I know about as much as you: that we’re in the middle of an irrevocable change, that we kind of felt it coming and that we don’t know where we’re headed next. I’m also no stranger to sadness, despair and breaking—the feelings we’re all wading through in 2020. So, I wanted to share with you the things that have soothed me and nudged me forward when I couldn’t tell which way was True North anymore.
- Try not to wrestle too much with despair
I have a long history of depression and, oddly enough, it has been good training for the uncertainty we’re met with now. When faced with sadness as heavy as an elephant, I’ve found it’s better not to push back. You need your energy for other things, and there is no winning against the weight of an elephant. When you’re ready, speak steadily and ask, Okay, are you done yet?
- Don’t forget to move
Sometimes, on days when I’m finding it hard to find inner momentum, I’ll hop on my bike and just let myself roll. I feel relief that it’s not all on me to move, and sometimes the best way to shift something in my mind is to get my body to talk to it first. How about we just gently coast, the up-down motion of my legs will suggest. Eventually my mind follows, a bit like it’s pairing with a metronome.
- Find some inner ground to stand on
For the past few years I haven’t had a home base. It sounds wonderful on paper—have laptop will travel—but in reality it felt deeply unsettling. I now see that when everything is shifting, you need some stable internal ground the rest of the world can’t get to. I’ve found it by writing in my journal every day. It’s like a portable pop-up safe space and my own private news channel. Yoga works a treat, too.
- Commit to feeling your discomfort
I think we sensed this irrevocable change coming. I’ve felt it for some time now, in the same way I felt a long-term relationship ending but couldn’t bear more than a moment’s glance at it. I get it. It’s why we pay attention to things that probably won’t shatter life as we know it (hello, Netflix). Since my relationship ended, I’ve tried not to ignore the sense of an uncomfortable truth. I’ll catch myself in the moments between getting off the couch and arriving at the fridge and ask, What am I avoiding? Eventually, I make eye contact and edge my way into whatever the thing is. The end of a relationship. Not the end of the world, but a big, unwieldy change in it.
- Let go and lose your shit a bit
I can report that there is no dignity in breaking down (this is the break-up still talking). We know this intuitively and so we not only look away, but we hold on a little tighter to the illusion of our composed selves. What if we lose our shit and never come back again? When I fear that the breaking might be more of an extinguishing, I try to remember the words of On Being host Krista Tippett, who says that the work is in the unbecoming. It’s a shorthand way of saying that you can unravel, feel formless even, and still be very much alive. Breathe. Eventually, you will take shape again.
- Whatever your superpower is, hone in on it
Mine is what you’re reading right now. Nothing revolutionary, just a chance at making some sense of things for you and me. Now’s the time to wield your superpower a bit like a lightsaber and direct it with intention towards the things you can help with. This doesn’t have to be the profession you’re paid for. Maybe you’re a great talker and can start conversations that others are too afraid to have. It’s not just on you, but it is on you to step up as your best self right now.
- Know when to fight and what to fight for
It’s not the man who yells at me for cycling on the footpath. He’s right, I shouldn’t have been on there, but he didn’t have to call me a stupid bitch. Still, it’s better to park these people and do our best to fight against the lesser parts of our nature—the part that wonders if we should stock up on toilet paper like everyone else. Now, as the author Sarah Wilson recently said, is the time to discard irrelevancies. The world has already started to do it for us. When the dust settles, what will you stand for?
- Never stop insisting on joy
You might wonder if there is room for it, or if you could be so bold as to have a good time in a period of despair. I have, and I keep coming back to this truth: joy has kept me sane for years and can blossom pretty much anywhere. It’s why I draw in my notebook, often just dogs I spot on the street. I call it my daily slice of joy. Strangely, no matter how long I do this, I can’t shake the feeling that it’s silly. So, I have to insist, to myself more than anyone, that it’s necessary. It will be, I suspect, a life-long thing.