“Actually, I’m not OK”

I’ve been meaning to write here for weeks. Since before Jo Cox. Before Brexit. Before news sites scrambled to cover each fresh world story, cropping up horrifically at breakneck speed.

Also, before I got world-shaking news about a man with whom I’m unspeakably proud to share DNA.

But nothing I’ve thought to write has seemed enough. Not to compete with more worthwhile work. Not to do justice to this weird desolation I’ve felt since approx. February. And besides, my brain hasn’t settled down long enough to get the words out.

I’ve burst into tears unexpectedly a few times. In the hospital. In the street. In the middle of conversations. This past Sunday, my little sister presented me with a tissue, then asked our dad in a hushed voice that she didn’t think I’d hear, “Why is Bec crying?”

Things have just been feeling incredibly heavy, like wading through mud and getting through the day are one and the same. And I haven’t truly known why. I’m taking an age to reply to text messages (sorry about that). I’m forgetting how to be around others. I’m avoiding going out much and I’m cancelling plans. I’m dreading someone asking what’s going on with me because the only answer I have that won’t make them wish they hadn’t asked is, “nothing.”

This week, I met a close friend for Caribbean food and felt nervous butterflies in my tummy. Me. The one who derives energy from being around people. My friend marvelled at how no one would know I was going through anything, what with my Instagram posts documenting lovely things, like al fresco pizza, new hair cuts and pretty green dresses. Instagram is doubtlessly there to document the damn fine moments in life, to preserve them online forever and always. But there’s a ‘behind-the-scenes’ that no one else sees. The same night I ate pizza on the grass, I cried myself to sleep. And the day after I wore that green dress, I watched someone I love be spoon-fed in hospital and had to nap in my mum’s living room because I exhausted myself with tears.

I was wary of publishing this post. Those horrific news stories keep coming thick and fast, reminding us that there are unjust deaths and political meltdowns and incomprehensible things happening right now. Me feeling blue ain’t exactly up there with the day’s headlines, and nor should it be. But it is what it is, and from what I’m hearing in articles and Instagram posts and conversations with friends, I’m not on my own. And I think it’s important we talk about these things. Because it’s only through talking about them that we can know we’re not the only ones (and have some kind of hope that it won’t always be this way).

Granted, not every day feels the same. Today, I woke up to sunshine, pulled my hair into a bun and posted an embarrassing picture on Facebook for my friend’s birthday. Last week, I only washed my hair once. Yesterday, I struggled to see a future beyond my new normal. But today, I can see past this evening. I can look ahead without it seeming pitch dark. And I’m going to be grateful for days like this when they come. Just as I’m grateful for what’s been helping me through these weeks, providing distraction for my mind when it doesn’t like where it lingers.

Podcasts. Beautiful/Anonymous, Only Human, Distraction Pieces and Woman’s Hour are particular favourites.

Music. Currently on repeat: Nao and Anderson .Paak.

Netflix. I’ve binged on Love and Orange is the New Black, and I’ve started Stranger Things (great, but watching the first episode while babysitting alone in a strange house at nighttime was NOT the one).

Reading. Women whose words help. Nora McInerny Purmort, Meg Fee, Alisha Sommer and Marina KeeganNayyirah Waheed, Ella Risbridger, Yrsa Daley-Ward and Hannah Brencher.

Yoga. Union Station is the most beautiful place to practise. And in last night’s restorative class, when we were encouraged to say hi to the person on the next mat, I shared my burdens with a perfect stranger, who, in turn, told me about her break-up. We all have our stuff. Better than spouting the generic, “Yep, I’m good, thanks.”

Friends. Friends who distract me. Friends who listen. Friends who get married and are beautiful on a day so stunning I forget all else.

Family. When London’s too stifling, there’s always home. The ease of speaking with no filter. The too-big pyjamas I steal from my brother. The little sister whose day is made by a new nail polish in mint green. And the joy of finding my broad Yorkshire accent right where I left it three years ago.

Life is a series of ups and downs, of bright lights and dark spells, of floaty dresses and hearts that race at an overwhelming speed. The trick, I’m finding, is in not denying any of it. Feeling it all. Even when it sucks so bad. Not closing yourself off, and not letting slide the stuff that helps. The boundless sleep, the early morning running, the food that doesn’t come in a plastic wrapper. All of the above, and the people, too.

Because stuff will suck. Life’s like that. And there’s no shame in letting it be too much. In saying, “Actually, I’m not OK.” In, yes, trying to help yourself, but in asking for help, too. I may get snappy with my family and shy around friends. I may long to be in bed rather than outside with actual people. But, as I’m beginning to figure out these past few days? I really wouldn’t be without those people for the world.