Monthly Archives: January 2017

Over a dozen readers’ tips for rough days.

In yesterday’s post I confessed to my occasional habit of taking extended bus journeys if I’m feeling grim, then asked what readers do when they’re going through a tough time.

There were stacks of great comments. Busloads in fact. So I thought I’d bring you some edited highlights.

Maybe one or two will inspire you. Thanks, everyone, for their super suggestions.

Like me, Patricia T. has been known to get on the bus when things get rocky, although she’s fortunate enough to have a bus that winds its way through narrow Devon lanes.

Jude takes the bus ride thing to a whole new level, fantasising that one day she might stay aboard after her usual stop, and travel the length of the country. Now that’s what I call a bus ride.

Sue S. had a great reflection on why heading off on a bus might work, noting that she can relax when she’s out of the house because her To-Do list doesn’t hover over her. Sue P. agreed with this notion.

Lostinspace, who lives in France, is going to try the bus idea in Paris, but says it’s a shame that Parisian buses aren’t double-deckers as “the top deck is such a good place to disconnect.”

Others have favourite destinations they like to visit.

Cate H., for example, is a fan of heading for the coast on a grey day, Brighton being her resort of choice.

Christine M. finds comfort in the reassurance of a favourite coffee shop, to be surrounded by others without the need to interact with anyone except the barista.

Andrew James C. says that driving through the snow-covered Hungarian countryside recently with his wife and son gave them a much-needed sense of time and space.

And Engelchen’s technique? Head off to the nearest town, and play a people-watching tourist – with a glass of wine and a bite to eat.

Getting out in the fresh air is another popular approach.

“A Friend of this Blog” finds great solace in taking the dog for a long walk, using one of those plastic throwers to play long-distance fetch, and says “My dog is better than drugs…”

Katie loves to get out and do some gardening on her rougher days. She says getting her hands in the soil makes her feel connected to the Earth (and the earth, presumably, Katie).

Martin S. has a super suggestion, which is going for a walk with headphones and a podcast.

Then there are a bunch of less pigeon-hole-able ideas.

For example, Karl recommends a number of strategies, including remembering that there are others much worse off than yourself.

Cathy uses four techniques when she’s low. She texts people to keep in contact without getting overwhelmed. She knits or sews. She listens to radio plays, to get some ‘virtual’ human contact. (Love that idea Cathy.) She also tries to get out for a walk.

Janis says she tries to do something “creative, different or new that I haven’t done before,” to break the monotony, and also recommends a book called The Emergency Poet by Deborah Alma, which sounds fascinating.

DIB checked that I was interested in hearing about more unusual strategies, then certainly delivered on that front by confessing to enjoying horror stories on grim days, because it allows DIB to breathe a sigh of relief that “at least … you don’t … have to worry about a zombie attack.” DIB did very responsibly add that this unusual approach probably wouldn’t work for everyone. Quite.

Finally, a poignant reminder from someone who signs themselves Black Dog that, at times, even the tried and tested tips don’t work. Going through a particularly bad spell at the moment (sorry to hear that) Black Dog says: “I’ll go get my duvet and climb under it… This too shall pass, I just wish it would hurry the hell up.

I’m afraid a lot of us may know that feeling now and then.

Man behaving strangely.

Let me tell you about something odd I’ve done in the past that was surprisingly helpful when my mood was low.

It’s on one condition, though.

You see, I’d really love to know if you’ve discovered other peculiar, but strangely helpful, solutions in the past, yourself.

Pop them in a comment on the blog, please, and I’ll round them up and share them in the form of a future post.

OK, it’s confession time. I’ll go first.

When I lived in Peterborough (I left the UK a little over three years ago now) there were days when I felt so wretched that I really couldn’t face working, or even having much to do with anyone else.

But I knew that if I didn’t get out of the house soon, I’d start climbing the walls.

So on more than a couple of occasions, I rode the bus from the stop just along the street all the way to the end of its route.

I got off, wherever I’d ended up, then waited for a return bus to take me home.

It was oddly calming to be driven along unfamiliar roads, knowing I’d easily be able to get home.

But in the time I was on the bus, there was little I could do other than sit and enjoy the view.

I can’t be more specific than that about why it worked, but it kind of did.

So now it’s your turn.

Don’t be shy. Or if you are, simply use a nom de plume when you leave a comment.

Surely I can’t be the only one to have found comfort in eccentric behaviour when the black dog called?

Surely.

What are you?

This is a just a brief message to let you know that I think you’re amazing.

I know you don’t always have it easy, but I’m proud of the way you keep battling on, with that sense of determination of yours.

Life’s not always straightforward, is it?

And sometimes the road seems to have more curves than a truckload of bananas.

