fighting the mean reds
Holly Golightly: You know those days when you get the mean reds?
Paul Varjak: The mean reds, you mean like the blues?
Holly Golightly: No. The blues are because you're getting fat and maybe it's been raining too long, you're just sad, that's all. The mean reds are horrible. Suddenly you're afraid and you don't know what you're afraid of. Do you ever get that feeling?
Paul Varjak: Sure.
Holly Golightly: Well, when I get it, the only thing that does any good is to jump in a cab and go to Tiffany's. Calms me down right away. The quietness and the proud look of it; nothing very bad could happen to you there. If I could find a real-life place that'd make me feel like Tiffany's, then - then I'd buy some furniture and give the cat a name!
~ From Breakfast at Tiffany's*
I've had a case of the mean reds lately. And Holly's right, they're awful.
Usually, when I have the mean reds, I don't share them online: I have a few very close friends and my sweet Marcus who carry the burden of having to deal with me when I have them. Sometimes they're in the form of a serious rant -- and luckily, once I get it out of my system, I tend to recover pretty quickly. More rarely, however, they require a bit of hooky-playing, like I did last week -- spending the day away from the computer, and instead doing whatever I want (in Friday's case, it meant taking a yoga class, watching a documentary that I've been meaning to watch about a famous Trinidadian actor and his wife, enjoying a ridiculously long nap, and eating some rich dark chocolate. It was bliss).
This morning I received an email from someone who asked how I manage to keep a positive outlook all the time -- and so now you're in on my not-so-well-kept secret: I don't. The fact is that sometimes bad things happen and I don't deal with them very well, or worse, as recently, I'm cranky for no real reason at all. But if I've learned everything in my 45 years, it is this: joyful lives don't just happen to people. Living a joyful life requires practice: affirmatively going after moments of happiness, intentionally creating events of celebration, however small, and when they happen, taking time to be grateful for them.
And then, when bad things happen -- and they will happen -- living a joyful life means being gentle with yourself through the tough times, by caring for yourself as you would a good friend, and if it gets too overwhelming, leaning on people who you can trust.
For the record, whenever I have a bout of the mean reds, here's what I do to help work through it and get back to feeling myself again. It's no breakfast at Tiffany's, but it works for me:
1. Body and breath. I do something to focus on my body and my breath. I hear going for a run works wonders; however, I'm not fond of that sort of exercise, so I'm far more likely to do 20 minutes of yoga and breathing exercises. I don't think it matters, really; just doing something where I can literally spend time focusing on how my body feels, and then breathing through it totally provides a boost.
Those endorphins, man. They're magical.
2. Shoot. The lovely Heather Champ recently tweeted that she had misplaced her happy place, and was wondering if anyone had seen it -- and my immediate reaction was to respond that I often found my happy place in the viewfinder of my camera. I wish I knew why this works for me -- I don't know if it's the fact I'm creating with my hands, or it's just practicing an avocation that I enjoy, or I'm simply in search of beauty (even in the form of weeds in my daughter's school's parking lot, as in the image above), but photography totally chills me out. Shooting is my therapy.
3. Music, candles, lights. My mood is absolutely affected by my surroundings, so when I'm feeling rough, I spruce up -- my work area becomes cleaner, I light candles, I even have twinkle lights I turn on. And if I'm feeling particularly fragile, I make sure that I have good music on. It's essential.
4. I eat. Well. To be clear, this isn't about eating an entire cheesecake in one sitting (although in my younger days, that's exactly what it meant). I do think food comforts, but if I eat food that I know isn't good for me, then I inevitably feel worse afterwards. So when I'm in a funk, I make sure that I eat, but food that I enjoy and that I know is good for me. So I forego the alcohol for teas, and instead of sweets, I eat fruit. Occasionally I'll take myself out for a good meal, but I prefer making a really good meal more -- it makes me feel like I'm taking care of myself. And taking care of myself always cheers me up.
(For the record, so does a small piece of dark chocolate. I think of it as medicinal, man.)
5. Do something for someone else. I often find that if I feel useful, of service to someone else, my mood lifts. (Most recently, this meant donating to the Red Cross, in an attempt to help the efforts currently happening as a result of the recent tornados in Oklahoma. If you'd like to donate as well, please click here.)
Finally, over the last 48 hours, I keep running into this quote:
I like it because it makes me feel like things aren't entirely out of my control. And if that's true, then I can start taking baby steps, you know?
Here's to vanquishing the mean reds, friends.** If you have any sure-fire mean-reds-defeating tips, I'd love if you'd share them in the comments, below.
* Truth: I adore Audrey Hepburn. Breakfast at Tiffany's might be my favourite films of hers. Related: the book on which the film is based, by Truman Capote, is a surprisingly short read, and even though it's more melancholy than the movie, it's even better.
** I do think the mean reds are very different from depression. If you think that you or someone you love might be depressed, then please get help: call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 1-800-273-TALK (8255), for assistance. There are people who love you who want to see you pull through, and as my friend Jenny always says, remember that depression lies.