You know, I used to think that staying positive, being perky, or cheery, or whatever you want to call it was my super-power. I was the master of positivity, of finding something to look forward to, no matter how small. If I was having a stressful day at work, and then had to go home to a big pile of marking, I’d sometimes decide to stop off on the way home, buy a latte, and browse the local Indigo bookstore for a new book. “A new book,” I’d say to myself, “That will fix me right up.” And usually it did.
When I was first teaching, I worked at an adult high school. I loved teaching there; the students and the staff were like family. Half the ladies in my classes were older than me, and sometimes they treated me as if I was their daughter. “Oh, Sue, don’t you look sweet in that new dress,” they’d say. It was definitely a lovely place to start my career. But I did long to teach in a regular high school. With teams and clubs and young people. So each spring I’d apply for a position in an adolescent school.
Teaching jobs were thin on the ground, but after a couple of years I was offered a position at a really great school. I was over the moon. Then the staffing numbers changed, and it turned out I’d be back at the adult school. “We-ell,” I said to myself, “I can revise my writing course and do something really different and interesting with it. Yeah, that will be great.” Then the job at the adolescent school was on again. The principal was trying really hard to find a timetable for me. Then it was off again. And then finally, when the staffing for the whole board was finished and everyone who had more seniority than me was placed, the new job was on. For real.
Phew. My head was spinning. I couldn’t remember whether I was happy because it was what I’d wanted all along, or sad because I’d worked so hard convincing myself that it would be fun to be back at the adult school. My positivity muscle got a good work-out that year.
I’ve written a lot about the positivity problem since the pandemic started. Because, of course, positivity is something we’ve all been digging really deep to find in the last two years. And it is two years this month since the first big stay-at-home order. Remember washing your groceries, and trying to find flour or toilet paper on the store shelves?
During lock-down, I exercised my positivity super-power like there was no tomorrow. Hubby and I started making homemade lattes and having our “elevenses” on the deck. We planned garden projects to do together. That one was a turn-up for the books. Ha. I prescribed gentle reading for myself. Planned walks with Hubby. Organized my closet. Started making “isolation diary” vlogs. Gosh, I almost feel nostalgic for that time. Almost.
Eventually, the cosy “just we two” feeling with which I first approached lock-down went a little stale. And I remember I wrote lots of posts about how hard I was finding the isolation, the worry over my mum and my inability to travel down east and see for myself how she was doing. Some things I didn’t write, or even talk about. The fear that Hubby would fall ill and with his history of heart disease, as fit as he is, he might end up on a respirator, or worse. The fear that by the time I was able to get home to Mum’s, it would be too late. The sinking feeling that our lives would never be back to normal.
And then that sinking feeling was getting harder and harder to magic away no matter how much I employed my positivity super-powers. No matter how many times I shook myself, told myself how lucky I was, sat and stared at my freshly organized closet, or listed the many, many things in my life for which I should be grateful. Was, in fact, grateful. None of my usual tricks worked.
Finally, I was in tears most mornings, and despite all my perky fashion posts, and jokes about my hair, I found I was working way too hard to try to feel like myself. And after a rather sobby talk with Hubby, at his suggestion, I reached out to our lovely GP. We had several conversations, and he said I had low-level depression, and eventually prescribed a mild anti-depressant for me. A few weeks later, I felt like me again.
This was, in fact, not the first time I had reached out for mental health help. The other times were long before the pandemic. I don’t want to get into the circumstances or the details more than that. I guess I just wanted to make clear that despite my admonitions about the value of reading gentle, restorative novels and having a therapeutic rummage in my closet, I know that sometimes we need the help of professionals.
It was months before I told any of my friends that I was on medication. And then I told only a few people I felt I could trust. Some of whom I knew had family members who had battled with depression all their lives, far, far more severe than mine. I began to feel that not saying anything meant I was ashamed. And I guess I was. In a way, I felt weak and whiney because I couldn’t just pull myself together and get on with things. I felt I was making a big deal out of nothing. Maybe I should scrub my floors, and do a good days hard work, like my grandmother would have recommended. Yep, that would fix me up. Ah… no, actually.
So where am I going with all this? Well, I know that many, many of us are feeling even worse about the state of the world lately. Not just me. And I didn’t want to write a chirpy, “let’s all think positive and be grateful for what we have, and all will be well” post. Because sometimes all the distractions in the world can’t make us feel better. Even when we are warm, and safe, and not in danger of bombs falling on our homes, or on the homes of our loved ones. And we know how lucky we are and are truly grateful for that. Even then we feel bad. Not ourselves. Not able to cope. And if that’s the case for you, please reach out for help.
Oh, I’m not saying that I don’t employ my rose-coloured glasses anymore. Far from it. My positivity super-power is in great shape. This week I’m watching season three of Portrait Artist of the Year on Amazon Prime. And catching up with Martijin Doolaard’s YouTube channel and the work he’s doing on his derelict cottage in the Dolomite Mountains of Italy. Watching people create and build things makes me feel hopeful. And I’ve been walking, of course, now that the weather has warmed up slightly. And reading, reading, reading. With my morning tea, after lunch stretched out on the sofa in the sunroom, and well, whenever.
I still feel overwhelmed some days with the negativity of the world. But I can manage that now. In the ways I always have. A new book. A latte treat on the way home from my haircut appointment. A brisk walk listening to a P.D. James book. A good closet rummage.
And maybe even a spring shopping splurge list. Mindful of the strictures of slow fashion, of course.
P.S. I received this really interesting article from Annie this morning. It is definitely worth a read. Thanks for passing that on, Annie.