Musa Okwonga: Getting Down, and Getting By. #OKNotToBeOK

So here’s the thing: I get down pretty often. Only thing is, I don’t always notice it, in the same way that if you’re running very fast on a cold day then you don’t feel the chill.

I get down about a lot of things, if I’m honest: about work that doesn’t go as well as I’d have liked, about whether I will truly fulfil my potential, about whether I’m a being good enough son or sibling. Hell, I even worry about how cruel so much of the world can be. I don’t know: I’m pretty good at finding things to worry about. I am probably what sneering right-wing columnists would call “a bleeding heart”. Sensitivity is a quality which makes me a loyal and caring friend, but it’s not always so easy on the nerves.

It’s very easy for people to tell you to stop thinking negatively, and it’s just as easy to acknowledge that they are right. The problem, though, is that the mind is a vehicle whose controls aren’t always visible. If, say, we were all given a hand-held remote with which we could alter our moods, this whole living business would be a lot more straightforward. We could simply press the green button and happily get on with our days. Over time, then, I’ve learned how to get myself out of those difficult places that my thoughts might take me to.

I had a moment of clarity a couple of years back when, striding along with a dramatic frown on my face, I stubbed my toe on a raised paving stone and lurched forward. I started laughing at how ridiculous I must have looked, and in that instant my melancholy evaporated. My unhappiness that afternoon had seemed as solid as stone, and yet here it fell away like dust in a gale; all because a brief episode of awkwardness had made me chuckle. What I realised then was that happiness, or a lightening of the spirit, is often only a split-second away. By chance, I had managed to discover one of my mind’s controls: that when I am at my most downcast, I should seek out something that is utterly frivolous.

Usually, that frivolous release is a piece of music. The best example of that is Cloud One’s “Don’t Let This Rainbow Pass Me By”, which is as candyfloss a track as ever emerged from the world of disco. Or, if I’m looking for a song that is unassailably feel-good, it has to be George Benson’s “Give Me The Night”. I can never go wrong with that tune.

If I need to get some work done, or get out and about, I listen to something with unashamed swagger and purpose, which means that I’ll put on “The Hilton” by Ghostface Killah, “Gorgeous” by Kanye West, or “Hip-Hop Is Dead” by Nas. Jay-Z is probably the rapper who most consistently raises my spirits, mainly because he is so unapologetic in such an uncertain world; but there is something about the soulfulness of Nas that appeals slightly more, on a visceral level. When I listen to Jay-Z, I hear a man who has escaped the struggle; when I listen to Nas, I hear a man who, for better or for worse, is still in it.

Other times, though, music alone won’t get me out of a low place. In those cases, believe it or not, an item of clothing will do it. That’s not to say that I use shopping as therapy – I don’t have the money for that – but I deliberately buy clothes that make me not only very comfortable but highly confident. That’s probably obvious, but I suspect I take more care over this than most. Every couple of years, for example, I go out to find a jacket that I can wear about town: it doesn’t have to be expensive, but it has to be one that I won’t see just anywhere, so I’ll probably go to a vintage store or hunt through the aisles of TK-Maxx. Typically, I’ll end up buying something with a nice big collar that I can snap up against the world.

Of course, there will also be the odd week when music, clothes or food won’t cover it; when only a pep talk will do. Thing is, I can be a bit of a closed book when it comes to the precise details of my private life, and so there are only a handful of people I can ever talk to about these issues. I tend to call up people who understand the difficult path that I have taken: at your lowest, you don’t need someone judgmental at the other end of the line, who quietly sees your suffering as the necessary result of how you have chosen to lead your life. I have one or two very close female friends who I can call pretty much anytime, and a handful of guys, who will probably end up being ushers at my wedding should I ever get married.

So: I guess that’s it really. That’s how I deal with feeling down: it’s not a particularly superhuman remedy, but it’s worked for me so far. And until better basslines come long than those of George Benson, then I suppose that it will have to do.

Cloud One: “Don’t Let This Rainbow Pass Me By”
George Benson: “Give Me The Night”
Ghostface Killah: “The Hilton”
Kanye West: “Gorgeous”
Nas: “Hip-Hop Is Dead”