, I don’t mean that in a spiteful way, I would do anything right now to go to a packed karaoke bar and make out with the barman after my perfect rendition of Born to Run. I too am suffering both actual loss and ambiguous loss, a term that describes “any loss that’s unclear and lacks a resolution… [that means] what we used to have has been taken away from us”.

Things are so tough right now. You can’t heave yourself out of grief with positive thinking, but it can feel a bit like a choice between sinking or swimming some days, as my dad helpfully retorted to me on the phone a few weeks back. If you’re able to, there’s only one choice you can take.

I guess the only advice I’d have for collective ennui is the classic ol’ therapy trope: to keep practising talking to yourself as you would to a friend. You wouldn’t tell them to get over it or that you expect more from them, so stop talking to yourself that way. At the same time, while you aren’t your productivity output, don’t neglect things that make you feel good and energised. I enjoyed jogs in the rain listening to Luther Vandross last week. Maybe you like watching films. Or making pom-poms. More on that later.

I’ve been feeling terrible these past few days, but today I’ve felt marginally better. As much as I’ve benefited from holding back uber-analysing every inch of my mind all the time, it’s clearly still important to reflect right now. Or, maybe it isn’t, maybe it’s important to watch Parks and Recreation again.

My writing usually takes on the style of a reformed-depressed-person-turned-therapist – which ought to be my Twitter bio once I’ve finished my psychology degree – but I’m not going to share a post that lists off ways to self-care yourself to total denial, after all, there is Instagram for that.

I will instead implore you to read as much fiction as you can, celebrate small wins every day, thank supermarket staff, and remember that your mind comes with a body. Also, practise telling an anecdote really well. Most importantly, don’t feel the need to compete with people posting only their highlights online; instead, try and feel happy for them: they’ve made a pom-pom and they’re proud of themselves. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to find a YouTube tutorial that will teach me how to do exactly that.

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