The following is an extract from How To Come Alive Again: A Guide to Killing Your Monsters by Beth McColl.
1. Everything I know about bad days
Bad days do what they like. They’re naughty teenagers that act out just because they want to. Sometimes they’ll follow logically from bad news or a bad thing happening, but sometimes they’ll just rear up out of the abyss.
Bad days are not forever. They may stick together and last for a week, but there will be an end. This is guaranteed.
You’ll survive bad days however you can. Use any skills that you’ve learned, and do your basic best to keep yourself fed and hydrated and safe, but aside from that, just ride them out and wait for them to end (they always end).
You’re not weak for not being able to go about your life as usual on a very bad day. You’re allowed to call in sick, or ask your friends if it’s okay to reschedule. You’re allowed to half-arse some stuff and ignore other stuff altogether. Bad days are exhausting.
2. Preparing for bad days
Know what your triggers are. In other words, know what situations, pressures, people or feelings are most likely to send you slipping into a very bad or unpleasant place. Common triggers include an argument or falling out, a violent scene in a book, movie or TV show, a big change in routine, drinking too much, hearing upsetting news, any kind of contact from an abuser. These are the obvious ones, but triggers can be literally anything – loud noises, a perceived rejection or slight, a certain song or sound, criticism. Triggers are personal, and it’s important to know what yours are so you can plan for them. Sometimes you can prepare for triggers: you can check movies or books or TV shows before you watch them, you can let your friends and family know what to avoid when taking you places or starting conversations. And you can work with your doctor or therapist to help lessen and overcome certain triggers. But life is big and busy and has a habit of throwing exactly what you don’t want right in your face. When this happens it’s good to have a contingency plan.
Tell trusted friends and family what to expect from you when you’re feeling depressed and make sure they know that even when you’re doing well and ‘recovering’ there will still be bad days. Communicating with them on the better days about the future is a way to ensure that when the bad days come back around, they’re more prepared to deal with it. Having to hold their hands through it won’t be an option when you’re feeling terrible and depressed, so talk to them when you’re on the up, get them well educated and well prepared for how you’re likely to feel and act. Give them a list of the kinds of things that they can do to help when you’re in a slump or having a bad day. Hand them this book and ask them to read it cover to cover.
Have a care package stashed away for when the worst of it hits. Yes, I KNOW, I know – it’s embarrassing and corny and twee and very likely not the kind of thing that you’d normally consider doing for yourself. And if it’s too out of your comfort bucket, pick someone who loves you and subtly blackmail them into making you one. I’m kidding, of course: this is actually very much exactly the type of thing that loving friends and family are here for. You could even offer to make one for a friend who’ll make one for you. That way you have a tangible thing to turn to when you’re feeling in need of comfort, and you’ll be helping a friend at the same time.
Make sure that someone at your work or school knows that you might have days where you’ll be too ill to make it in. Finding a sympathetic person in your place of work can be tricky, and if you don’t feel safe opening up about your illness, then please follow that instinct. If you can provide a doctor’s note, it puts you in a far stronger position, regardless of whether your workplace is sympathetic or not. Having medical proof and a complete record of your illness will help you out a lot down the line, so prioritise it if you can. But even just someone you can confide in or who knows broadly that you’re not always going to be able to perform at 100 per cent can be a lifeline.
Have a clean set of bedding stashed away for the times when you’re not going to be able to do any laundry. Have a set of basic unworn underwear and socks stashed somewhere too, and maybe some cheap T-shirts that stay in their packet unless absolutely required. Some days you just have to fake being a high-functioning human. Take these delicious shortcuts and don’t ever look back.
Make a folder or scrapbook (this can be a tangible one or on your computer or tablet) of easy, cheap and nourishing recipes so that you’re not stuck for something to make on those days when you really can’t face standing in the kitchen for longer than half an hour. There are great ideas online. Alternatively, collect the names and numbers of takeaway restaurants in your area that deliver.
Disclaimer: This list makes it sound all practical and effective, like you’re planning for an alien invasion and everyone’s strapping on their tinfoil hats and filling up their water guns. It’s not quite like that, unfortunately. This involves things like finding a quiet place to slow your breathing, or having someone you can text or call who you know will say soothing things. It’s having an album on your phone filled with hilarious pictures and forcing yourself to look at them, engage with them, and try to make them the centre of your focus. It’s a comedy playlist or a meditation mix. It’s a cold glass of water and a soothing song. Tinfoil hats entirely optional. It’s important to remember also that this is nothing to be ashamed or embarrassed about – this is how SO many of our human brains are put together, all squashy and scared and needing a bit of extra protection. It’s normal – it’s just really annoying. It’s just human brain-atomy. Which is a word I made up. With my squashy, weird, lovely brain. It did that.
3. On bad days
On bad days you just have to survive.
On bad days you are allowed to cry for hours, or sleep until the afternoon, or feel as though the sky is falling.
On bad days the sky does not fall.
On bad days the sky stays put, perfectly untroubled and unchanged by how you feel down here on the surface of this strange world.
On bad days you will feel like you’re not meant to be here.
On bad days you will think about the ways it hurts. You’ll go inside the hurt and see nothing but endless dark endlessness. You’ll remember every single mistake you’ve ever made. You’ll think about the world without you in it. You’ll imagine that the world would be better like this.
On bad days this will be wrong. On good days, too. On all days, it will be wrong. You are always welcome here. You are here to be here. You are here for a reason. Perhaps that reason is just to make it through and find your peace. Who knows. But there is a reason.
On bad days you just have to make it from one end to the other. You don’t have to achieve any more than that. You just have to hold it together as best as you can. You can escape from work or school or university, you can make a dozen excuses if you need to, you can cry in the bathroom and fall apart on the drive home later.
On bad days you just have to live minute to minute, and trust those minutes to make themselves into hours, of which there are only ever twenty-four in a single day – however truly, truly terrible that day is.
On bad days every single bit of progress you’ve made in recovery still counts.
On bad days you just have to survive.
On bad days you do survive.
On bad days that’s enough.
How To Come Alive Again: A Guide to Killing Your Monsters by Beth McColl is available now from Unbound Press, £14.99.