Pardon my elastic mood
Have things always been this bad? No. But don't tell my brain that.
Last week, I received a couple pieces of bad news. The news was not catastrophically bad; rather, it was standard-issue stuff that comes with being a freelancer.
A well-adjusted person may have responded to this news with a shrug of their shoulders, perhaps a little time to feel disappointed, and a renewed spirit to get back out there and look for more opportunities.
I, on the other hand, treated this news as if it was catastrophically bad. I used words like always and never. I panicked. I convinced myself that I was a failure—and had been for a long time. My mood darkened, and that darkness enveloped everything in my sight.
Culture writer Haley Nahman calls this mindset an “elastic mood.” As she defines it, an elastic mood occurs “when a mood is so overwhelming you mistake the intensity of it for the longevity of it.”
Nahman explains that elastic moods are most likely to happen when you’re upset about something—work, relationships, money, health, and so on. “If the anxiety you’re experiencing is profound enough, it can feel all-encompassing, as if you’ve felt that way forever,” she explained.
People experiencing an elastic mood tend to rewrite history—curating details that support how bad they feel. Last week, I told Billy that things were always this stressful, that we hadn’t been able to relax for months. Never mind the fact that we enjoyed some much-needed lightness just last week.
“When you’re in an elastic mood, despairing about your entire life, rather than, say, the last week, or even the last day, can feel like the emotional truth,” Nahman said. “But actually you’re just being textbook-dramatic.”
Textbook-dramatic is one way to put it. On the heels of my discouraging freelance news, I came up with all sorts of worst-case scenarios. I let my mind wander to a future where we’d be struggling to pay our bills and put food on the table. I blamed myself for everything.
I was deep in an elastic mood—one ruled by anxiety, fear, and self-hatred. And I couldn’t find my way out.
I’m writing this almost a week after I received that bad news, and a few days after peak spiraling. I’m happy to share that, while I’m not fully out of the hole I’d crawled into, my head is above ground. My elastic mood has gotten a lot less stretchy. I am stopping myself from using absolutes like always and never.
In the midst of my panic, I was reminded of some advice that Heather Havrilesky recently offered to a writer who seemed to be deep within her own elastic mood. “It just doesn’t seem like anything will change, and that fills me with unspeakable dread,” the advice-seeker wrote.
I’m certain I spoke some version of those words last week.
As always, Havrilesky offered wise and relatable advice. Perhaps her most interesting observation—at least to me, a writer—was how this person was capable of welding words to heighten her moods.
“We’re good writers because we’re capable of DRAMATICALLY NEGATIVE states and DRAMATICALLY POSITIVE states,” Havrilesky said. “I’m not talking about a clinical diagnosis here. I’m talking about having a very sharp critical lens.”
“Your lenses are crystal clear and everything looks focused and beautiful or they’re dark and smudged and everything looks pathetic and hopeless,” she continued. “You want to be a writer because you want to USE this ability to refract and reflect and focus and zoom in and out. You can see the layers of raw horror and boundless joy in every small thing.”
Yes. Yes. Yes.
I know this advice wasn’t directed at me, but it may as well have been. I am prone to depression and anxiety, like so many of us. I am also prone to making a hard period much harder, thanks to the words I use—out loud, on paper, and in my own head. When I’m in a dark place, I convince myself (and do my best to convince others) that things are bleak, and always have been. I tell myself that they’ll never get better.
I don’t love this about myself. I don’t think anyone loves this about me. Being kinder to myself—and choosing my words with more care and compassion—is something I’ve been working on for a long time. It’s part of the tag line of this newsletter! Whenever I think about what both Jamie and my dad would want for me, much less the people I love who are alive, it’s to be more gentle with myself.
And last week, I was not gentle.
The good news is that my elastic moods don’t last as long as they used to. As I get older, as I get better at being kind to myself, as I think more and more often about the kind of example I want to set for my daughter—my negative moods lose their stretch. In the past, I’d wallow in a dark place for days or weeks. Now, before I know it, I’m searching for a way out of that pit.
After all, there are no opportunities in that dark place. No helpful perspectives. No creative solutions to whatever problems I’m facing. The hole holds darkness and nothing else.
I know I’m being a little vague about the news that sent me into that spiral and what I’m planning to do next. That’s because I’m still in it. As much as I’d like this newsletter to be real-time, most topics, I’ve discovered, are better addressed with some distance and perspective.
There’s a good chance that, by the time you read these words, I’ll be out of my pit. But that doesn’t mean that there’s not another hole—or two, or twelve, or twenty thousand holes—ahead. No matter how hard I try or how much good luck I have, there will always be something in life that sends me tumbling back to a dark place. That’s how life works.
I can’t control what darkness is ahead. But I can choose to crawl out of dark places.
“You’re going to struggle no matter what you do, because life is difficult and writing is hard and being sensitive and intense and neurodivergent and prone to depression makes it all harder,” Havrilesky said to the writer who is not me but might as well be me.
“The paradox of someone who struggles with everything is that they thrive when they’re juggling, engaging, and exerting themselves, as long as they also give themselves clear rewards and rest periods,” she added.
This, too, resonated deeply. Last week, I texted a friend and shared my frustrating freelance news. “Ugh, I’m sorry you have to deal with that,” she said. “It’s ok to figure it out tomorrow or next week, and take some time to just be.”
Permission to just be. That’s what I needed. Perhaps my elastic mood served a purpose after all. It stretched and stretched and stretched until it snapped—sending me back into reality with a clearer head and a renewed spirit to tackle next steps.
And that’s what I’ll do. All while being kind to myself.
p.s. This week, paying subscribers are getting a host of valuable resources—including a fun update about a high school classmate who was on Jeopardy! If you’re a paying subscriber (thank you!), keep on scrollin’ for the goods. If you’re not yet a paying subscriber, here’s your chance!