I have not been happy.
You may have guessed this because I didn’t post for a few months. I thought if I didn’t have something positive and cheery to say that I shouldn’t say anything at all.
Then I realized that was dumb. Because what is more relatable than unhappiness? We are not going to feel good all of the time, but we deserve to be okay. And if we can’t feel okay, then we deserve to at least know we aren’t alone.
I’m ready to feel better. Let’s be okay, okay?
Step One: We are unhappy for reasons.
These reasons are less important than the fact that they are causing us unhappiness. We are caught up in the middle of something and we need to press pause. We need to give ourselves a break. Step one is setting down the load.
One of the most difficult things to do is accept that we do not have control, whether that be over our own bodily functions (shout-out to Crohn’s Disease!!!) or the way people treat us or even sometimes how a situation plays out. Not everything needs to be fixed all the time, and not everything can be fixed by you.
This is the part where we have to put a little faith in the universe or a loving God or a higher purpose or whatever you believe in. Whatever is hurting you right now is also shaping you into exactly who you are supposed to become.
That also doesn’t mean we have to like it.
Step Two: Assembling a team.
There are several members who are essential to your feeling-better team.* They are
The Durbin: This is the friend who makes you laugh the hardest. He is at once sympathetic to your plight and also finds you ridiculous. Humor is his main weapon– he helps you trivialize the problem until it seems like the funniest thing you’ve ever heard. It is very important to note that, underneath his hard exterior, he truly cares about you.
The Chloe: This is your firecracker. The one who drags you out of bed when you are in full-blown mope-mode, but also makes the judgement call to crawl into bed next to you if things are really going downhill. This friend constantly builds you up and gets angry on your behalf so that you can be the bigger person– essentially, she is the perfect hype-man.
The Kristen: Welcome to home base. When you need to be reminded that you are special, lovable, and important, this is the friend who never lets you down. She is the ultimate listener and head-patter and sometimes you wonder if she loves you more than your own mother does because she is just that good.
The Abby: The Abby is where you head for your reality check. She is measured and amazingly unbiased– when you truly need advice or to be called out for your behavior you can trust that she will tell you the truth. She is prepared for long talks in which she utilizes logic and you utilize the phrase “But I just feel like…”
The Mothership: This requires someone that can be difficult to come by; a somewhat emotionally-detached adult. This person can be a parent or grandparent, but they are wise, left-brained, and most importantly, retired. This is your person who remains the most up to date on the status of your well-being, mostly because they don’t have a lot else going on.
The Elizabeth: There is no shame when it comes to this friend. She can handle you at your full meltdown potential. She is a sounding board for all things dramatic and requires zero explanations. When you need to hyperbolize, this is the friend you can text in all caps in the middle of the night or send dramatic, caption-less snapchats of you crying.
*Team members are subject to fluctuate depending on who you are, what you need and the people in your life who love you.
Step Three: We make an effort to actually be nice to ourselves.
Think about your best friends. If they were feeling down, what would you do to help them? All of my friends are very different people, and I would comfort them in very different ways.
In order to complete this step we have to treat ourselves as if we were our own friend. If you were your best friend, how would you want to be comforted?
For me this starts with buying a smoothie. Or a big piece of candy (Nerds Rope, anyone?). I’ll put on a pretty dress and drink my smoothie and watch something very funny on Netflix until I start to feel better.
Of course laying around all day isn’t always an option, even when we feel like that’s what we need. In these cases we have to treat ourselves with the same gentleness that we would extend to someone else if they were going through our circumstance.
I feel like “be kind to yourself” is my most frequent email sign-off. I am constantly seeing kind people turn themselves inside out for others and then skip over themselves entirely. Almost everyone responds by asking, “I know, I know I’m supposed to love myself and be kind to myself, but how do I do that?”
I think the answer is different for everyone. But buying yourself a smoothie is usually a good start.
Step Four: Relentless positivity!
We are feeling bad. My favorite thing to do when I am feeling bad is to completely overload on positivity. I’m talking every angle– change your phone background to a cheesy quote, follow a bunch of instagrams that make you smile, create a playlist of exclusively early Hannah Montana songs.
A lot of the media we consume can be deep, tortured, and twisty. Television dramas with dark plots, drippy-sad poetry we reblog online because the exaggeration makes us feel better. While entertaining and sometimes very helpful, this stuff can bog us down and remind us of issues in our own life.
