Collect Your Good Days
In my first year of university we read a book called Behind The Scenes At The Museum by Kate Atkinson. It’s a pretty good book, I’d recommend it, but one part in particular stuck out to me so incredibly I still think about it to this day. Wow. That sounds dramatic. I’m just trying to be real with you guys here.
The part in particular is a portion of the story where the character Jack is sharing some moments of reflection over another character; Albert. Now, admittedly this part first stuck out to me because it’s so gay you guys, it’s super gay, so I was into it already, but its homosexual undertones aren’t why I think of this passage so often. Instead, it’s just one simple line,
“Jack realised that Albert collected good days the way other people collected coins, or sets of postcards.”
It stuck out to me because I was immediately like ‘holy shit, Albert, woah, I do the exact same thing’ and it wasn’t only my relating to the character that caused my fixation but, more importantly, that I had never realised before that moment that it was something I did.
Growing up mentally ill means that you see the world a little differently to those around you, and it also means that you develop behaviours that other people seemingly don’t even think about it, never mind employ. Growing up depressed meant that whenever something good happened, or whenever something happened that made me smile or laugh, I would hold onto that and really try to memorise it so that the next time I had a bad day I could play it back in my head and it would alleviate some of the stress (or empty black pit of nothingness) that I was experiencing. I was collecting good days like postcards, and reading them on rainy days.
I imagine some people may read this and think ‘well…doesn’t everybody do that, we all think about nice things when we’re sad to make ourselves feel better’ and that’s correct. It’s natural for us to try and combat our sadness with the things that make us happy. The key difference when considering mental illness, however, is the imperative nature of those happy memories. When you feel nothing at all, it’s less a case of combatting sadness and more a case of desperately wishing to recreate the feelings you had in that memory.
What Jack’s realisation about Albert gave me was clarity to the fact that my entire life I have consciously practiced bottling happiness. An active attempt, whenever I experience it, to capture that feeling so I may use it later. Kind of like catching fireflies in mason jars, I would ensure I stored away those precious memories so I could release them around me when I needed too. To remind myself that these dark points do not last, that happiness does exist even when it is not within me, and that I will see such days and live such moments again if only I wait for them.
This is what led me to believe that holding onto happiness is a skill. It takes practice. It takes work. It takes conscious effort. Particularly if you are burdened with mental illness. You gradually learn what makes you happy, what makes you feel safe, and you learn to repeat those behaviours when you need to. You develop entire self-care plans of attack for when depression rears its ugly apathetic head.
A harder truth to accept, however, is that this is of course not always possible.
You cannot bottle happiness, you cannot preserve emotion as though it were solid and apply a dose of it when you need to. It’s the nature of life that we have highs and lows, but what’s important is that we remember both do exist. A life cannot be consistent highs, but as such it cannot be consistent lows either. It is a constant changing mass of the two of them.
The difficulty is in remembering this when we are experiencing lows. Whenever I’m depressed I forget entirely what it was like to ever feel a different way. I feel nothing. I feel as though there is nothing out there even worth sticking around for, but that could not be further from reality.
Unless you’re some form of prophet whom knows every detail of how their life will go, knows every path they will take in great detail, knows every crossroad like the forked lines on their palms, then you have no business deciding your life is not worth living. You simply do not know.
So, what do we do with this practice?
Well, we keep at it.
Sure, we can’t bottle happiness, and we know that. We know that no matter how many times we replay those golden moments they can’t stay forever. So dawn goes down to day, nothing gold can stay.
BUT, pretentious poem quotes aside, that doesn’t mean all hope is lost. That doesn’t mean our practice is in vain. In fact, in accepting life for its highs and lows we move ourselves closer to a sense of contentment than we have ever been before.
So collect your good days, your postcards, and your coins, and keep them close to your chest. They can never be taken from you, but knowing they’re there will make the inevitable dark points feel even just a little more bearable.
Above all else, remember that nobody is happy permanently, and happiness is not a fixed state of being. You are not abnormal if you aren’t constantly riding a pink cloud of joy, in fact if you are I’m going to have to have you drug tested. Nothing personal, it’s in your best interests.
That’s all I have to say for this week, so see you in seven days, and I hope at least a few of those days are fireflies worth catching ✨
((This post does not endorse the mass incarceration of light-up insects))