Here’s the thing about bad moods. While I can understand them objectively and am a firm believer in their importance and solidity in the vast landscape of our feelings, I am just not very good at them. As much as I try to accept I’m having a bad day, as much as I call it out by referring to myself as ‘the anti-Christ’ to anyone I come into contact with so they won’t interpret my scowl as a personal affront or my taciturn sullenness as rudeness, I still can’t bring myself to leave the bad day just be a bad day.
I kind of think of bad days like Voldemort. If you try and tip-toe around them, they just become more menacing, more inconquerably terrifying until you – and therefore all around you – lose any concept of reality, perspective, rationality or proportion until you are a quivering, hyperventilating mess in the corner with potentially a few bridges burned and far too many strewn chocolate wrappers blanketing you. The second you call it out – I’m quite happy with this analogy, no? – and give it a name, it loses its power. Sure, it’s still dangerous and scary and potentially violent but the sting is gone, the snowballing terror of the unsaid is removed. Daylight has exposed it for what it is: a bald, incredibly ugly Ralph Fiennes that we just need to duel with a couple of times a week/month/year. Avada Kedavra that shit, ya feel? (I’m going to curse – hah, pun! – a lot in this – apologies to our sensitive readers).
But somedays that trick doesn’t work. Owning the bad mood doesn’t make it own you less, the daylight trick won’t work and everything you’re feeling still seems every bit as bleak and all-consuming as you originally feared. Well, welcome to Monday the 13th, and my Mood-That-Must-Not-Be-Named day.
I’ve wondered about posting this. It feels unfair to inflict negativity on you when so much of your day-to-day might already be consumed with worry or stress or sadness. It feels downright disrespectful to chronicle the list of unimportant things that annoyed me today, when there is so much genuine hardship and suffering in the world (that existed long before coronavirus, by the way). But that’s exactly why I’m posting this. These diaries thus far are often light-hearted, humorous, conveying a wry existence with lots of uninhibited laughter and genuine joy. While I think it’s important to bring humour to this weird situation we’re all living through, and while I generally choose not to dwell on the negative aspects of this pandemic – for the sole reason there is simply nothing I can do about them and therefore worrying is simply a waste of my time and energy – it’s equally important to call out the shit days.
I’m also something of a sadist who finds it impossibly comforting when someone admits to a bad temper that springs from nowhere or fully lets rip with a mood swing whose origins cannot be accounted for, can’t be pinpointed to any event. David O’Doherty recently dedicated one of his podcast episodes to the complete airing of his bad mood and it was so refreshing to hear someone who is generally so “up” and funny turn melancholic and nettled. Ahhh, I thought. So he’s normal too. He’s human too. He also – as perfect, Adonis-like, God-like as he appears to me – is capable of the same waves of total fucking despair. THANK GOD.
So buckle in and welcome to my shit day. My black day, bad mood, hormonal for no apparent reason, angry about nothing, upset about everything, don’t want to be alone but also am uncontrollably irked by anyone around me kind of day. I don’t know if it’s normal but, if not, I hope my writing these black thoughts down might make it so.
I wake up in terrible form. It is entirely self-inflicted because I arsed around last night and only sat down to work that has been urgent and overdue since Thursday last at 10.30pm. After an hour of decidedly not working but just staring at my laptop at words I must have written but have no recollection of thinking let alone giving birth to, I decide it’s better for everyone if I go to bed.
I am painting my nails and reading in bed (I blame my black mood on Zadie Smith’s addictive prose – everyone read ‘On Beauty’), all while planning the 6.30am home workout and/or solid writing time I was going to smash in the morning. Please don’t ask me what time it was when “one last chapter” really was the last chapter. I do not sleep well or long.
My alarm goes off in three synchronised bleats and I obstinately – even though I knew I shouldn’t because I already felt wrong-footed – got up. You know when you just know, even before you’ve opened your eyes, that today is just not going to be your day? It’s like when you’re experiencing grief, and you have that split-second moment between consciousness and sleep where you think everything is fine, the world isn’t ripped apart with loss, and then the thud of realisation slaps you in the gut. All before you’ve ever moved, even registered that you’re now awake.
And now I am weepy and snarky, aggressive in a restless frustration that has me incapable of completing any simple task.
I thump around, sigh a lot.
I’m trying to relax myself by just leaning into the bad day, accepting it’s a write-off, becoming objective about it so I’m observing my feelings instead of becoming infatuated and engrossed with them but, even though I can perfectly categorise, understand, and analyse my mood, I can’t let it go. I can’t socially distance from it.
Instead I’m trying hopelessly to overcome it. I put on happy music. Listen to my favourite podcast which, when after ten minutes has not transformed me into my usual Duracell bunny state, only serves to make me more mad. Deep breathing won’t work. Appreciating the nodding daffodils only serves to enrage me more that I have to remind myself to appreciate these things – why can’t I be more present, more grateful?
There is a door repeatedly slamming from a draft in the house. An inanimate object has me biting my lip with unprecedented rage. CLOSE THE DOOR, I want to scream. Why I cannot get up to close it myself does not enter my consciousness.
