I sprained my ankle three weeks ago, and I’ve gone full Jimmy Stewart in Rear Window; peering covetously out at the mobile world, blinds drawn against the sweltering heat. Remember that summer I was so desperate for? Yeah, it’s happened and I’m missing it all.
For the most part, it’s been fine. A blessing, almost. Being bound to my desk with my foot up on a cushion has been good for my productivity at a really crucial time, when I’m trying to market my e-book all by myself. But it also fucking sucks. I’m going to be a bridesmaid in September and I was supposed to have a supermodel physique by now. Instead I’m slowly getting squishier, like the contents of the butter dish – just replace ‘hot weather’ with ‘consolatory Dairy Milk’. Also, I’m not sleeping well. It’s hard to get tuckered out when your biggest exertion over the course of the day is hopping one-footed up and down the stairs.
But my biggest complaint isn’t my lack of ‘thigh gap’ or the quality of my sleep. It’s that exercise is as good for my mind as it is for my body, and for a while I’m going without.
Let’s get one thing straight: the idea that you can put on your running shoes and go cure yourself of depression is ignorant and misguided on so many levels. For a start, it implies that depression is a symptom of laziness or inertia; that it’s a character flaw of sorts. Suggesting a simple, one size fits all solution that reduces a potentially life-threatening illness to a matter of lifestyle is, to put it mildly, unhelpful.
Maybe you know a depressed person whose exercise is limited to shuffling between the sofa and the fridge, and you’re thinking ‘but of course getting up and about would make them feel better! That’s how endorphins work!’ And perhaps you’re right. It’s just science, after all. It’s also nearly entirely beside the point. Let’s imagine you have polio. Your muscles have degenerated to nothingness, and you can barely stand. That’s not to say you wouldn’t get a boost of endorphins from a little jogging, and who wouldn’t benefit from that? You should do it; it’ll be good for you. Yeah, that’s pretty much what you’re saying to your friend with depression.
Your depressed friend probably knows that if they could pull themselves out of bed and get their heart rate up a little, then sure, maybe they’d feel a bit better for a while. And maybe they wouldn’t. Don’t assume. Don’t assume that they don’t want to. Don’t assume that they haven’t spent all their mental energy that day just working up to the idea. Don’t assume they never put their running shoes on, and get as far as the front door before they’re hit with the heart breaking fact that they’re kidding themselves; that their body and their mind don’t care what they want; that they’re just not capable.
And if you’re not sure, then don’t assume your depressed friend isn’t even more active than you are. Save from these last few weeks, I work out three to five times a week, and guess what? Still not cured. In my case – ‘recovering’ is guess you could say – I can usually find it in me to get moving, and it’s as useful as part of maintaining a routine and personal confidence as it is for my brain chemicals.
It’s never comfortable to make changes like this one when I don’t know what the effect will be on my precarious health, but you know what? I’m fine. I think I’m as good as I’ve been all year. Maybe I’d be even better if I was still routinely working out, but I think it just goes to show that there’s nothing make or break about a little cardio; that you can’t cure yourself with exercise any more than you can induce clinical depression by skipping it; and that you should probably watch where you’re stepping if you don’t want to spend your summer imagining the murderous plotting of your shady neighbours.
This thing came up on my Twitter feed a couple of weeks ago asking me to assess whether I was having a quarter-life crisis. That’s right, as well as spending the middle of your life in crisis (and by all definitions, that’s like a whole third of it, right?), it is also to be expected that the twenty to thirty period will be considerably rocky too.
I have always dismissed the idea that the quarter-life crisis is even a thing – despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Do I sometimes feel like I napped through orientation and have just woken up, been handed my adulthood credentials and told to hop to it? Sure. Do I experience physical nausea when I picture 95% of the potential versions of myself fifteen years from now? Occasionally. Am I having a full-blown existential breakdown? There’s a chance, yes. But it just seems so counter-intuitive. Our early adulthoods are so ripe with possibility that surely we should be loving the quarter-life; this chance we have to become who we want to be. But if possibilities are peaches, ready for the picking, then we’re grabbing at all of them in panic, casting them aside when we think better, and then, instead of climbing the heap to reach the choice fruit in the up-most branches, we’re being suffocated under the weight of our mulchy indeciveness. Or whatever.
