Two head-clearing lunchtime walks to the Barbican this week. It seemed, both times, the thing to do after feeling myself slipping down into a dark one. I think you have to find ways to hang onto the edges before you get sucked under, that you can manage on auto-pilot.
That's usually walking for me. Just getting out into a street and moving forward physically helps to smooth over the edges. No pressures, no need to do anything with your body but put one foot in front of the other. Sometimes a feeling of moving forward mentally follows too.
So on this Dead Eyed Day I bundled up and left the office, and headed quietly to the Barbican, deep in a Thousand Yard Stare. What I really wanted to do was go into the Conservatory and stand amongst warm leaves, burrow into that wet smell of any misty greenhouse. Dip my fingers into a pond, or touch a banana plant, or something. Sadly, the Conservatory is only open on Sundays. I asked one of the security guards, and he said "it's used for private events during the week." I peered inside and saw a small group of women, some moving slowly in twos, the others listening to a person wearing a lanyard, with all that space around them. I walked to the centre of the Estate, and sat on a bench watching the fountains.
The funny thing, and it feels surprisingly hard to type this in a plain way, is that this week i've felt jostled by social media. I've taken visible and even ambiguous signs of other peoples' successes very much to heart, in a way that I didn't used to. And it's left me feeling so glum! That i'm moving so slowly towards to things I want (even if in another week, I may feel differently.) Early January can be so raw! So it makes perfect sense that people want to do things to warm their own hearts a little, to reflect on the tangible successes our society is so obsessed with, and share them online. I do it too. Only standing on the other side it doesn't always feel so good.
There's a line of thinking i've been holding onto. It's this: when you feel things deeply, you get to live the utter euphoria of sheer highs. To experience a sort of giddiness which, for quite a lot of people, gets lost with youth. I felt that a week before Christmas. Listening to this remix of Bamboo Houses by David Sylvian and Ryuichi Sakamoto, and feeling that warmth that comes from deep within when the ride is smooth. I was walking to work, hands shoved deep in pockets, frosty nosed and I had a moment of thinking God, I never want to stop feeling this deeply. I never want to stop feeling like a teenager with a soaring heart when I have music that switches something on coming through my headphones. When you feel things deeply you get to experience all of those layers and that is a fucking gift.
But the point is, with the sheer highs come the utterly glum lows. Of course, how would either one side be sustainable alone. You need to air the whole thing out, to turn between the two. To keep moving, not static. Otherwise you wouldn't recognise soaring, even if it hit you across your frosty nose.
And so it follows. Last week I was building fires in my parents' woodburner on a daily basis, gladly cocooned in Christmas. Back in London, I was giddily sharing gelatinous steamed spring rolls on New Years Day with cute company. It follows that a little wave of grey could come, a sense of battling against a crowd but not being seen. Working in a building with 300 other people who check their phones whilst waiting for the kettle to boil, or the lift to reach the ground. Living in a city of 8.6 million who barge by (like I usually do) on a day when you need to go slow.
I'm writing this to put it somewhere. The fragility of mental health continues to be an absolute revelation to me, with every year that passes. There's still this side of me that thinks Jesus, why didn't my parents warn me? I knew there was something that separated adults and children, I just thought it was something vacuous like paying bills, or occasionally scary like cervical cancer screenings. I didn't realise being an adult involves sometimes turning around to find a fucking large cresting wave coming your way.
Words continue to bring solace, even if it's not always uncomplicated solace. Stringing words together is obviously a labour of it's own, and one that very much takes on the shape of ones mood. It's my day job, and the thing I try to tuck into my other hours too. Not always successfully, sometimes I spend more time admonishing myself for not writing, that my finest moments of eloquence will forever be confined to my Instagram captions. (No wonder Zadie Smith won't buy an iPhone.) But you keep chipping away.
The thing i've been wanting to get to, is swans. This week Helen MacDonald wrote this utterly beautiful piece of writing about swan upping, English national identity and a Stanley Spencer painting. I suppose that reading it was, for me, the equivalent of going to that greenhouse and finding a warm pond to dip a finger into. It is crammed with warmth: of the high July sun on skin, and a tenderness towards complicated feelings. Peppered throughout are dozens of words new to me.
So I think the task is to keep chipping away and finding warmth wherever it can be located, even if it takes a while. The tasks change over time, of course, but this one never feels far from the surface. I'm quite absorbed by the fact that next week marks the two year anniversary of my Granny dying. So my immediate task is wading through that. But this week, reading about the little boy describing the feeling of holding a cygnet threw off some heat of it's own.