“The mean reds are terrible, it’s like your scared and you don’t know what you’re scared of” – Breakfast at Tiffany’s
The reason bad days feel worse when you’re living on your own terms is that you don’t have the muzzy comfort of routine. Daily life as a wage slave is full of inbuilt irritations that serve to keep you on edge, off-balance, and distracted.
Even perfect lives aren’t perfect. Some days start at rock bottom and get shittier. Some days freedom feels like a curse and you’d give anything for the comfort of nine-to-five boredom. Bad days are not worse when you are creating your own life, but they can feel worse because you aren’t numb.
Run-of-the-mill life is designed to deaden the senses by pummelling them with alarm clocks, traffic jams, grumpy bosses, bad news, irritable partners, overdue bills and outrageous expectations. The constant nag of routine is socially useful because it distracts people from the monstrousness of the fact that they’re pissing their lives away. The white-noise nerve chafing drives people to drugs, booze, binge eating and dissatisfying sex, which creates a toxic feedback loop of hangovers, self-loathing, and disillusionment.
When you choose to live creatively you break the cycle and can eradicate most, or all, of these insignificant irritations. This is fantastic, because it frees to you focus on what really matters in your life. It is also intermittently terrifying because when you are up against it you actually feel.
Without the opiate of routine you have to face life as it is, with the full knowledge of who you are. Dealing with the bogus problems and solutions of 21st century consumer capitalist culture is not adequate preparation for meeting life on a meaningful level. If you’re used to getting through a rough day by gossiping with your co-workers, taking a long lunch, or getting drunk then being on your own is going to feel like hell. You can’t blot out the malaise, or ride it out on someone else’s time. You can still go out and get loaded, pick a fight, kick the dog, or whatever, but it won’t be as satisfying. Temporary distractions are just that. They only work if there is a constant stream of them; if you never have time to process and recover from one before the next one appears.
Living your own life, however, means taking the time to process, and allowing things to assume their correct proportions. As a result, life can seem much vaster and scarier than before. It takes humility, as well as courage, to step out of the rat race and that humility comes with interesting consequences.
When you take responsibility for your own life you acknowledge that the universe is larger than you, and that the only thing you ultimately control is yourself. You cannot make this deal then kid yourself that the world revolves around you; or expect God, the government or mom and dad to bail you out. We are not culturally equipped to deal with this level of freedom. Following orders means that there is always someone else to blame, which can be nice.
You can’t be a little bit free, though. Either you’re all in or all out. So when the mean reds hit get through as best you can. Before you reach for the bottle, or the remote, think about what is really bothering you. Little things add up, obscuring the disease beneath frivolous symptoms. Dig in. Once you face what lies behind your fear you can figure out how to conquer it.