Last weekend, I pledged to spend this week prioritizing mental health. It sounds straightforward, but it really isn’t.
I’ve written about mental health struggles for a while now, but even so, I find myself hesitating to take poor mental health weeks as seriously as I’d take a physical illness. This in spite of the fact that a tough pocket of depression leaves me every bit as depleted and in need of rest as a bad cold or stomach bug.
I did actually manage to take good care of myself this week, and here’s what I learned.
First—and I knew this already—solutions arise from a peaceful state. That’s not my saying; it’s a quote from Melody Beattie, a writer who has guided me through many tough moments. She says,
This is the kind of thing I might read at a particularly anxious moment and roll my eyes at. Easier said than done, right? How is peace possible when life is full of demands, stressors, deadlines, sadnesses, hindrances, and so on?
The answer, I think—and what Beattie is saying—is that life will always be full of challenges. Yes, we go through periods where peace is easier to come by, but sooner or later, conflict or tension will arise. It’s on us to create peace for ourselves, even if that looks like taking a deep breath, slowing down a little, stepping outside for a moment of sun and fresh air.
Prior to this week, I could the creeping dread of a depressive downturn. I was also feeling the pressure of a manuscript deadline and a workload that I’ve been having a hard time keeping up with. It all created a kind of low grade panic, which only worsened as I anxiously tried to map out how I’d get everything done.
Peace, for me, looked like sending a bunch of tough emails this week. I was upfront about the fact that my mental health was suffering and asked for extra time on a few projects.
Peace will also look like four days off this week. I’m meeting my oldest friend and her family for a quick stay in Asheville, NC, which is one of my favorite places.
I have a lousy habit of never taking days off entirely. There are days when I don’t work, but I refuse to admit that I’m not working and scratch the surface of emails, blog posts, and so on. It turns into a ridiculous in-between, a frustrating limbo of not working but not resting, either.
I’m taking my time in Asheville off, for real. I’ve been scrambling a little to prepare for that this weekend, but the tradeoff will be a chance to unplug.
Here’s what else I learned in taking these measures: my life isn’t as fragile as I fear.
Not one person that I emailed in the past four days responded with fury or outrage. None of my work projects will be ruined because I’m slow to finish.
Yes, I had to have a few uncomfortable and awkward conversations. It’s not ideal for me to be pushing some deadlines back. But it’s going to be fine. I’m off kilter right now, but the world keeps turning. As my therapist has told me many times—always tongue-in-cheek, always with warmth—I’m not that important.
There’s a lot of privilege built into my life and my work that has allowed me to take a little pause. I know this, and it isn’t my intention to suggest that unplugging or reconfiguring obligations is necessarily easy or without consequences.
I’m just hoping to reassure someone, somewhere, that things often work out more smoothly than we fear.
It can take a lot of courage to ask other people for their grace, but it’s often the case that the ask is relatively small and the upside is immense. Small periods of rest and restoration can be the difference between entering a full-blown spell of depression or anxiety and managing to turn things around.
I felt grace and generosity this week. I felt proud to have found my voice in asking for help and fortunate that people were willing to understand. I’m still having a tough time, but I don’t feel as though I’m getting swallowed up by it. I came up with a few solutions that have allowed me to breathe.
I didn’t have the focus to round up links this week, but I know that this, too, is OK.
I’m wishing you all a peaceful night and a week that gives you space to be, to breathe, and to heal.
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