I used to volunteer in the Calais Jungle before it was destroyed in 2016. It was unlike any other place I have been, simultaneously heart breaking and magical. A group us would arrive in the Jungle with bags full of crayons, sequins and other bright shiny things to play with the children who lived there. After running activities like this for a few months, we decided to organise a day of activities for adults and children, with kites, music and arts, bringing together different groups in the Jungle.
We set up a marquee on a hot dusty day and as the musicians began to drum, curiosity drew residents of the Jungle over. We had expected the adults to be interested in the kites and music and organised face painting for the children. The adults and teenagers were interested in the music and kites but we were amazed when the older men came over to the marquee requesting flags, stars and maps to be painted on their faces and arms. They asked for glitter to be sprinkled on their finished designs. They laughed when my ‘artistic’ attempts at more complicated designs ( like a request for a portrait of Nelson Mandela!) failed and shook my hand with thanks when it was done.
There had been a lot of division between different ethnic groups in the camp in the past weeks and months, some of which turned violent, but different groups sat side by side under the marquee that day complimenting each other’s flags, asking about what they meant, smiling and laughing together.
I was exhausted by the end of the day. Everyone was. But I remember being told by another volunteer a man had come to them, broad grin painted across his face, and said he had ‘felt like a child again’, free to laugh and be silly, to disconnect from the reality of his circumstance. I was honoured to have been part of something so special.
I think about this day a lot and what it meant to the men and children I met that day. It reminds me that even in the most trying times, when there is little positivity to be found you can find solace and joy. It isn’t always possible to find your own way out a dark place and not everyone can depend on people rocking up with a marquee and face paints to cheer them up! Still, it is worth remembering the benefit of simple things for getting you out of a slump.
Singing, painting, dancing, new friends, old friends, reconnecting with childhood joys all act to sooth the pain that comes with mental ill health or stress. The key things to remember are:
It doesn’t have to be a huge thing, start small and expand. Some things I enjoy the most (swimming, music, dancing) have a financial cost attached or a worry (will people judge me in this swimsuit, what if make a mistake etc). If it feels too much, find something else, give it a go and enjoy the freedom of it. Find a video online and dance with a friend in your house. Find a choir you can join for free. Whatever gets your heart beating, give it a go!
Change your environment. I love watching movies in bed. I love a lazy Sunday morning in bed with a cup of coffee. As restorative as it feels to rest like this I know it is a fine line between rest and a slump. A day in bed can become days hiding away from people. When you know you are in a slump or a depression, change your environment. Even if that means you migrate to your living room or your friend’s bedroom, mix it up and give yourself a fresh place to restore. Even better go out, do some research and find a free gig or exhibition, find a new museum to explore, find a group on MeetUp that interests you. Change it up and congratulate yourself on trying something different or picking up an old hobby.
Find company. In my darkest depressions I could barely respond to a text. I hardly ever made it out my bedroom. It’s a vicious cycle, you’re depressed because you’re lonely and isolated but you don’t have the energy to make it out. Reaching out is a key part of self-care, admitting you are struggling to people gives them the opportunity to help. If you have the confidence to meet new people great but if you don’t reach out for the safety of the people you know love you and understand. Everyone gets low and it won’t last forever but feeling supported when you do is like hot tea for a sore throat, cosy and healing.
Whatever you do for yourself, remember it won’t last and that is ok. That day in the Jungle was magical but I know it didn’t change the reality of what those people were living. I’ve stayed in touch with many of the families from that time and there were plenty of dark hours, days and weeks ahead of them. Just remember not to judge yourself because it doesn’t last, love the moments of joy and restoration you find.
Every moment can’t be beautiful but the memory of those that were will give you strength and remind you that you can overcome your dark thoughts, with the help of a little glitter or friends.