I don’t know how the sky looks in your little corner of the world, but here in my home, I woke up to sunshine and crisp, still air coming in through the open window (and mercifully, not a single wasp). Lying in bed with the fresh air chilling my cheeks, I was so excited, so motivated to really do something, to really live today… but…
Sometimes, I think the hard days with anxiety are almost the easy days. It’s all a bit backwards really, but the days that I know will be a challenge; that I build myself up for, that I use my strength for, are often, in the end, easier to endure. I am big and I am brave and I get shit done; it’s easier to forgive myself little failures here and there, because ultimately they fall into meaninglessness when stacked against what I have achieved. Those are the days loved ones will say ‘well done‘ at the end of, that finish with a Snickers Bar after dinner as a reward – while in some ways the most challenging, those days also bring the most feelings of growth and of movement. Then there are the days like today. Days which should be marked as ‘good days’ before they even begin. I have the day off, the chores are done, the weather is beautiful and I am young, fit and able to get out there and soak up some rays (well, as much as they can be soaked up while wearing SPF 50+ obvs). These days are days to make memories, to enjoy life’s greatest gifts – these are the days for living. Unless, of course, you suffer from anxiety and depression, like I do.
I always start off so well on these days; I wake early, I make a cup of tea, put a load of laundry into the machine and make a plan for myself for the day. I feel energised and grateful for the day I’ve been given – I’m happy. But something happens, though I never quite see it, and I end up crying, still in my dressing gown mid-afternoon, not having eaten or washed my face- which is exactly the state I’m in while writing this in fact. And then of course comes the guilt for wasting the day, the inevitable, forced attempts to salvage it which invariably end in frustrated tears, the tiredness, the anger the feeling of loathing towards myself for screwing EVERYTHING up. You don’t need to be a psychiatrist to see that by putting that kind of pressure on myself, or by using that kind of language to speak with myself, it’s no wonder I end these days in a frustrated heap of tears on the floor, exhausted and confused. I’m normally very careful in how I speak with myself – on the ‘difficult days’, that is. If I was having a panic attack on a train I would never call myself stupid, or weak, I would listen to myself and help – I’d do what I needed to do to help ease the situation. But on beautiful days off at home, all of that goes out of the window – I seem to pit myself against, er, myself for some reason. Why? Well, because I should have had a great day today.
I’m sure you can clearly see already the mistake that’s taken me years to spot and in fact, still catches me out. Today should have been a nice day. I shouldn’t be crying, I shouldn’t be tired, I shouldn’t have spent all day in the flat. For some reason, on the ‘easy’ days, I try and force myself to behave logically or rationally, somehow forgetting that I suffer from a mental illness which is neither of those things (would be great if it was though really, then we could all eat some Ben and Jerrys and cheer up by watching some Gilmore Girls). I think on days like today I long for normalcy more. To go out, to laugh, to be carefree. I think I get so tired and worn down by the ‘hard days’ that by the time a day like today rolls around I want to just shake all the depression off and be ‘normal’. And when that (shockingly enough) doesn’t work, I get very angry and very sad with myself. Things can all seem bleak – it’s bad enough to have such bad days sometimes, but when I can’t even enjoy the ‘good’ days, what’s the point?
It can all spiral to a dark place pretty quickly.
It is somehow much harder for me to come to terms with being depressed on a sunny day when the world is my oyster than it is on a rainy day when I’m stuck in work. It is much easier for me to experience anxiety when I’m on a crowded train than it is when I’m tucked up in my bed at home. It just doesn’t seem to make as much sense on days like today, and what happens is that because I’m not as in-tune with myself today, because I don’t understand, I try and apply logic to the situation to try and find some way to proceed. I reason that cirumstances should dictate a relaxed, happy day and I march forward under this banner never stopping to listen to myself to hear otherwise – I stumble, trip, crawl and end up waist deep in a metaphorical mud-puddle with a frog sitting on my head, mocking me. I rage and I lecture myself and I plead, bargain with and promise myself that the next time such a ‘good’ day comes along, I won’t make such a hash of it – somehow though, through it all, never stopping to try and really work out why the day went the way it did. Just stating repeatedly that it shouldn’t have.
And so now in my mind I catch up to what I’m sure you worked out several paragraphs ago: that should and shouldn’t are not useful terms when living with anxiety or depression. They are belittling of the challenges I face on a daily basis; okay, so feeding myself shouldn’t be so difficult. But it is. I should feel so excited to go outside and have an adventure. But I don’t. And all of how I feel is perfectly valid, and I need to accept that. What makes a ‘day off’ or a ‘good day’ for me right now might actually look nothing like the pictures of smug 20-somethings in the magazines. I might feel better and gain more from cleaning, or meal planning or going for a walk with no makeup on, just by myself. It’s not to say that I won’t ever encourage myself to go out if it’s sunny, or eat healthier or try and be brave – but it needs to come from a place of listening to myself and hearing what I need rather than a place of arbitrary shoulds or shouldn’ts.
Who knows, maybe if I’d gotten up today and sat quietly, listening to my thoughts, I might have realised I did want fresh air and have ended up going out. Or not. I might have cooked. Or not. I might have been able to write better, or concentrate on reading, or paint, or film or bake or shop. Or not, and that would have been okay. At least I think it’s safe to say I probably wouldn’t be sobbing in my pyjamas at 3pm over things that should have happened.