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It Is OK to Have a Bad Day – A Docu-Music Video

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On a cold day of February afternoon, I posted a special invitation on a Facebook group in Edinburgh called ‘The Meadows Share’. I asked for ‘Anyone who would be willing to share What is your advice for yourself when you are having a bad day?’. My goal was to create a short film that reaches people, so I figured it would be great to feature as many people as I can. That will help bring across the message that we all experience difficult times. It was to normalise an emotional struggle. We all have something we deal with. 

I was humbled to meet several incredibly raw, vulnerable and empathic folks who were willing to share their own experience opening up and even cry in front of my bare camera. All of them shared the ambition to be a contribution to others like themselves. 

We all seemed to want to reduce that stigma we carry around difficult emotions: they are OK to have. If several of us open up, it can give permission for others to do the same. 

This experience shockingly ended up giving me too access to touch my own humanity, through the lens of others. Very unexpectedly, in the end, it included my own. I will tell you about it here:

Is It OK to Have a Bad Day? is my short film-music-video. An interdisciplinary project which lies between cognitive science and film. The film was created with (and for young adults), aiming to share mental health coping skills. It was designed to both provide research-based advice for emotional struggle in addition to encourage self-compassion and sharing.

My goal with creating this was to reach the person sitting at home, under their blanket, and dealing with a difficult time. You may just be trying to escape your thoughts by turning on social media such as scrolling down Instagram in search of distraction. 

In fact, the words to the song were based on lectures given by Tal Ben Shahar, at his health psychology course PSY1504 at Harvard University. It focuses on what he calls ‘giving ourselves permission to be human’. 

What I was not prepared for, was a powerful moment which occurred when I decided to add myself to the film. Since I am a musician, I thought it would make sense to include myself during a rough moment in life. Somewhere on my dusty drive, I found an old video I took with my phone of myself crying so I dragged it into the video draft. As I scrolled over to the clip segment I noticed lip movement and therefore decided to listen. I was a murmuring ‘all he says is “I don’t know” as an elephant tear rolled down my cheek. My hand started shaking as it suddenly hit me: this video was taken just a year previous, during one of my most excruciating times in the hospital visiting my fiancé, a month before I lost him. Here I was sitting in front of my screen and seeing me-back-then weeping. At the time, I remember, the experience was so unbearable that all I could do was focus on supporting the family doing what I can to hold myself together. Now, a shocking warm wave filled with self-empathy overcame me. I suddenly saw myself among all the others in my video. Now, one year late, I was able to finally look at her (me) among those sharing their own struggles advice. Suddenly, I was relieved to be just another person having, well, a very bad day. And… it was OK.

Valid and embraced within the others in my own film. Being ‘part of’ encouraged accepting my own struggles, allowing that part of being human. There was suddenly nothing wrong with my experiencing pain, or with me. It was all OK. 

Creating this music video has allowed me to be with, learn from, and co-curate extraordinary moments and insights about other people’s coping skills. And surprisingly I also got to reach into myself. I hope this experience will encourage me to be more kind to myself, and I also hope this video can reach other hearts and use the research-based information, in addition to the personal stories, to better cope with what they are dealing with. 

My larger ambition is to air such mental-health oriented music videos onto channels like MTV and, post-Covid, to be played at mainstream dance clubs around the world. Often messages in pop music and clubs occur to be communicating messages such as status and desirability, and I aim to shift this pendulum to more responsible messages promoting self-acceptance, social empathy and support. 

Over the past year, I got together with similar mindset-oriented artists and individuals and founded PosiFest which is getting traction on Facebook. Is it OK to Have a Bad Day? was one of the first videos featured on PosiFest. As a team, we always look for and welcome anybody to join us and share their own advice on coping. PosiFest’s mission states that: Together, we create fun and belonging. We declare into existence a loving world that cares. 


Final thoughts

After submitting the final film, participants were happy for me to share their entire interview ‘behind the scenes’. Those precious conversations can be found on my YouTube channel.

I was deeply moved to witness the response of one of my participants once the project was aired: ‘I don’t have time to shower every morning but I do have time to watch this video.’

Shalhavit-Simcha Cohen is doing a PhD in clinical psychology at the University of Edinburgh.


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