It’s so consuming, isn’t it? Like a dark gas that fills up your entire body and makes you wonder if you’ll ever feel normal again.
Sometimes it lasts for a day. Sometimes, two. Sometimes it’s a bad month or a bad year. Sometimes it’s because someone broke your heart. Sometimes it’s just because it’s winter and it’s dark all the time. Sometimes it’s because your friend just got promoted at work or experienced an incredible success in one way or another, and you’re still just sitting here, being plain old you, wanting to feel happy for them but instead feeling panicky about how much worse this makes you feel, and then feeling even more awful because what kind of person are you if you can’t even be happy for your friend?
But whether it’s because of a friend’s success or because of your own broken heart or because you miss the long and warm days of summer or because of no reason at all – and whether it lasts for a day or three days or 246 days, you’re not the first person to feel this way and you won’t be the last.
I wish I could write you a list. A step-by-step guide of exactly what you need to do to stop feeling unhappy. But I can’t, because that’s not how unhappiness works. There are certainly things you can do to try to brighten your days a little bit – to make your home cozier and to do things that make you feel less alone and to find ways to help you keep your head above water until you can climb out of this hole. But there’s no trick to simply get rid of unhappiness, to wet your fingers and extinguish the flame in an instant.
But what you can do, in the meantime, is be kind to yourself. And being kind to yourself means a lot of different things. It means being gentle with yourself, and doing everything in your control to keep yourself comfortable and healthy – getting enough sleep, taking time to rest when you need it, going for walks, eating well, leaning on loved ones when things are really hard.
But being kind to yourself, especially when you’re unhappy, can also mean being hard on yourself. Refusing to let yourself wallow. Getting out of bed and making yourself go to work, no matter how cold or dark it is outside, or how sad you feel internally. Forcing yourself to exercise, even if it’s the last thing you want to do, even if all it means is walking outdoors for twelve minutes. Taking your friends up on their offer to spend time with you, even when all you feel like doing is hiding under the covers and being alone – because you know, deep down, no matter what you feel like doing on the surface, that what you really need is to be in the company of people who love you.
You have to do these things, these harder things, when you’re unhappy. You have to be strong, you have to take care of yourself. You have to tell yourself you are tough, repeatedly, every single day, even if you don’t believe it. You have to keep moving, you have to keep going.
The people who got out of these dark times before you weren’t better than you, or stronger than you, or less burdened than you. They felt weak and sad and like they were barely hanging on – just like you. BUT, they kept going.
You’re not wrong for being unhappy. You’re not a freak or a failure. You’re not lazy or seeking attention. What you are is a person. And when you’re a person, sometimes you experience painful, almost-crippling bouts of unhappiness. Sometimes there is a reason for it, sometimes not.
But all you need to remember is that you’re human, you’re okay, you’re not wrong for feeling this way. You have to be kind to yourself, you have to be kind enough to be hard on yourself. And most of all, you have to remember you’re not alone, you’re never alone, and this is exactly what connects you to every other person in this world.
Written by Kim Quindlen
This article was originally published in thoughtcatalog.com