I know that for me when I am going through an uncomfortable situation my mind is constantly analyzing everything about it– what could I have said differently? How can I make this better? This spiral is unhelpful and torturous. If our brains are constantly reminding us of our stressors, maybe we should actively remind ourselves of happy things.
Specifically, I am talking about watching Girl Meets World. Or Friends, or New Girl, or any quick comedy that can take a real life situation and make it appear humorous when it’s happening to someone who is not you. I find that Disney Channel shows do this the best for me, and I watch them as I fall asleep or get ready for classes.
We will not be the most cultured bunch for now. We will not know the detailed, horrifically intriguing plot lines of Game of Thrones. But we will get there.
Once the positive stuff sticks in your head just as much as the negative stuff, then you can start introducing the deep and twisty shows and novels back in. But for now, for me, it’s the first three seasons of Liv and Maddie. I do what I must.
Step Five: Find something to look forward to.
When we are sad it’s easy to feel like there is nothing to look forward to. That can be a pretty hopeless feeling that leads straight into a spiral of unhappy thoughts. Sometimes we have to work hard to find something to look forward to, even if it’s just a little thing. Sometimes we have to create it ourselves.
I am a huge advocate of turning a day that might have a bad connotation to it into an all-out celebration. I love holidays and a huge pick-me-up for me is creating a fake one out of any date of minor significance that might be coming up.
Think about the next month: what could be celebrated? Is it the anniversary of when you met one of your friends for the first time? Someone’s half-birthday? (Always fun to celebrate this by decorating half of their room and giving them half a cupcake!) If you really love Harry Potter and you miss the feeling of getting all dressed up for the midnight premiere you could host one at your house! Friends can come over all dressed up, and when you start the movie you can all hoot and holler like you’re seeing it for the first time.
Maybe the significant date that comes to mind is not a very happy one, and that’s okay too. You can still celebrate with yourself just for getting through. This Wednesday is the two-year anniversary of my diagnosis. I plan to buy a balloon, and a smoothie. I plan to do something that only two years ago I would have been unable to do like, I don’t know, jog in place.
My mom will probably remember. My best friend Kristen will remember, and my roommates are guaranteed to remember because I have spent a lot of time reminding them. I know it’s not a hugely important date to anyone but me, but that’s enough. It’s important to me and that’s enough cause to celebrate it.
Step Six: Get some perspective.
I know I did.
Whatever pain we are feeling is always valid. Comparing your pain to someone else’s is frustrating for everyone involved. But it can be helpful to recognize that we are not alone in the way we feel.
We are constantly bombarded with everyone’s highlight-reels. We see their funny tweets, smiley instagrams, the videos they post on facebook that make it seem like everything in their life is easy and wonderful and you are the only one who is hurting. The truth is, everyone has been hurt in some way or another. They might have even felt, at one time, the exact way that you are feeling now.
Think back to the members of the team you assembled– your closest friends, your allies in all things difficult and wonderful. It’s easy to think about someone, especially someone who you are very close to and comfortable with, in terms of what they give to your life. Our most trusted friends enrich our lives in so many ways and that is a wonderful thing to acknowledge.
But there will come a time when one of them will go through something so important that you will stop thinking of them as a member of your team, and you will start thinking of yourself as a member of theirs. What can I do to help them? What do I provide for this person, how can I make things easier for them?
That shift won’t magically take away your pain, but it will be enough for you to set it aside for a while. That’s what you do for your friends. You stick up for them, and you’re there for them even when they don’t ask. You are always a member of their team. That’s what real love is.
And at the end of the day, love is the only thing that is going to make us feel better at all.
So suppose we do all of this and it helps, but just a little bit. Suppose we feel better temporarily, but the bad feelings keep creeping back in. Maybe you’ve tried all of these things and you still don’t feel happy?
That’s okay. It’s okay to not be okay. If you are actively trying to be alright people around you will take notice. Teachers will be more understanding, parents will be kinder, friends will be more patient. You can’t expect anyone to be willing to help you if you aren’t willing to help yourself first.
If you take the steps to try to feel better it might not work right away, it might not work the way you really want it to, but you will have changed something. You will have told the people around you that the way you feel is worth addressing.
Most importantly, you will have told yourself. It won’t ever mean more coming from anyone else.