Everything is terrible, but being miserable about it is only acceptable for so long. I’ve lived through terrible before. It didn’t kill me. In fact, I have had to devise a list of things I can do so that I stay alive and not just a shell of a person moving around.
On the off chance that they might help any of you, here’s what I do when I’m afraid of falling under:
Ironic, no? I stop everything. I stop trying to be everything to everyone and doing everything. I turn off my phone, I reschedule plans, I pause my to do list. I take Some Time For Myself and feel a little bit Oprah for a while.
This includes anything with cheese and or potatoes. Particularly Mac and Cheese (ideally home made with at least four cheeses), or my personal favourites mashed potatoes with either Philadelphia and baked beans or chopped sundried tomatoes or cheesy mash and baked beans. The key is CARBS and CHEESE. And please do remember that mashed potatoes must be made with butter. Keep your milk and your olive oil away.
I also underline puddings. Not desserts. Those are a bit too fancy. Puddings are for when you are too sad to appreciate a nice fancy pudding. We’re looking for stodge here. Bread & Butter pudding (essentially bread, custard and sultanas baked) but with a possible chocolate upgrade (butter becomes Nutella, custard obviously has melted chocolate as a main component). A good apple crumble where the apples are tart with plenty of brown sugar and the crumble comes from a packet (you’re too sad to be trying to rub butter, flour and sugar together. Plus, that’s grim. Chopping apples is about the most you should be trying to do here).
Ideally we’re staying away from pre-packaged food. Sure, you can have a takeaway, but really the minimal work in this cooking is soothing and undemanding. Also it’s slightly healthy. Or involves fewer unpronounceable chemicals.
I have a lot of DVDs. They’re out of their cases and stored in Muji binders. I have a finder of Favourites and a binder of series. When you’re very sad and or your mental health is under threat, you want solid reliable images to fall back on.
My standards are romantic comedies, spy series and feel good films.
I find Alias to be particularly good. Whatever is going wrong in my life, it can’t be worse than having my boss murder my fiancé, my dead mother to be secretly alive and working for the KGB, working with my estranged father as a double agent and wearing some dodgy wigs. I also enjoy the NCIS franchise where every episode sees a murder solved, disaster averted and some good male role models deliver puns. Gilmore Girls never fails to deliver humour and strong female role models. Mad About You is perfect for a role model marriage and comedy.
Is my life terrible? Can’t be worse than Annie’s in Bridesmaids. Do I want to feel supported without having to actually see anyone? I’ll live vicariously through Meg Ryan’s friends in The Women. Do I need to be cheered? Time for Jennifer Garner in any film at all. When I’m particularly under the weather, it’s time for Sabrina with Harrison Ford. I can’t really explain it.
When someone dies, I highly recommend the cooking channels – minimal investment, very little to upset you.
Make a list
I make lists daily, even hourly. I have over a hundred lists on my phone. When I’m particularly stressed I take an A4 page and write down, without categorising, all the things I need to do or remember or get organised. I write everything down, regardless of how major or minor. When I’m sure I have at least 90% of what’s in my head on paper, I then draw a table and categorise the items into
– PEOPLE (to see, to contact)
– CORRESPONDENCE (people to email, to text, to send a package, to call, to facebook, to whatsapp)
– HOME (everything in the flat that needs done)
– BODY (is my acne out of control? Do I need to sand my goat feet? Could I knit something from my body hair?)
– SHOPPING (everything I need to buy, be it now or in the near future)
– QUICK (something that will take fewer than five minutes to do)
Having an overview of everything I need to actually do gives me some semblance of calm. I can then work through the list as required.
Sometimes the sheer act of completing a task is enough to buoy my mood. And so I do something practical. Cleaning the bathroom or kitchen sink is very rewarding with immediate visible results. Organise a drawer. Dust something. Batch cook something for the freezer. Clearing things off the list gives me back some control and allows me to feel less unbalanced.
Stream of consciousness
When I’m very very stressed or very very sad, I get my James Joyce on. I’ll get out a pen or a blank page in Word and write or type everything that comes into my head. Usually I start off with sentences beginning with “I feel” and try and work out what I’m feeling and why. Inevitably a list of things I need to do or remember becomes intermingled, but it’s good to get my thoughts out of my head and into black and white. Sometimes I will ask myself questions, like a counsellor would, so I can work through those. If I’m not up to talking to a human person about what’s going on, sometimes talking to myself is enough. If I don’t trust my emotions or don’t have the words, I’m less likely to speak to someone I love. I’m aware that I have Issues With Control and don’t like to be unnecessarily vulnerable in front of people, so I can do it on my own and not worry about how someone else will respond or how I will appear.
Sometimes the sheer act of writing it all out is enough to make me feel better. Sometimes it is enough to give me distance on what’s wrong and I realise how much or how little I can do about the problem.