I practice my own breed of meditation which is not really meditation at all but rather concentrated thinking of all of the suffering going on in the world which I hope will jolt me out of self-absorption and back into the land of perspective. It doesn’t work. So now, not only am I despairing at my incapability to send an email today, I am now distraught at the suffering of millions of people I don’t know, and several dozens of people I do, and disgusted by my inaction in failing to help them.
A bit of self-flagellation sees me opening one of several emails to different Ministers and even the Taoiseach himself, on issues of social justice. None of these letters are finished and none of them have been sent. In this moment I truly despise myself.
So I go downstairs and eat cake straight from the fridge BECAUSE WHAT’S EVEN THE POINT. I take a ruthless, bitter kind of pleasure in putting this substance into my body which, while not harmful, is not currently kind because it is an act of hate and not one of love. (Cake is neither bad nor good – it is how and why we eat it that matters.) This fridge binge is an act of willful self-sabotage, an old hangover from teenage emotional eating when you would feel so trapped inside your own doughy flesh and incapable of change or beauty you decided the only thing left to do was to eat. Which of course only makes you feel worse. Again, to summarise: WHAT’S EVEN THE POINT.
From there, it is a natural progression to berating myself a little for not exercising that morning. I go through the “getting fat in quarantine” mini-meltdown we’re all doing our best to resist because we know it is not only stupid but harmful and yet a belief we can’t quite give up due to the body insecurity and fear that it feeds off. Of course we can’t. As women, our identity and self-worth is so inherently fused into our silhouettes that it will be several generations of women before we can tear ourselves from that omnipresent shadow.
I am annoyed. I am annoyed. I am annoyed.
I am annoyed at having to move around people as I try to make my breakfast. I am annoyed I have to explain why I’m leaving my bread out but not eating it right now and why I will leave coffee on the stove. I am annoyed that even after this explanation I still fear it will be thrown out anyway. I am annoyed when my mum asks if I want her to make my toast for me – a kind gesture that is second nature to her. But in my blackness I am devil-like and irked because I cannot stand being infantilised or having things done for me or having to explain myself. Just trust me, I want to say. I am an independent adult capable of feeding myself. Please just trust that I know what I’m doing, I have a plan for my bread, I will see my plan through if and when I am ready. Stop suffocating me.*
I am annoyed it is not a given that my actions are the result of conscious thought. Yes, I left that saucepan there purposely. Yes, I chose to wear this jacket outside for that exact reason.
I am annoyed I am being so ungrateful, juvenile, wasteful of the most precious resource: family.
I am annoyed I cannot focus on my work today, even though I deliberately derail myself with rabbit holes of internet searches and scrolling that could be titled: WAYS YOU ARE INADEQUATE.
I am annoyed I am stuck inside while it is sunny outside – what is the point of this modern life if it deprives us of the most essential, elemental pleasures on earth?
I do not go for my lunchtime walk because I am “too busy.” I eat my lunch standing up because I am “too busy.”
Reader, I am not “too busy.”
After 1.5 hours of telling myself I “should” go for a walk, I go for a walk. It becomes a run. The evening is glorious and the sweat cathartic. I come home beaming and in love with the reset function of nature. What was I giving out about? What was all that resentment about?
Thus, the day ends. Voldemort is not vanquished but he is reduced to an imprint on the back of Professor Quirrell’s head – present but manageable, tangible but also an opportunity to experiment with some colourful headscarves. I can live with this.
I stop dodging friends and FaceTime my best one. My sister and I lie on our bellies on my bedroom floor and puzzle with tea and soft music. Before I go to sleep, I remind myself that we are living through a shit show and just because I seem to be coping well, it doesn’t mean all of the fear, uncertainty, and tragedy isn’t manifesting in me. Just because I am “lucky”, doesn’t mean I can’t be angry. Or fed-up. Or downright biblical in my rage.
You can be angry too. Once you send me a voicenote detailing every way you’ve behaved like an unreasonable ogre so I can revel in our shared wickedness.
*Of course I didn’t say this out loud but I think my “aura” might have conveyed as much – subtlety is not my strong point. Also, I assume it goes without saying, my mother is the most wonderful woman I know and this verbal diarrhoea reflects MY state of mind and is not a reflection on her – of course she wasn’t suffocating me. If you’re reading this, mum, then you know I already feel guilty about this interaction, even if you didn’t register it as an interaction at all. God, it’s only when writing a public diary you realise how much emotional labour we all do – first there’s the act of feeling, then we’ve understanding feeling, communicating feeling, helping others understand this communication, softening feeling so as not to hurt other’s feelings ad infinitum. We need to change this.
The three songs that keep saving me in lockdown.
- Tame Impala: Yes, I’m changing. An ode to this crazy time, burgeoning adulthood, anyone in transition. Best listened to driving alone in a car, at dusk, preferably on a motorway going somewhere unknown.
- Patrick Wolf: Magic Position. A get out of bed and just get drunk on being alive song. Best listened to while inhaling morning sunshine rays and running so fast that trowing up becomes a distinct possibility. But in like, a good way?
- Richard Hawley: The Ocean. A hug of violins and husky tones. This is the song that always anchors and calms me and makes me hopeful in the possibility for love and connection. Best enjoyed at day’s end, with a drink in hand, staring out at nothing. If you have a lover, hold them to this.