Do the Next Right Thing

#2020yearof… Do the Next Right Thing

I’m writing a series of posts here and on Instagram about how 2020 will always count. Read more about why here.

I only got around to watching Frozen 2 in the second half of this year, after Disney+ arrived in Denmark. (I wish everything Frozen wasn’t so heavily marketed to girls only – the tide of gendered marketing to kids is impossible to avoid these days, and we basically had to tell our boys that they WOULD be watching Frozen 2 one movie night, and that trust us, they DID love the first movie when they were little. They got really into it, but 9yo will never tell you that himself.)

I really loved the story of Elsa and her mother, and the adventure of going ‘into the unknown’, but the startling emotional punch came with Anna’s moment of devastating grief. As she sang ‘This grief has a gravity, it pulls me down,’ the simple words encapsulated not just loss, but also the overwhelming numbness of depression. Just have a look at the comments on the YouTube videos of this song to see for how many people it completely resonated as being about mental health.

But then she stands up and says ‘just do the next right thing’, and the idea, in words of one syllable, is light and easy and full of simple reassurance and relief. She can’t save Arendelle in that state, but she can take a step, take a breath, and the uncomplicated words pull her forwards just enough. One of the really important elements in the treatment of depression is establishing simple routines. Make a cup of tea, make your bed, go buy the milk and bread. When doing everything seems impossible, the next right thing is doable. And there’s something very comforting about the next right thing. When the next thing could be any one of dozens of tasks that you should do, want to do, are expected to do, expect yourself to do… the next right thing absolves you of some of that decision-making. The next right thing is only the thing that matters most in the next five minutes.

Ironically, perhaps, my own mental health has been on a pretty even keel this year. (Thanks in part to a visit about a year ago to a gynaecologist who gave me permission to expect better from my body. Lesson: always advocate for whatever resilience you believe you need. You never know when you might need it even more.) But in just a few brief words and notes, that musical depiction of depression felt intimately familiar.

And when autumn sank into northern winter, and the need for a vitamin D boost weighed in, and it became clear that uncertainty and tough decisions would be here to stay for the rest of the year, do the next right thing was the mantra that helped the bad days feel better.

Today, in the middle of the routine-less twixtmas muddle, when I was feeling grumpy and resentful about not being able to kick the rest of the family out of the house for an hour or two of time alone, and unappreciated for trying to do what everyone needed when I couldn’t get close to my desk, and guilty about the things on my desk I wasn’t getting done, and yet more guilty about what a crap parent I was being for caring about those other things… I chose to hear that voice.

Do the next right thing.

And there I was, already doing the next right thing, taking my kids outdoors for a walk. My shoulders dropped, and I even found myself smiling.

In a way, this year has let some of us off the hook: those of us – most of us – who are constantly juggling decision-making, between family close by and family far away and community, when to travel, where to travel, whom to travel to, domestic demands, creative work, paid work, planning for tomorrow, planning for next year (when you maybe don’t know where next year will be)…

This year, life has demanded simply that we do the next right thing.

And it has pulled us forward.

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For the pinners!

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