And then it got worse because you couldn’t remember the rest of the words to that song so you YouTube’d it and then it got stuck in your head. Anyway.
Everyone has bad days. They usually start with accidentally turning off your alarm instead of snoozing, spilling your tea and losing your car keys before 8.30am. When you’re not very well in the mental health area a bad day can make quite an impression. When you’re already feeling like you’re treading water trying to keep afloat a bad day is, for want of a better description, really very shit.
It can be anything from a bad couple of hours, to an entire awful day which is shitty from the moment you wake up to when you eventually manage to fall asleep. Sometimes it’s a few of those days in a row. The important thing to remember is that a bad day is just that, it’s just a day, 24 hours and it’s gone. You can make a fresh start on tomorrow. I have to remind myself not to get too involved with the bad days. You have to have them, conclude that they’re shit, and let them go.
At its best, a bad day for me consists of not being able to do anything useful. That can vary from the usual ‘can’t be bothered’ to the kind of not being able to do anything that requires a huge amount of effort to not hibernate in bed for the entire day, and you have to write ‘make dinner, eat dinner’ on a list so you make yourself do it. One of those days are what I call ‘faffing days’ – I can’t get a cohesive thought in my brain, I float around the house with no purpose except my brain churning out around 4 million stupid thoughts a second. I’m too distracted to do anything useful, and spend the day wandering aimlessly around feeling useless.
At its worst, a bad day results in about 5 hours of Netflix and maybe some sleeping. I can’t do anything! Not just anything useful, but actually anything. I sometimes write down what’s going on in my head when I’m in a rut like that, and looking back there’s quite often something like “I got so anxious that I couldn’t move”. If I let myself get involved with the bad day then the usual ‘what ifs’ begin – what if it’s like this forever, what if I never get better, what if everyday is bad, what if I accidentally chop my finger off while I’m cutting up this apple, what if this cat scratch kills me, what if my bedroom stays magnolia forever because I never get round to painting it. Gross.
The ‘what ifs’ are what you want to avoid. I’ve had a fair bit of practice at bad days now. I have to catch them, see them for what they are and try not to get mixed up in working out why they’re happening or what to do to stop them. They have to just happen and you deal with them the best you can.
Here are some of the things that happen on a ‘bad day’
The whole “I got so anxious that I couldn’t move” thing – That used to be a common occurrence when I first had really bad anxiety. I used to freeze all the time, petrified at doing anything that wasn’t exactly what I was doing. It’s not very practical!
Getting completely overwhelmed – This one’s really annoying because it sort of comes out of nowhere and you just get really well, overwhelmed! There’s this sense of huge pressure and all the things you think you couldn’t cope with and you get overwhelmed by everything; global warming, Donald Trump, the pay gap, people dying of cancer, the fact that there’s only one banana left in the house, your favourite character just got murdered in Sons of Anarchy, you need to put some washing in, and you don’t know what you want to drink. So this one sometimes results in the “I got so anxious that I couldn’t move” thing. The other day I realised I’d been sat on the stairs for half an hour because I couldn’t face either going up or down them.
I will stick my head in the sand – like a prize ostrich I will pretend the world and all responsibilities don’t exist. The house may be about to burn down and I probably wouldn’t care. The world might be about to end and I’d have a genuine dilemma over pausing Netflix. If I have things to do, in fact anything important is even worse, I will not be doing it. If someone MAKES me do it on a day like this, chances are it won’t end well for them. I can be a complete bitch in these circumstances. I know that everyone has days like these, but there are days like this where you can, if you make the effort, snap out of it and get your head out of the dunes and get on with it. I can’t. The sand may as well be concrete because it ain’t happening. (Luckily my family are pretty aware that these days happen).
My brain goes off on one – by this I mean it seems to gain a complete mind of its own (ironic) and races entirely beyond my control. My thoughts race and I CAN NOT stop them. It feels as useless as trying to stop a wave. That’s the point though; you have to let them wash over you and give up trying to stop them and pay them no attention. But when they’re coming at you, a million a second, each one more ridiculous and real and scary than the last.. it’s tough! I feel like that time I got caught under a wave in Biarritz; they toss and turn and drown you until eventually you find your way to the surface and come out coughing and spluttering and feeling battered and suffocated, and missing half your bikini… it’s feckin horrid.
Connected to the racing thoughts etc, I retreat inside my own head and it’s not good. You start to take those stupid, ridiculous and scary thoughts seriously and you feel like you’re looking out on the world from a little bubble as it passes you by. Not good.
I will cry over dinner – usually as a result of feeling overwhelmed and the racing thoughts, but sometimes entirely separate. I don’t know why it’s always dinner, I don’t think I find food particularly tear jerking but there we go. You just can’t explain some of these things! This hasn’t happened for a while actually but I know that Rhys used to enjoy hearing what food I was crying over that day!
There are a whole host of physical things that can happen on a bad day, mostly it’s these –
I feel dizzy, which comes from panic attacks usually.
I feel kind of cross eyed, which sounds really odd but it’s the closest description. Sort of a mixture of being cross eyed and double vision; it’s unpleasant and enough to make anyone think they’re going mad!
I feel like my feet aren’t on the ground; again that’s a really weird description but it’s the best way to describe the fact that I don’t feel ‘grounded’ and particularly ‘with it’. It’s like you haven’t got your feet on solid ground, like you’re walking on uneven ground, like a particularly muddy field full of rabbit holes.
