How to get through your day when you want to crawl under the covers and scream into pillows.
Sometimes, getting out of bed is a victory. We endure our day even in the moments when daylight feels like an assault and all we want to do is crawl back to bed and cower under the covers. Our home becomes our fortress and our bed a kingdom. We want to feel safe, comforted. We crave the cool, black quiet.
Rarely do we acknowledge all the minor actions we take over the course of a day. We take our ability to function — to be normal, for lack of a better term — for granted. We dismiss our ability to move, reduce it to motor function and a series of neurological impulses. Of course, we can ride the elevator to the garage, insert the key in the lock, our foot on the gas, our hands on the steering wheel. Of course, we can stand in line at the grocery store wondering if the person behind us will judge the contents of our basket: the chilled bottle of wine, the packets of ramen and boxed macaroni and cheese. Of course, we can scroll through news updates, notification alerts, filtered photos, and rage-blackout tweets and not think we’ve managed to be the architects of our own ruin. Of course, we can chain ourselves to our desks and sit through this meeting, stay awake during that call, and smile politely while someone screams at you over a telephone line. Is there anything else I can help you with?
Perhaps we don’t acknowledge our capacity to endure these everyday moments because they’re common. We’ve become adept at trading barbs, wasting time, and smothering our grief and discontent. Quite often, we find ourselves in a place of tacit acceptance. So, this is my life. Every waking moment of it.
Be positive! Live in the moment! You are what you attract! So say the lithe Instagram gurus bathed in the bleached white of a Donna Hay cookbook. Their photographed lives preened to perfection. They make millions peddling their happy snake oil and the possibility that our life could be theirs for the low low price of a $997 “Find Your Center” e-course, a $2,000 “You Can Be Brave!” conference at the Marriott. It’s the late-night infomercial of the information age and there are so many takers.
Two and a half years ago, I couldn’t make it down a block without collapsing into tears. Every email, phone call, pitch deck felt like a Herculean effort and the idea of being “on my game” was unfathomable. I couldn’t even properly brush my hair much less find my center. Unbeknownst to me, at 40, I was wading through a severe bout of depression. People unfollowed me on social media because I’d become grim and nihilistic. Friends dodged my calls because I wasn’t the shiny, happy Felicia they once knew — the woman who could shoulder their grief and solve their problems. I couldn’t reconcile the Type A, control-freak overachiever with the reflection staring back at me in the mirror.
I’d been the epitome of the woman who killed it, crushed it, or whatever war metaphor you want to use, but here I was feeling the weight of my sadness and inconsolable grief.
I didn’t work for six months. Things got dark.
I finally got my life back with the help of a small group of friends, talk therapy, and Wellbutrin — all of which gave me the strength to start taking care of myself again. That time changed me. Completely.
I used to be this intense person and I assure you this is not a compliment. I went at everything so hard. I worked through pain and exhaustion. I cleaved to velocity — a body in motion stays in motion and like that. Force = mass x acceleration and like that. I placed more value on outcomes than inputs. I cared about what people thought of me and wanted to please everyone at the expense of my well-being. I placed an unhealthy level of emphasis on amassing a large collection of people in my life more than cultivating richer relationships with a handful. I pursued things at the expense of the quiet nobility of living an honest, full life.
My wake-up call was a phonebook packed with numbers but no one to call when I was breaking. What changed during that dark time was this: I began to live small and this is, I assure you, is a good thing.
Small isn’t a pejorative. It’s about getting surgical about the people and things that inhabit your life. Cut the barnacles. Eliminate that which is extraneous and unnecessary. Don’t settle for common or this is how it’s always been done. Small is about the amount of noise you allow in. It’s about making the choices that won’t please the majority of people, but you end up pleasing yourself. It’s the difference between living in a mansion and creating a house that is a home. Fewer, better are words whose meaning has shifted for you. They are words of wealth. And more suddenly feels like a burden.
For those who suffer from depression, meds and therapy simply level the playing field. They elevate you from negative integers to zero. It’s easier to build from zero than from mounting losses. Meds and therapy don’t create shiny, happy people. There are days that are dark and tough and what’s allowed me to function during that time is the concept of living simply and small.
I used to feel weird (translation: a loser) about not having hundreds of emails in my inbox and invitations clamoring at my door. My Gmail is anemic. My calendar is lean. What’s enabled me to function on the days when I’d rather crawl under my covers and cry isn’t a series of fancy apps and productivity tools, bullet journals, and what not — tools certainly help — but my foundation is rooted in simplicity and a leanness to my day.
I don’t pass time with barnacles. Why would I give my energy to people so intent on draining it? For what? I don’t aim to please the masses so my circle is deciduous and small. Finally, I’m okay with the fact that I’m not for everyone. In fact, my views and opinions are polarizing. I don’t meet dozens of people for coffee catch-ups. Instead, I cultivate a few relationships a year that embody depth and a friendship that is beyond the transactional. I have a sizable set of criteria that enables me to be selective about the projects I take on and the people with whom I want to work. I buy what I need and love. I don’t accumulate; I eliminate.
In 2016, I wanted to take my own life. I made a plan. I bought razors off Amazon. I started by cutting the insides of my thighs to feel something, to maybe release all of the pain that had accumulated. Coming out of it, I listened to my language. I used to say, over and over, there’s so much…
What if there was less?
When my friends talk about being subsumed by their calendar and social obligations, I’m considered and thoughtful in my response, but honest. There’s always fat you can trim from your life. You can do more by operating with less. This isn’t a revolutionary concept. It’s Occam’s Razor, the best solution is often the simplest one. We as humans desire complexity, and I would posit, the theatrics of drama, but simplicity creates clarity. I don’t think about all the things I have to do, rather I consider what are the most important, valuable, memorable, and healthy things I can do for myself today. How can I map out the week where I allow for a portion of every day to be focused on the work that keeps the lights on and pays my rent, leaving time for recovery.
I celebrate every minor victory because I’ve learned that when every action once bore an insurmountable level of pain, you start to appreciate a life lived with less pain. It’s sort of like a brief period of my life where I developed a series of allergic reactions and for three months my body was covered in hives and I had to endure a constant itch and pain, which made everyday tasks that much more difficult. When the itch and pain subsided, I understood the privilege and grace of living in this abled body, in this big, sweeping, complicated, sometimes cruel, and often beautiful, life.