Throughout my mental health journey, I’ve repeatedly run into an obstacle, which I will loosely dub ‘I’m not sick enough to deserve help’.
Whenever I would think about getting therapy or talking to anyone about what was going on, I’d say, ‘Well, I’m still going to uni and getting my assignments done. I don’t take drugs. I can leave my house. I might be depressed, and having panic attacks every other day, but I can sort it out. I just need to stop being lazy.’
I think a lot of us take that perspective on our mental health. But let’s flip it so we’re talking about physical health, instead:
‘I hurt my leg a few years ago, but I can still crawl around to places. It’s not ideal because I have to drag this dead weight around with me, and I can’t put weight on that side. Still, it can’t be that bad, because I can use the other leg. I’m not gonna bother getting it checked out until I lose function in both legs. I’m just lazy and need to work harder.’
Sounds dumb right? Granted, lots of us do ignore our physical health for too long, but I don’t think it’s as normalised in our society.
My habitual response to discomfort is to run, avoid, or to distract from the problem with something. Examples:
- Feel anxious about work, or imposter syndrome –immediately want to leave my job and find somewhere else.
- Feel tired or stressed: nap my problems away or watch YouTube videos until I feel better.
- Get annoyed at a friend or situation: complain or vent about it instead of taking any action to fix it.
- Know I should write a blog post, but I don’t feel inspired so I don’t wanna: avoid it. (admittedly I’ve been steadily writing my novel as well, but I am hardly trying to fit blogging in either)
My journey in cutting out compulsions has gotten pretty far, but I must fill my time with useful things, or I’ll start relapsing. It is in incremental steps so far, as I mentioned in my previous post about small wins: committing to the tiniest action as often as I can. Writing a paragraph, playing one scale on guitar, putting on my exercise clothes. It’s working well so far, as the act of starting usually propels me into doing more.
However, ironically, a discomfort I need to move towards is feeling like I’m ‘not doing well enough’ at moving towards discomfort! I tend to put myself down, and sometimes the struggle towards doing more comes from a feeling of inadequacy and unhappiness with my life, rather than just wanting to do more things I like.
But I’m doing fine. And I can act, and do things I value, and love myself — regardless of the discomfort that brings.
Honestly, I can hardly bring myself to write a post. For various reasons I’ve been very sleep deprived this week (bad sleep hygiene, mostly!). My motivation is pretty much non-existent in most areas of my life.
But I read Atomic Habits recently, and because of that I’m trying to rely on small habits, and small victories, instead. I need the consistency first before I can think about doing things for a long period of time.
Meditating every day, but for only a minute.
Studying Korean every day, but I just do one topic or podcast or video.
Playing guitar every day, but I run through one scale or one technique or piece of theory (I’ve had the most progress I’ve ever had in guitar because of this, after hitting the intermediate slump for several years).
Writing my novel every day, but only for twenty minutes.
The blog hasn’t quite fit in yet — but I hope I will work out how to, even if it’s just a paragraph every week.
(I’m a little late to the party in writing this — but better late than never!)
Steven Universe is and has been one of my favourite shows for several years now. I’ve shared it with partners, friends and family. People who are still in my life and some who aren’t. I binged my way through the first thirty episodes or so, rambling to the friend who convinced me to watch it in the first place. I cried through Here Comes a Thought (a song about mindfulness) onto my ex-girlfriend’s lap, and I cried showing my mum the episode. I still choke up hearing the song now.
Watching the SU season 5 finale – without going too deep into spoilers – was incredibly satisfying. Ultimately the show really is about loving yourself, flaws and all. That’s how I feel about the show itself too: for all its faults and the hiatuses I’ve stuck through, I always deeply appreciate how SU isn’t afraid to shy away from exploring deep topics like that. I’ve grown with this show’s characters, and like Steven come to know myself and love myself far more than I used to.
So naturally I cried and gasped through most of the episode. Only after did it occur to me that it was the most I’d reacted to anything in a while. Odd moments of ‘real emotion’ like that creep on me: in things like Steven Universe, playing with an animal; taking a good walk; cooking a nice meal; or hearing the opening overture to a musical. They’re not always happy, but they’re real and vivid.
I’m realising that I often shame myself for not feeling enough when ‘big’ things happen. Or, I’m constantly hoping that finding the big things will make me happy – a better job, better relationships, more money, someone needs to do this. Or I say shouldn’t be so emotional about something like a cartoon. That’s ‘weird’ or ‘creepy’. It’s for kids for God’s sake. I’m either angry I’m not feeling or angry I’m feeling too much.
But again the little moments are the ones that feel most special. And they’re far more accessible and under my control. I can enjoy a piece of music, a cartoon or food right now; I can’t magic up a new job or win the lottery every day.
SU is a phenomenal cartoon but in the end it is ‘just a show’, which really touched me at my core. And frankly I want more ‘just a show’ moments like that in my life.
We’re almost two weeks into the new year. Gyms all over the world have been inundated with newcomers suddenly motivated to achieve their fitness goals that they started to neglect at the end of the year. I myself have been trying to get back into yoga and start bouldering again, with the help of Yoga with Adriene and (hopefully) my colleagues.
Still, regardless of whether people actually achieve their fitness goals — the joke is that people often don’t, of course — it’s seen as such a normal thing to create a plan for physical fitness and stick to it. Even people who can only manage one push up are aware on some level that regular exercise is necessary to keep our bodies working. Not quite so for mental health, where most of us believe we’re fine until we’re not, with little thought about how we got there.
Mental health is not seen as a skill that can build or deteriorate with time; it’s something you have or don’t. But since reading Mark Freeman’s book, The Mind Workout, I’ve often wondered — why aren’t there easy, accessible routines to follow for mental fitness?