It’s absolutely important to stay positive, Emma Clifton isn’t arguing with that. But it’s also important to acknowledge that some days are harder than others.
I’m not an alcoholic but I don’t think it’s a coincidence that some of the modern muses I turn to in times of trouble are.
The two nuggets of information that people like Brene Brown and Glennon Doyle come back to, time and time again, are the lessons they learned in Alcoholics Anonymous.
- One day at a time
- God grant us the serenity to accept the things we cannot change, the courage to change the things we can, and the wisdom to know the difference
These are my kind of positive slogans – it’s not all ra ra hashtags, it’s the kind of wisdom you learn through gritted teeth. And I don’t know about you, but my teeth are super gritted right now.
I don’t have it in me to be positive today. Not even a tiny bit. Yes, I know we’re lucky to live in New Zealand and I’m still someone who would absolutely get a full-body Jacinda Ardern tattoo if the mood struck. But when the news came through about Covid-19 coming back, as we knew it would, all I felt was cold dread and the ever-spreading feeling of dark numbness.
The social media machine immediately whipped into a feel-good frenzy and I appreciate that, I do. It helps us feel part of the Team of Five Million. But I also wanted to say that if you have woken up today in a black mood, then that’s also okay.
It’s okay to be sad.
It’s okay to be scared.
It’s okay to want to rip off your clothes and scream a bloody ‘fucccccccccccccccccccccccccccck’ at the moon.
I call these Dark Days. And I have learned to stop fighting them. Dark days are empty and they are lonely and they are not socially tolerated in our must-be-grateful, must-be-hustling little world. But if you’re lucky on Dark Days, you might confide in a friend that tells you they’re in a Dark Day too, and then it’s that little bit less lonely. A small light switches on in your dark little room. That happened enough times to me today to make me think that maybe there might be quite a few of us sitting in the dark right now – and that that’s okay.
Dark days don’t last forever but they need to be taken seriously.
Here are some of the things that are helping me right now
Lean in to the suck
(This is a Sheryl Sandberg quote and I love it). Don’t shove your feelings down or put on a happy face to make other people comfortable. A good wallow works in two ways: it gives you time to process what’s happening and also, I believe, it helps you move through it faster. Wallowing is quite boring, so you won’t want to do it forever, but if you’re going to do it, make it count. Scream, punch a pillow, cry. Listen to Taylor Swift’s stunningly depressing album folklore on repeat.
I have a series of things I watch when I need to let it OUT: returning soldiers surprising their pets, the series finale of Six Feet Under, the very end of Billy Elliott. Make your own list and get ready for some convenient catharsis.
Find someone to talk to
Sometimes Dark Days are very personal – after a heartbreak or a death – but the one silver lining of Covid-19 is that this is a global experience. You are not alone in your emotions. Call up your loved ones. If you have a friend currently in a locked down city somewhere around the world, they need some chats just as much as you do.
Get some perspective
Realise how much of our lives now are totally insane in comparison to what used to be. Masks, Zoom, social distancing, an inability to see our loved ones, the new fear that other people might be a threat to us at random, through no fault of their own. A lot of this is not new for people who live with chronic health conditions, of course. But this is a lot to adapt to in a short amount of time!
Go for a walk.
During lockdown #1, my anxiety went from being a dull little noise in the back of my mind to something that yelled at me all the time. On the morning after we went into Level Four, I went for a long, two-hour walk through a surreally empty Auckland central (yes, I later realised this walk had been illegally long and didn’t repeat it!). So many of us became very good at our daily walking routine and it turns out it’s good for not only our physical health but our mental health as well.
Recently I read Sarah Wilson’s book First We Make the Beast Beautiful, about her life-long experiences with anxiety. She wrote about the science behind why walking is calming for us; apparently, the part of our brain that controls anxiety is one of the oldest, most early-human-ancestor parts of the brain that also controls decision making. Hence why making a decision when you’re anxious is so damn hard and you can feel paralysed by indecision over the simplest tasks, e.g. choosing something to wear or eat.
BUT the good news is that this bit of brain might be old and primitive but it can only do one thing at a time – so when you go for a walk, it can shut your anxious brain down for a while.
So there you are. All of these wallowing activities can be done in trackpants, which I think is really a key part of a wallow. Whatever you pick, create the safest and cosiest space for yourself as possible. Think ‘how would I treat my youngiest, babiest, most vulnerable self’ and go with that until, somehow, you grow a little bit bored of it and then you can know the Dark Day has passed on for a while.
Please look at such links as this from the Mental Health Foundation as well, which are super useful and approachable. And just remember that this is a very overwhelming year and it’s okay to feel overwhelmed. You’re doing a really good job and just because sometimes you feel sad or scared, doesn’t make you any less of a good or helpful person.*
*yes, this is something I say to myself often, ha!