In terms of mental health, the last few days have not been amazing.
Actually, let’s back up a bit, and say the last few weeks. What I thought were a few days of fatigue and missing motivation dragged on, and all my hard-won productivity earlier this term has been negated by my complete failure to function when it comes to academics (or getting out of bed, or writing, or doing any of the things I want to do). Today I made it to a lecture only to go straight back to bed when I got home, and eventually this evening I decided the only thing for it was to make a late night trip to Sainsbury’s.
I need some more antihistamine, because I can’t concentrate when my eyes are doing their best impressions of waterfalls (I don’t even know what I’m reacting to at this point; I think I’m allergic to the universe), but I also needed to get out of college and do something physical. Braving the absurdly strong winds outside seemed like a good plan.
These being the winds that necessitated a college-wide email earlier asking students to make sure their windows are shut so that they’re not physically ripped from their hinges, the winds that caused one poor YikYak user’s keys to land in the river Cam (no news on whether they were retrieved). BBC Weather describes them as ‘gale force’. I figured with a leather jacket and my beanie pulled firmly over my ears, I’d risk it.
And I was right, the enforced exercise — walking against that wind is much harder than normal walking — helped, but that isn’t what prompted me to write this blog post. Whether it’s related to the winds or not, I got back to college and realised that the sky was completely clear, and there were stars everywhere. Hastily, I dumped my frozen food in the freezer (gluten free mac & cheese is a staple) and headed back outside to lie down on a precariously windswept bench and just appreciate the sky.
My corner of London may so far out that it’s practically Kent, but while we don’t have the Tube, we’ve still got the light pollution that characterises the city. It’s rare to see many stars at all, so though I’ve been interested in them for years, I can’t identify many constellations besides Orion’s Belt, the Plough, Cassiopeia…
Lying on that bench I managed to pick out those (I think; the Plough was obscured by trees, as far as I could work out), and hundreds more that I had no names for. I was struck by the sheer scale of the universe. We’re tiny! The essay I haven’t done, that makes me feel sick every time I think about it because I’ve built up an anxious block around it, is tiny! None of it matters! We are so infinitesimally small — so why I am so anxious? Why does it matter so much?
I’ve always loved stars. It’s no coincidence that when I was thirteen I finished my first novel, entitled A Sky Full Of Stars. More than six years and far too many other novels later, I’m still awed by them. I still stand there and stare at them. I still dance beneath them. It reminds me why I started writing in the first place: because we’re so tiny and the world is so huge and so full of stories that nobody will hear but need telling anyway.
(At this point I’d planned to give you an excerpt from that first novel, probably one of the scenes where my main character stares at the sky. But I just glanced over them and nope, I’ve posted some bad writing on here, but I wouldn’t go so far as to inflict that on you. Or on myself. IT BURNS, IT BURNS.)
I’ve found writing hard lately. I’m working on short stories for NaNoWriMo; maybe that’s a part of it. Short stories aren’t my strongest point and it doesn’t have the continuity of a novel, so I can’t even just keep plodding through. I have to know what I’m doing. And I’m struggling to put words on paper when it comes to work — I can barely even get through my reading list for my latest essay, so I don’t know how I’ll write the actual essay.
I’m not having a good mental health day/week/month, and a jaunt in the fresh air and a few mad pirouettes under a sky full of stars won’t fix that. It won’t make the anxiety go away, it won’t give me the energy to spend every day upright, and it won’t take away the nausea I still feel despite being gluten-free. (Not gonna lie, I’m feeling cheated by that.)
But it helps. And it reminds me that it’s probably worth it, in the end.
I’ve been reading Beauty Queens by Libba Bray (a review will follow at some point, but I don’t have the brainpower right now) and there’s a line where a character is talking about how there can be good things amidst all the awful things. As though the universe is saying
“Sorry for all the pain and loneliness and disappointment. But there is this, too.”
The stars tonight felt a bit like that. “Sorry about all the anxiety and the work crises and the poor health and the fatigue. Here’s an awesome starscape to make up for it. Here are winds that make you feel like if you tried, you could probably fly. Here’s a storm to remind you that you’re alive.”
I’m alive. And there are stars.
Sometimes that’s enough.