What Makes Us Feel Better When We’re Sad?
by Isabel Slone
Everyone has a favourite activity for when they’re mildly depressed. For some, it’s huddling in bed with a comforter pulled up around their ears to shield against this cruel world; for others, it’s donning neon underwear and blasting “Deceptacon” for an impromptu bedroom dancing party.
My own ministrations involve watching old episodes of Freaks and Geeks I’ve already seen at least four times, soothing myself with the familiarity. (If I need a quick hit of joy, it’s straight to Youtube to watch a 47-second clip of Bill Haverchuck stutter “You cut me off mid funk!”) When that’s not working, I go watch videos of Michael Clark. For the unitiated who may not share my interest in post-punk and wacky outfits — -Michael Clark is the apotheosis of the two combined. He was the enfant terrible of 1980s contemporary dance and you can watch old videos of him leaping gracefully along to the jagged guitar screeches of The Fall in ass-baring leotards or polka dot face paint. And now that it’s November, I’ll surrender to the sweeping melancholy of the Arcade Fire’s The Suburbs and let the music seep into my listless limbs.
The point is, no one is immune to getting the mean reds, the SADs, the abject paralyzing fear of continuing to live your own life. No matter what you want to call it we all have our own unique ways of coping with the world when everything turns to shit, and I’ve made it my mission to collect some of the “sadness routines” of some of my favourite people on the Internet and IRL.
So here’s to buying an entire box of Hallowe’en candy for yourself and eating it while watching The Craft. Here’s to buying overpriced essential oils and pouring them in the bath. Here’s to putting your socks in the microwave to warm your feet. And most of all, here’s to allowing ourselves to wallow and assuage our guilt with the knowledge that hopefully soon we’ll feel temporarily a little bit better.
I’ve been struggling with depression since I was about eleven. There’s this general overall feeling of “meh” that hangs over me that I’ve gotten used to for the most part, but every once in a while I get spells, what I like to think of as flare ups of my disease, and during those moments I can end up staying in bed for days and bingeing on really unhealthy foods. In the past few months I’ve become really interested in discovering what I need to do to get myself out of those ruts in the most healthy and organic way. Lately, two things have helped immensely: watching the absolutely glorious 1997 Spice Girls Live in Istanbul concert, and washing my hair. I have thick, 4C natural hair that takes a full day to wash. I cleanse it with lots of yummy smelling things like coconut and peppermint oil, comb it out section by section, and braid it down. It’s a perfect, soothing ritual, and it reminds me how good it feels to take care of myself.
When I am sad, which thankfully doesn’t happen too often anymore (coping mechanisms are a real thing, it turns out?), my sadpants rituals revolve mostly around wallowing. I enjoy the act of wallowing in my sadness because feeling sad is a reminder that I am alive and breathing and existing in this world. So I tend to enjoy things on the sad end of the aesthetic spectrum. Bloom by Beach House is one of my favorite records; it stirs my soul while letting me get lost in a quiet daze. I also listen to Give Up by Zelienople and Untrue by Burial. Those albums are the sound of pure loneliness.
Everything I can think of is so clichéd and corny, like “long walks in unfamiliar neighborhoods” or “being around animals.” (Clichéd but effective!) I am also a big fan of comfort reads: my top ones are Home Cooking by Laurie Colwin (which usually inspires me to at least make some kind of dinner, another comforting ritual) and I Capture The Castle by Dodie Smith.
“I wanna run a 5k but in terms of emotional distance” is something I tweeted on October 21st and I really mean it. I think part of being a Cancerian, a Somali girl, a Drake aficionado and the oldest daughter has meant I’ve always been the most emotionally available person in the room at any given time. I have to be because if I’m not then who is going to be the mother hen to everyone? I’ve been on an emotional hiatus, now, since about June/July, when I sort of put myself in a couple unsafe situations that I realized could have been avoided if people didn’t sense that I’m the kind of person who is open, perhaps to a fault, to giving up a lot of myself. The good news is these situations have inspired my dedication to self-care!
Self-care, for me, is intentionally finding the things that can help facilitate good feelings. Caring for myself has taken on different forms over the last two years but I didn’t start intentionally seeking out things that make me feel good until a little over a year ago. I didn’t get good at treating myself until this year. I think part of the struggle, earlier on, was that I thought treating myself meant self-indulgence: binge-eating, binge-watching, etc. This would make me feel disgusting and sometimes more sad. In the last few months, I’ve learned that treating myself, when done right, strikes a balance. Treating myself will never be a moderate act but it doesn’t have to be self-indulgent, either. For me, and I think for Drake, it’s “somewhere between I Want It and I Got It.” Meaning, on any given sad day I try to remind myself that the sadness is a weird space between desiring things outside of myself (food, people, places, material things) and acknowledging that I’ve got me. Striking a balance between my desires and my acknowledgment that the most important thing in the world is this body is really important. It can be drinking barley grass-infused smoothies in the morning to nourish myself. But it can also be watching Gilmore Girls on Netflix while eating a bag of chips on a Friday night. I try to resist junk food but sometimes a bag of chips can solve all the sadness, especially if you’re from Minneapolis, the capital of Hot Cheetos & Takis.
