This article is dedicated to my friend, Cazmo.
A few months ago, I was having a Bad Day. It was not a unique or distinctive type of bad day, but pretty similar to the kinds of bad days many people experience. I felt despair and loneliness, a sense of uselessness, and that my existence didn’t matter at all. I didn’t want to challenge my thinking or do a guided meditation or reach out to friends to cheer me up. I was Stuck and felt completely incapable of and uninterested in doing anything about it.
A friend, who was not aware of my Bad Day or my Stuckness, messaged me to share an in-joke that had reminded her of me, and asked me how I was doing. I believe in honesty and destigmatising unpleasant feelings, so I told her. She confided that she was also having a challenging time, and told me that when she felt down, she liked to spend time with trees.
My friend is in Victoria and I am in Far North Queensland, so she asked me what kinds of trees we had up here. I was initially ashamed to admit I didn’t know what they were all called, but she said that sometimes she didn’t know either, so she just made up names for them.
I got out of bed and washed my face, and went for a walk around my apartment complex taking photos of the trees. As I walked around, I remembered how beautiful the vegetation is in this part of the world, and in the complex where I live. I noticed the incredible ways the roots reached down to the ground from the mangroves, and the breathtaking array of pinks, oranges, and yellows in the leaves. I remembered Ram Dass’s quote about trees, and how we accept them in all their bentness and stumpiness, and appreciate them the way they are.
Then I came back and sent the photos one at a time to my friend, giving each one a name and a backstory. She asked me questions about them (“Can I call him Steve, or does he prefer Steven?”), and by the end of it we were both laughing and the rest of my day was just fine. It got me unstuck in a way I didn’t think was possible.
Since I work in mental health, I was naturally curious about why this was so effective and how this kind of effectiveness could be replicated, both for myself, and for people I care about. I’ve had a go at breaking it down into elements.
She didn’t give me advice or try to fix me. If she had said “Larissa, you need to get out of the house and look at trees to feel better,” I’d probably have blocked her and gone back to being more mopey than before. Instead, the tree walk was inspired by an organic idea and curiosity that did not feel imposed or ‘advicey’. I did not feel like she was telling me what to do, suggesting she knew what was best for me, or positioning herself as an expert on my mental health.
It got me out of the house and into the sunshine. It’s no secret that fresh air, physical movement, nature, and sunshine are therapeutic unto themselves!
It gave me something else to think about. My Stuckness had me ruminating on all my perceived problems. My feelings fed into my thoughts (“Everything sucks”) and those thoughts fed back into my feelings in a kind of hellish feedback loop. Thinking about trees, what I should name them, and what their backstories were was a welcome circuit breaker.
It gave me a sense of purpose. Since my friend was genuinely curious about the trees, I switched from ruminating on my worthlessness into doing something meaningful for another person. When we’re in crisis or survival mode, we are innately self-focused, so a simple pattern interrupt like this, where we have something to do for another person, can break the pattern of Stuckness.
It was creative. I’m a writer and a storyteller, so inventing and describing these stories fed back into my sense of self-worth. Doing what we love and what we are good at is a beautiful self-esteem booster, as long as we’re not doing it specifically to try and prove our worth. It gave me a pressure-free and fun way to engage in a creative activity that makes me feel good, purely with the objective of sharing and connecting with a friend.
It was mindful. I’ve lived here for three months, and I’d never taken the time to stop and notice the details of intricate leaf patterns, or the way ferns clump and protrude from the trunks of towering palm trees. I’d never noticed how the complex managers had installed lanterns inside the root systems of the mangroves to light up the pool area at night. Observing and photographing these things brought me out of my future-focused anxiety and past-focused depression, and into the present, where everything was, in fact, quite beautiful.
It was hilarious. Laughter is the best medicine!
It was social connection. The therapeutic effects of social connection and support are well documented, and the fact that this friend took the time to be with me when I wasn’t ‘at my best’ was a lifeline unto itself.
How you reconstruct these elements, for yourself or for those you care about, is entirely up to you. Humans are marvellously and frustratingly unique and complex creatures, and there is no such thing as ‘one size fits all’. But may I suggest you have fun trying?
If you’re having your own experience of Bad Days and feeling Stuck and would like to talk to us about having support on your journey, get in touch for a free consultation call today.