For those who have lived in London for some time, you might remember a series run by an artist, Notes to Strangers. Little quotes strategically placed on lampposts, letter boxes and bins throughout the city by street artist, Andy Leek.
The little mindful moments were a personal project by the artist, designed to lift people’s moods, connect communities and to make people feel less alone in this big city. It was so successful that Andy was then commissioned to do a three-month residency in King’s Cross.
It was a project that really stuck with me. I had seen the notes and had a little smile to myself about the messages they conveyed, but it was one of the last I saw that really struck a chord. On a bright pink poster read the words ‘Even the happiest person in the world feels sad sometimes’.
I pride myself on being a pretty happy person
It may have been the incessant drizzle and dull grey skies or the result of a busy week without enough sleep, but I was most definitely feeling a bit sadder than usual that day. The quote made me think more deeply about why.
I pride myself on being a pretty happy person. I have been referred to as “jolly Jenni” on more than one occasion and feel forever grateful that my life, friends and family enable me to feel like this most of the time. But, as much as this is a blessing, it can also come with pressure.
I feel like I always need to bring my A-game and any ‘less than 100%’ moments potentially hit harder – a self-imposed shame and guilt, like I am letting people down with my lack of happy vibes. I am, however, not a superhero and, as we all do, I occasionally get hit by a little bout of unexplained sadness, which serves to knock me off-kilter.
I actively celebrate my choices. Apart from on these rare sad occasion
For the few hours that it sticks around, it makes me feel rather uneasy. Life choices I’ve made suddenly become concerns. I think that this often comes down to the fact that I am single in my 30s when a lot of my friends are ‘settling down’.
I have a brilliant, independent life in central London with friends, travelling, cooking and a doing a demanding job that I love. But in these occasional low moments, I suddenly start questioning everything. Will I ever settle down as society dictates that I should? Why are so many of my friends married with multiple children, seemingly living the dream, while I continue on my one-woman mission to absolutely live the best life possible?
These things do not bother me on a day-to-day basis and I actively celebrate my choices. Apart from on these rare sad occasions.
Taking mental health breaks feels necessary
It doesn’t happen often and, when it does, I have a sure-fire list of things that I know will cheer me up. Getting some good old endorphins flowing is key for me, therefore a sweaty spin session or 50 laps of the pool usually serves to perk me up. Follow this with a good old natter with my sister, some quality time with my Kitchen Aid whipping up some baked delights and a good sing-song and I am right as rain again, ready to keep on living my best life.
For those of us in our 30s and 40s who are maybe not quite conforming to what is seen as the societal norm of settling down, it can sometimes feel like we are being left behind. So taking mental health breaks feels necessary to actively choose a life that makes sense to us, rather than society.
Many of our friends are having a second baby and choosing where to live according to the best schools, while we go about our lives looking after number one and (quite frankly) having a lovely time.
Even the happiest person feels sad sometimes
I am lucky enough to work at Flash Pack where I’m surrounded by like-minded people who also aren’t necessarily following a conventional path in life. In their 30s and 40s they may well be single and travelling the world, rather than settling down with 2.5 kids and a mortgage. I’m reminded of the fact that we are a growing demographic who would do well to shun societal expectations in order to enjoy life to the full.
Mental Health Awareness Week typically runs every October but as a constant note for the rest of the year, I just wanted to send a little reminder to all of you out there that, no matter what your situation, even the happiest person in the world feels sad sometimes. And, more importantly, that is totally okay.
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Images: courtesy of Jenni Shaw