In spite of these challenges, though, you put one foot in front of the other, and battle on through good times and bad.

I know there are times when things can seem pretty bleak, but even then you’re able to remember that there’s almost always light at the end of the tunnel.

So, let’s just agree, shall we?

You’re amazing.

The whole world smiles with you.

There’s a window right next to the desk at which I usually sit in Stanford’s main library. Actually, since there’s another window right behind me, it could be described as a corner office. I knew I’d get there in the end.

From my side, the glass is slightly tinted. From the outside it’s semi-reflective, resulting in the odd phenomenon of people sometimes standing close to the window outside, using it as a mirror while they do their hair or makeup.

It’s always a bit difficult to know where to look when this happens, so I generally pretend I haven’t noticed them. If it was me outside, I think I’d be pretty embarrassed if I suddenly realised there was someone “behind the mirror.”

Anyway, every few days, a Dad stops immediately outside, with his baby and toddler. They leave their buggy behind while they come into the library, often to pick up books or a DVD for the kids. It’s a common enough occurrence, and I’m a frequent enough occupant of this same seat, that the Dad and I smile and nod to each other, albeit through the smokey/reflective window.

The older boy is generally so engrossed in whatever it is that he’s returning or has just borrowed, that he appears not to notice me.

This morning, however, his little brother – a mere babe in arms – looked directly into my eyes and beamed the cherubic smile of a little angel. Of course, although I’d definitely draw the line at describing my smile as anything even close to angelic, I beamed my grin right back.

But here’s the thing. Even a couple of hours after it happened, that two-way smile lit a fire that’s still keeping me warm.

Unfortunately it takes extra effort to smile on days when you really don’t feel like it. But isn’t it also true that it’s at times like these that you benefit the most from exchanging smiles with someone else? For some unknown reason, it can feel particularly good when you don’t actually know each other, too.

It doesn’t always work, of course, and it’s always faintly disturbing when your smile at someone is met with a total blank (I’ve never quite worked out why that happens), but there’s much to be said for seeing if you can get a smile out of someone else.

So do please do try it today, particularly if you happen to be outside the Green Library.

I promise to smile back.

From a word in your ear to some words on your screen.

Gosh, it was really encouraging yesterday to get such a lot of positive support for the “audio moodnudge” I linked to in my email, and posted on the blog. Thanks hugely to all who took the time to give me feedback.

If you didn’t catch the audio (which was just a couple of minutes long), it’s here.

I’m pretty sure we’ll do some more of that kind of audio thing, but for now it’s back to the good old written word.

Of course there’s a place for both the written and spoken word, but I’ve always believed that someone’s writing takes on a different dimension when you know what their voice sounds like, just as I’ve always found it easier to use Skype or Facetime with people I’ve already met in real life.

And now you know what I sound like. Three years into living in California, but I think still no sign of sounding ’Murican.

So, you and I start another week, and it’s good to note that by the time it’s over we’ll be just about out of January – not always the easiest month of the year. But, you know what, you’ve made it – or very nearly – so give yourself a pat on the back.

Spring, and then summer, aren’t really too far away in the northern hemisphere. So even on days when you may feel there’s little to look forward to (and we all get them from time to time, I’m sure) it’s good to hang on to the idea of new starts and fresh growth that springtime generally brings.

It won’t be long.

A lesson from the West Lawn.

They say that polite conversation should avoid sex, religion, and politics.

I trust we can include Moodnudges in the polite conversation category.

However, there’s just no getting away from the fact that, depending on when you read this, it’s either only a few hours until the 45th US President will be taking the oath of office, or it will all be over.

To be honest, California isn’t exactly teeming with Donald Trump supporters, part of which is explained by the fact that this part of the US has long been referred to as the Left Coast.

California traditionally votes Democrat.

But in the spirit of polite conversation, all I’d like to say on the matter is that once the election had taken place back in November, the fact that Mr. Trump was going to be in the White House was a done deal.

Some may not like it, but unless you’re a political activist, there’s frankly not a whole lot you can do about it other than accept it.

And isn’t there a parallel in general life with this?

I’m guessing that there may be certain things in your own life, as there are in mine, that aren’t entirely ideal.

There may be matters that you and I might wish were otherwise.

But although we may have the power to change some (and often, we do actually have more influence over more things than we may sometimes believe), there are probably others over which we have little control.

I think this is where practicing acceptance comes in, summed up nicely in what’s known as the Serenity Prayer:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.

Makes you think, doesn’t it?

There’s a new President. Let’s get on, shall we?

By the way, I should recognise that since I’ve now brought up politics and religion, I’d better sign off before I break all three rules.

That would be bonkers.

Rather late in the day.

