Sometimes I have sad days. Sometimes, I wake in the morning and find myself sitting at the bottom of a dark, damp well. When I look up, I can only just make out a feint pin-prick of light.
I look down at my hands and study them. I pull my doona over my body and over my head and I fall back to sleep.
An hour later, I wake again. I am still in the well. At least, I think I am. Someone seems to have covered that hole at the top, and now I don’t know which way is up and which way is down. I reach out my hands to see if I can figure out where’s left and where’s right. Are these walls closing in on me? Why is it so goddamn dark?
On sad days like this, it’s hard to get out of bed. It’s easy to indulge in the Bad Activities that ultimately make you feel worse. Lurking those people on social media because you hate them. Lurking those people on social media because you used to sleep with them. Lurking those people who used to sleep with someone you slept with and is now dating someone you went to high school with who went to Hawaii last Christmas and has a really cute German Shepherd named Molly…
Then you upload a photo seeking gratification from almost-strangers because maybe their double taps will be enough to haul you out of bed? At least rouse a stretch, surely?
Then, the Scroll Hole. The endless thumb flicking. Then the feet-dragging to the fridge. Sitting down in the shower. A bottle of red. An entire packet of wagon wheels. More time in the Scroll Hole.
Thankfully, these days are few and far between. But when they come, they arrive unexpectedly and boy, is that well deep.
When I have a Sad Day, I pull up the Notes in my phone. I have a list there called TO DO ON DAYS YOU’RE SAD. I add to this list on Happy Days, when I do something that brings me joy. This is what is on the list:
swim in the ocean or a river, no matter how cold it is
go for a walk, even if it’s just to the corner shop to get yourself a chocolate bar
read at least 100 pages of a book you love (The Secret Garden or Cloudstreet, preferably)
drive to someone’s house who has a bathtub and have a bath so hot you don’t know whether you’re sweating or crying or if you just rubbed your face with your wet hand
tell someone you love that you’re having a bad day so that you can feel safe
cook something delicious that takes a bit of time
find someone cuddly and ask them for a hug
watch this short film
take all your books off your shelf and put them back in a different order
listen to your Lie On Your Bedroom Floor in the Dark playlist. Preferably on your floor. In the dark.
call mum and dad
write stream of consciousness thoughts in your journal
This kind of list works for me at the moment, because I’m practically unemployed (okay, a freelancer, but not a very serious one) and I’m a student and the ocean is at the end of my street. This list also works because I work well with lists, and when I’m feeling really foggy and I can’t find the sun, it helps me locate it.
On Friday, I drove to my parents’ and had a bath and listened to my playlist in the car with tears streaming down my face. Sometimes crying feels better than not crying. Experience by Ludovico Einaudi and Wait by M83 are great songs for this and especially good for long train trips when you have the window seat. Very… Terrence Mallick.
On Saturday morning I took my stove and gas canister and drove to the bush, far enough where the reception cuts out so you know there’s no point checking your phone. I sat next to a river for 5 hours and read a book and made myself two cups of tea and re-heated the curry I ordered from a local takeaway shop the night before. I lay in the water with an audible gasp, because it’s almost winter in Australia now, and it’s kind of liberating to make noises when you’re alone.
On Sunday I had a picnic with my friends and baked them a cake with all of their names written in cursive in icing on the top. I took the long way home. A nice hour in the car, snaking down the coast. I stopped in at the beach I used to visit as a kid, and swum beside a couple of other lone ocean lovers. I read my book on the sand.
I made my housemates pumpkin soup when I got home and we ate it around a table in our sticky lino kitchen. Sunday was a day to fill with faces that wouldn’t mind I wasn’t Fun Happy Ruby.
On Monday I drove to my favourite beach, which is hugged by soaring cliffs and has a nice spot on soft grass under some trees for me to lay my picnic blanket on. I read my book and looked at the clouds for a few hours, and had celery and hommus and shortbread and cream biscuits. I told a friend I was feeling sad and he texted me a song. He sent me The National’s new single Light Years and I added it to my playlist. I like friends that respond to your sadness with signs that they know you, rather than sympathies.
And every day that I followed some of the things on my list, it felt like that little cover on the top of the well was moving. And soon, I could see a soft lick of light. Then, there was enough light to see a ladder. Later, I felt strong enough to climb. Today, deleting Instagram and Facebook from my phone gave me that strength. Next time, it might be something else, like finding out a friend is in the well with me. Seeing friends in the well can motivate you to haul yourself out of your own and take them with you.
It’s been a tough weekend. But it’s nice to move through the current of life and pick things up along the way to help me with the big waves. I can see the sun rising now, and she’s magnificent. I think tomorrow’s going to be a Good Day.
If days like this happen a lot, please seek support. Tell someone you love. See a professional who has the right kind of tools to help you understand the blur in your head (it changed my life). Call Lifeline on 13 11 14.