- Re-watching Gilmore Girls (it’s always been sort of like a safety blanket to me)
- Online shopping
- Being in a warm, dark place
- Listening to sad music
- If I’m sad I like to indulge in those sad feelings for a day and make sure that I have plans and goals for the next day like starting on new art projects or cleaning my home. Staying busy is the best way to get over long-term sadness.
I’ve been told it helps to dress your best when you feel your worst. I don’t know if that works because I’ve never tried it. When I feel my worst, I will do little more than wash my face. I retreat to a soft spot under the blankets and watch truly bad reality shows starring people I don’t like with problems far from mine, like Teen Mom, The Real Housewives, The Bachelorette, and Keeping Up with the Kardashians. I follow my cat around the house and do as she does. I eat whatever I am craving, even if it means a bagel for every meal and sweets for snacks. When I’m sad, I close myself off from the things that might hurt me when I’m already hurting. I surround myself with the important stuff like my family and cat and comfort food and with the trivial plotlines of movies, TV and tabloids. I become the master of distraction, and by the time the storm passes, I emerge unscathed.
Sometimes I just need to indulge an urge for sleep and carbohydrates. This time of year especially, if I’m having a Soft Day I just need to make a big bowl of pasta with olive oil and garlic and salt and pepper, eat it, and then get in my bed for 10 hours. Feels good. (An important second part of this is to force yourself out of bed the next day to eat fresh fruits and vegetables and go for a bike ride or something.)
When I’m sad — -and I mean, like, bearable sad not the terrifying kind that makes you listless — -I usually indulge in things that make me feel good about myself. I’ve been going to yoga a lot and it really works wonders at taking me out of my head without replacing it with the anger that I feel toward exercise. This is probably my healthiest mental health coping mechanism. Everything else is very ridiculous and not insightful at all because it’s about letting me be me and banishing the hater feelings. Here are some things I like to do: Spend a lot of time alone. Chug red wine. Watch twerk videos and practice my glute isolation techniques. Solo dinner at a great restaurant (a good replacement for junk food, plus you feel like a boss for being able to ball out on yourself). Attempt to teach tricks to my very indifferent cat. The other day I went to Dollarama and found a blank mask in the Halloween section and I painted it like the Makonnen doll heads from the new “Tuesday” video and that was very relaxing so I’m going to try and paint more. Price vacations that I can’t afford. Listen to my favourite sad song, “Drop The World.” If I’m braindead-sad: watch back episodes of Sex and the City or Love & Hip-Hop. If I’m hopeful-sad: binge-watch a television series with an empowering female lead like The Good Wife or Scandal or Damages. I don’t write. When I was younger and sadder I’d write through my feelings all the time but that doesn’t come so easily anymore; that’s another thing I don’t wanna feel sad about. Also, I look back on old Instagram photos of my friends and I a lot, especially from the past year or so, which has been wonderful. That’s the only exception to my number one sad-times rule: stay off the fucking internet.
When I am sad I like to sit on my fiance’s lap. Barring that I’ll take a bath and call my best friend Sarah McKetta, and she’ll be like, “Are you in the bath?” and I’ll be like, “How can you tell?” Because, you know, I’ve tastefully adjusted the camera. And she will say, “The tiles,” and she will say, “I love you.” Peanut butter, club soda, and David Iserson’s book Firecracker have also helped. OH MY GOD I totally forgot French fries.
There’s always a question of scale that helps me discern appropriate tools for addressing the ache, though I don’t think sadness is a “thing” you “fix”. Sadness is a recondite creature that must be plied with treats in order to cultivate harmony between me and it. If there is an upside to sadness, it’s that it can force you into self-care.
Quotidian pangs of grief can be soothed by indulgences of personal taste. On these days I may not even come home from work, lest my risible boyfriend bounce me out of my mood too early. I do not pass GO, I do not collect $200, I go straight to a greasy old diner and zone out over a burger and fries with a fat stack of magazines on the side — -ArtForum, Purple, and Mousse are great if I’m feeling well enough to court stimulation, but the main goal here is riding a fine line between comfort and torpor, so I generally won’t fuck with any level of discourse above what is available at Walgreens.
Eating a taco on the street helps. Wandering around a bookstore helps. When I am broke, I’ll take a long walk and kind of mentally unpack whatever is bothering me. I try to keep my phone off. I peer at strangers and freak out on their consciousness. I try to be grateful for it.
Christina Catherine Martinez
When I’m sad, I first try to figure out why I’m sad: was there a trigger? Is it just winter? Is it PMS? Is it stress? Is it professional frustration? Is it just a case of the feelings? If I can answer the question without crying or wanting to curl up in bed, I then try to figure out what to do about it. Sometimes, if I just need to cry — if I need that immediate catharsis — I cry. If I can’t cry, I’ll watch a movie or read something that once made me cry. Sometimes I’ll go for a walk or go to a museum because I need to clear my head or at least pinpoint why I’m feeling this particular way right now. I also email my closest friends. The most reliable cure-all is a combination of something that both excites me (ideas-wise) and makes me laugh. Right now, it’s this podcast Gilmore Guys; any of Katt Williams’ brilliant stand-up specials; Public Speaking (the Fran Lebowitz documentary — -actually, anything written by Fran Lebowitz). Mostly these things take me out of myself and help me deal by putting my sadness in perspective. If it’s seasonal — if it’s the SADs — I don’t know what to do yet, and that makes me sad, too, because there’s already less light in a day.
Sara Black McCulloch