So why the crisis? A quick Google search on the topic suggests that large numbers of twenty-somethings experience severe stress and anxiety that they attribute to the fear of not doing enough with their life; of missing out on something indefinable. In a nutshell, FOMO. We have real bad FOMO.
If the mid-life crisis is the realisation that you have more time behind you than ahead of you, and that it passed by in a flash, and that too much of it was spent poorly, then I guess the quarter-life crisis is the fear that you’re hurtling towards that eventuality and nothing can stop you. It’s the realisation that you’re heading down a path, and you’re not sure if you chose it or how many junctions you’ve already missed. Because you probably weren’t ready for any of this, and how could you be? Being a kid feels so much like you’re waiting around for this transformation, that of course you’re thrown for a loop when there isn’t one. No coming of age moment. No kid skin to shed. No chrysalis. This is it; this is your life. It will never suddenly start to feel like you think it should, so take what you have now and make what you can of it.
So yes, sure, the quarter-life crisis is a thing, along with the thing we catch at forty, the thing we catch at thirteen, and I’m sure the very serious thing we endure at eighty, on that bleak and fright-worthy home stretch. Crisis is, I think, just living. Maybe the moment when you suddenly feel like you’ve arrived – the moment the crisis is over – is the same one in which you die.
But all the same, I’ve decided I like the idea of the quarter-life crisis, and this is why: when I look around me, almost everyone else seems so sure. This is another unfavourable side-effect of living: that most of the time, you’ll be convinced you’re some kind of freak. But call your freakishness a quarter-life crisis and suddenly you’re not so weird. Yes, other people feel these things, so much so that we went and named it. It’s almost a little curative. Maybe you’re anxious and afraid, and maybe you don’t know where you’re headed from here, but you’re doing fine. Or at least other people are fucking up too and that’s basically the same thing.
I’ve been doing well recently. I don’t think much about the dread, and for the first time in months and months I’ve been genuinely busy prepping to launch my e-book. The fact that it’s summer helps, although this year the British weather is endeavouring to be very little help at all. As if to spite me, it has started thundering at this very moment.
It’s no secret that sunny days are good for everyone’s mood, whether you suffer from depression or are just feeling a little blue, but no one fully understands why. It’s often chalked up to getting more sunlight, or some residual evolutionary function that has us winding down in colder months, kind of like hibernation.
Here are some unscientific observations on other things I think help:
Spending more time outdoors, surrounded by nature, instead of inside glued to a screen
Wearing fewer clothes, which makes us physically lighter (AND SEXIER)
Brighter colours, courtesy of blue skies and rapeseed flowers. Think Kansas versus Oz.
Ice cream – the universal comfort food. It’s like mood medicine.
Unfortunately, this year I’ve spent more days in slippers and cardigans than I have out of them, the rainclouds are casting a near-constant gloom, and ice cream just doesn’t appeal when simply glancing skywards is enough to make me shiver OK FINE I JUST ATE HALF A TUB OF HAAGEN-DAZS.
I confess, I am a hopeless victim of the seasons. I know it’s not an affliction specific to people with depression, but when you’re already teetering that much closer to the brink of cowering under your duvet in the foetal position, then like me, you may feel a little like summer 2016 is shitting all over you. This is meant to be my sweet spot; the annual genesis of enough inspiration and cheer to see me through the December-February danger zone. You could say I’m solar-charged, and I’m running low on juice.
The unfortunate truth is that for as long as I can remember, I get as much as 70% of my work done in the summer months. I know, it’s a joke. Why does a beautiful sunny day inspire me to hole myself away and write? But it’s true. And this year, I’ll be lucky to be a third as productive. If I’m totally honest, it’s only now that I’m getting around to publishing my e-book because I’m trying to distract from the fact I’m barely writing at all. Just look how spaced out these posts are getting!
I’m on edge. I feel I might trigger my own downward spiral by waiting a little to eagerly on a good stretch of summery weather; by convincing myself I need it.
I don’t need it. I need the people who love me. I need my creative outlet. I need my medication. The rest just helps. Besides, there will be other mood boosters. There will be other mood villains too. The key to handling my depression is to find ways to cope with both, without seesawing dramatically between rain and shine, like this terrible, terrible summer.