I will also, quite often, create a whole host of odd symptoms that will bother me all day, even though they have been created by my brain and are essentially imaginary problems. These include feeling like I can’t breathe, feeling like I can’t swallow, not being able to see properly, headaches, numb hands /feet or pins and needles, legs feeling like jelly, and the list goes on.
When I’m feeling all these things on a shitty day, I will look at the floor and think “maybe I’ll just lie down, face down, on this floor, like a starfish. I think that might help”. I have only done this a handful of times and luckily usually on carpet. I have, as yet, resisted the urge to do this in the field. If I ever do lie down in the mud, I’ll get a photo for your amusement.
Over time I’ve learnt ways to cope. These are things that help me ‘snap out of it’ and get out of my own head long enough to deal with the ‘bad day’ …
Googling panic attacks – now googling is a risky business but when you’re having a panic attack, reading the symptoms of a panic attack can be reassuring because it’s like ‘yep, they’re all just very normal symptoms, you’re not dying’
Reading about anxiety – Same as above, it sounds very counterproductive, but guaranteed you will find something reassuring because all articles about anxiety are basically telling you “I felt like that too, I felt all those weird things you feel, and those racing thoughts you’re thinking, and it’ll be okay”. I recommend this article by the wonderful Eleanor Morgan. DO NOT, I repeat, DO NOT go on forums about anxiety. They are the most unhelpful and depressing places and will result in you all collectively deciding you’re in the Truman Show or something.
Writing it down – it refocuses your attention, but as you’re still technically focussing on yourself (which you tend to do when you’re feeling weird) it’s not too difficult. It puts a bit of distance and perspective between you and the weirdness by putting it on to paper. I usually make myself laugh when I read them back (but I also feel a bit sad, like “ohh, poor me, you sound really scared and crazy”)
Sitting in a dark, quiet room – it’s pretty simple and can be very effective. If everything’s a bit much I’ll go and just sit / lie down somewhere quiet. Sometimes I’ll put on an audio track, or music, or read a book, but if I’m feeling completely gross then I’ll usually just want the silence.
Relaxation tracks – do what they say on the tin. I was actually ‘prescribed’ them at my first lot of therapy on the NHS back in 2012, they’re kind of hypnotherapy / guided relaxation. They’re pretty effective. You can get something comparable with Headspace or similar, google guided meditation or something like that. I also find rain noises really good, especially when you’re trying to get to sleep, they manage to drown out my brain! Try ‘relaxing sounds’ apps.
Books / Films / Music / Netflix etc. – distraction and refocussing your attention. Be careful though, watching tv is both a symptom and a cure, because I can get stuck on the sofa watching Netflix, or I can watch something for half an hour, find that my brain’s had a rest from thinking about itself and then feel fine.
A phone call – texts / fb / whatsapp can work to a degree but my multi-tasking brain can accommodate them and anxiety without batting an eyelid, but a phone call uses much more of my attention and I find it a really good way of refocusing my thoughts. A phone call can change my day.
Go outside – go and stand under the sky and feel small. Even just walk around the house if you’re not feeling the outside world. Open a window though, get some fresh air.
Shower / Sleep – these are like my reset buttons. If I can’t sleep or don’t have time or whatever, then a shower is pretty effective. I think it’s the fact that no one can expect you to do anything while you’re in the shower because you know, you’re all wet and have shampoo in your hair. So that’s at least 20 minutes where you can’t be bothered by anyone / anything. Same for sleeping, because you know, you’re unconscious. Sometimes a 20 minute nap can turn an awful day into a good one. A shower is also good because it’s a task. The routine task of getting clean and you can do it on autopilot, but still a task so you don’t feel like you’re wasting your time doing nothing.
Doing washing (laundry) – I don’t know why but I find it relaxing. I like the routine of it. You’ve got a task to concentrate on, I feel like I’m doing something that’s helpful, and it brings me back down to earth.
Clean something! – Like doing laundry, I find cleaning really good for distraction / refocusing my attention. It has routine to it too. The other day I was stressing out and had to clean two bathrooms before I felt mildly normal. This works out really well for my mother. My friend got a very clean kitchen out of this the other week too.
Painting my nails – bit niche but same principle as showers and sleeping. No one can ask you to do anything with wet nails, obviously. (This doesn’t work out so well for my mother.)
Now this should say exercise but I would feel a total hypocrite telling you that I do exercise – what I DO do though is go and walk the dog, and I guess this is technically exercise. I will also put loud music on and dance, which also works and I guess is also exercise. These are probably most effective because I don’t think of them as exercise (me and exercise have a complicated relationship at the moment, all to do with Adrenalin, the bastard).
While I’m writing this I’m also listening to music (Jack Garratt, adore him, the talented little beardy man, and Raleigh Ritchie, GREYWORM) and reading articles on anxiety on Vice, and searching for pictures. Four things need to be happening to try and keep my little brain busy because it tried to head off on its own little mission this morning. This is a way of coping. I’m not going to ask why, WHY am I having a bad day, WHY can’t it just fuck off, WHY MEEEEEEE, because as much as anxiety loves a bit of self-indulgence and self-pity, this won’t get me anywhere. I just say ‘it’s a bad day, that’s all’. Everything is temporary. Write it off as a bad day and be hopeful that tomorrow is better 🙂
By way of apology for getting Daniel Powter stuck in y’all heads, here is a good song
(If I can think of anything else I’ll add them as I think of them)