Talk to someone
Sometimes when I feel most miserable I make myself see a friend or pick up the phone. I have a core group of people (predominantly women) who I can trust to be there for me. I know they’ll not judge me, they’ll listen to me, they’ll advise me, they’ll make me laugh, they’ll tell me just how ridiculous I am being. They are worth their weight in gold, platinum and diamonds and I will be grateful for them my whole life.
After my dad was diagnosed with brain cancer, I signed up to the Shine Night Walk Marathon. The training schedule meant I walked through London and wore out many pairs of Everlast sneakers. However even before that, I was one for walking when I needed a break. I’m not especially co-ordinated, I don’t want to commit to a team sport, I have no wish to own specialised kit and I don’t really like sweating. Walking is something I can do in any and all weathers, wherever I am. In all seriousness, walking saved my life. I walked miles and miles, listening to Capital Radio and Radio 4, while my brain simmered away in the background. Being outside in the fresh (London) air, feeling the rain or sun on my face and IN the world makes a difference. You feel in and of the world. You realise what your body can DO and how the ground will always be there and that the river will run without you.
Do something for someone else
Giving back to the community, donating money to a cause in which you believe, helping someone with their shopping, giving someone directions, looking after someone else’s kids for an hour, defrosting someone’s freezer – there is something you can do that will distract you from your problems and thoughts and give you the gift of helping someone. Do that.
Before the adult colouring trend, I was a big advocate for the soothing ritual of colouring in. I liked to draw a wiggly line over an A4 page until the two ends met and then colour in the huge shape with the same pen or pencil. I have a number of colouring in books (geometric shapes and patterns are particularly pleasing to my eye and brain) and two boxes of colouring pencils (Crayola and Staedtler). A sharp sharpener is a must, plus a small plate or try to collect sharpenings.
Have a drink
Obviously not to excess (there’s a time and a place for that. If you are very very sad, that’s not the right time. One “very” is a good level of sad for alcohol), but just a little to lift your mood and help you sleep a little. Yes, I know alcohol is a depressant and won’t help your sleep in the long term, but in the SHORT TERM, it’s great. I suggest a good scotch, a nice fizzy prosecco or a glass of wine.
Alternatively, a large mug of steaming brown rice tea or a deluxe hot chocolate will provide a similar effect. Something soothing and distracting.
I am a big fan of correspondence. I like letters and emails and staying in touch in a particularly old-fashioned way. My letters tend to be about what I’m up to and what’s going on with me and asking about the recipient. Sometimes I will write about something that’s happened to me and how it made me feel and then deleted it all after reviewing it. Sometimes I don’t especially want someone to read about what’s wrong. It’s not essential and in deleting it, I remove some of the sting. I like being connected to people and I like asking about their lives. I like that an email or a letter says “I was thinking about you enough to sit for twenty minutes and write things down for your eyes”.
Some days this is harder to do, but often really looking after my body helps me. Putting things that smell and feel good on my body, putting on a deep conditioner and shaving my legs, making funny faces in a sheet mask, doing my nails, taking time to make myself look and feel good from top to toe reminds me that my body is miraculous. It works and it carries me through life. It mightn’t be perfect, but it’s perfect for me.
Stay away from social media and the news
There are times when the outside world is too much. Good news doesn’t sell papers, so bad news will always have more airtime. Over the last few months I have only scanned the headlines for a sense of what’s going on, because a deeper exposure has left me feeling very vulnerable and miserable. This weekend I have stayed away from the news entirely. I couldn’t read any more about how people hadn’t realised their Leave vote would actually count, or how the leave campaign won’t actually put in the millions they pledged to the NHS. Reading these things will not make me happier or change the situation. I can’t be on Facebook reading posts from my friends where their racist auntie makes some heart-stopping comment. It makes me want to burn everything with fire and that’s not helpful.
When life is too tough, it’s time to take to bed. Good pajamas, a cool room, a candle or two and solid sleep is the only thing that will help. It’s easy to become distracted and think “well, I’ll just do this one thing first” and find that it’s midnight. When I’m really miserable, I try and be in bed before nine pm and have the lights out by ten at the latest. Things are better in the morning. And if they aren’t better, at least your mind and body have been sufficiently rested to be able to handle it for another day.
When I’m particularly depressed or miserable, these are the things I do to try and combat the fear and frustration I feel. They are obviously no substitution for medical assistance when you need it, but as a first step, they’re pretty good. Immediate remedies, for when I can’t take a day to myself, include taking some deep breaths, listening to some good music, drinking a few glasses of water, having a bowl of fruit (with preserved ginger as an extra hit), going for a walk around the park or having a quick chat with a friend.
It feels like the apocalypse is coming. It feels as though the sky is falling. It isn’t, but we need to prepare ourselves for the challenge ahead. We need to be ready. We need to look after ourselves and each other.