Oops. Confession time.

When I wrote my diary this morning, listing all I’d done yesterday, I realised with a start that I didn’t produce today’s moodnudge.

So it’s currently 8:30 AM in California, 4:30 PM in the UK, I’m only just writing it, actually sitting in the car, using the coffee shop’s wi-fi.

Shame on me.

Still, at least it’s going to be hot off the press.

Yesterday was a busy day, with lots of social contact, which I know was good for me.

I was also working on a brand-new project (top secret for now, but I’ll be able to talk about it soon – suffice to say, it is of course in the emotional health field).

I mention this as I noticed how easy it was for me to overlook my routines on a busy day, and it’s these routines that often underpin my life with a relatively secure foundation.

I wonder if you, too, sometimes experience this?

You become distracted by life’s other stuff, in the process neglecting what keeps you grounded and well (I had toast and marmalade for “dinner” last night – not a great choice, nutritionally–speaking.)

Let’s both keep this in mind today, making sure we pay proper attention to the routines and practices that keep us on track.

Right, I’m off for a medical examination right now.

Don’t think I’ll mention the toast and marmalade, though.

The joy of being wrong.

I told a friend the other day about being in a thrift store recently, overhearing two boys of around 14 discussing an 8mm cine projector that was on the shelf.

“So how do you record on it?” one said to the other, who had no answer.

Of course, 8mm projectors didn’t work like that.

You “recorded” by shooting a reel of film, then sent it away for processing.

No way was I making fun of them, though.

Actually I was over the moon to eavesdrop on a conversation founded on pure curiosity.

A couple of young men growing up in Silicon Valley, with a hunger to learn about any technology, even one that went out of fashion years before they were born.

I write often about this kind of appetite with good reason, because learning something new can be a dependable way to build happiness.

But there’s a twist in this tale of tired technology.

You see, yesterday I was back in the same thrift store, mooching through the electrical equipment, only to spot that very same projector.

(It hadn’t exactly flown off the shelf.)

Here’s the thing, though.

When I examined it, er, it did actually have a panel labelled Record, and exploring it further, I discovered that there clearly used to be a type of 8mm film which came with a magnetic strip alongside the movie frames, allowing you to add your own soundtrack, albeit after you’d filmed your epic production.

Serves me right for chuckling at the two boys in the first place with my ha-ha-I-was-there kind of assumption.

However, I genuinely got a real kick out of finding out I was wrong.

For me, it was an amusing demonstration of the way we all (come on, it’s not just me) make assumptions that are sometimes wrong.

And it was a first-hand experience of the fun of learning something new.

See if you can find opportunities to do either of these today.

Catch yourself jumping to erroneous conclusions.

Discover something you didn’t know before.

Even better if both come in the same package.

Your invisible low mood.

I’m truly lucky to live in California.

I know I am.

But it often amuses me when others, based elsewhere, make the assumption that the sun always shines here, and that we spend all our time on the beach.

In fact, it’s been about six months since I even saw the ocean, and the mornings in particular are pretty chilly right now.

Ice-scraping the car is a more or less daily morning routine at the moment.

I’m definitely not complaining, though.

For one thing, it could be tons worse.

For another, it’s actually nice to have at least a little seasonal variability across the year.

In fact, the only reason I raise it at all is because the slightly false impression others may have of the Californian weather is not so far removed from the situation in which, even though you know you suffer from depression, others think you’re nothing but a little ray of sunshine.

In fact, I still vividly recall the moment, 10 years ago, when I told two of my best friends that I’d seen a psychiatrist about my 30 years of on/off depression.

They smiled at me in the way you might act if a friend told you they’d been abducted by aliens 30 years ago, and replaced with a cyborg.

“We hear you,” they seemed to say, “but we know you can’t be serious.”

I don’t blame them, in any way.

Actually, it was probably a compliment to my clearly Olivier-ian acting skills.

I’d become pretty expert at masking my feelings.

In retrospect, however, I don’t think this was such a great skill to have developed.

How the heck can people help you, if you aren’t at least somewhat honest about what you’re going through?

If you broke your arm, would it really be sensible to pretend you hadn’t?

Perhaps we try to keep our lowness away from others for fear of being judged, abandoned, or pitied.

In doing so, however, we deny ourselves the possibility of getting help from a fellow human being, or at the very least of having the chance to verbalise our emotions, which can often play a part in processing them.

Telling others how you feel doesn’t necessarily mean telling everyone, and it probably also shouldn’t mean dousing an unlucky few with a firehose of misery.

But making one small step towards “talking it out” can be invaluable, as can – just as importantly – being open to helping others do the same, with you as the listener.

Let’s talk.

Although it’s cold here, the sun’s also shining.