On a recent sodden weekend walk, I tried to cheer myself up by thinking: it’s not so bad. Not the slugs or the sky or the rain making its way down a gap between neck and waterproof. But I couldn’t do it. Losing heart, I turned back. Glump, glump, glump through the puddles.
But I am aberrant. Melancholy is against the rules nowadays. I should have put on my yellow wellies, twirled my spotty umbrella, photographed myself in the garden and put it online with the hashtag #singingintherain. That’s what everyone else seems to be doing.
I do not want to Keep Calm and Be Happy. I am not moved to ‘Clap along because I’m happy’ as Pharrell Williams exhorts from every radio from March until October. I am not chivvied along by ‘fitness inspo’, ‘wellness inspo’ or ‘bluesky inspo’ social media posts.
Just as we have medicalised the irrepressible energy of the noisy younger brother into ADHD, the shyness of the gauche teenager into being ‘on the spectrum’ of autism and the anxious habits of the fastidious soul into OCD, so we are in danger of recasting low spirits as a disorder of mind and temperament. Of course there are people whose lives are made appallingly difficult by autism or Asperger’s syndrome, who are held back by crippling obsessive compulsive behaviour, just as there are those who are overwhelmed by depressions and despair. Extreme, unmanageable unhappiness deserves every sympathy and all the weapons in our medical and holistic arsenal. But feeling hopeless on grey days, wretched on long commutes, neglected when children do not call or abject when a boyfriend breaks things off — that is life, it is not a failing of will nor a failure to ‘thrive’.
– Laura Freeman