Two-plus years on, my mental health is better and the idea of political participation no longer terrifies me.
But a mental health breakdown is just like any other bodily disaster: you never go back to who you were. A physical setback can lead to physical gains; the same is true for mental health, but it’s a lot more difficult and precarious.
My dad got polio in about 1948 or 49. He was lucky not to end up in an iron lung and have the more severe damage many got in those years before we had a safe and effective vaccine (ahem). After he recovered, he dedicated his remaining life to becoming and remaining physical strong and active. He skied, hiked, climbed mountainsides, sailed, bicycled, and generally took good care of himself. I have no idea what his life might have been without polio; I know it shaped much of who he became.
The trouble with a mental health challenge is that the part of our body that we use to make decisions and choose our path each day is the same part that is broken. For me, anxiety undermined by determination to do many things that had once felt so important. But one of the great outcomes of getting the care I needed was discovering that I actually little understanding of what was important to me. I just had a lot of assumptions that turned out to be lousy at carrying me through when things were tough.
Today, I have values. I know what is important – at least in general terms. Having spelled out my values for myself, I can make decisions with at least some confidence I am aiming myself in the right direction. (Great credit to my counsellor for having me read “The Happiness Trap” by ; one of the fundamentals of the mindfulness-based therapy the book is based on is knowing what your values are so you live by them and not the insubstantial feelings of the moment).
So now, instead of viewing politics through my old elections-and-legislation perspective, I have a more narrow view. I still believe as much as ever that elections matter – the Republican Party is hell-bent on crushing democracy in service to wealth and the big three of god, white men, and straightness – but I’m going to have to leave that work to others. I simply do not have the mental resources to be part of that work.
Which, of course, is fine. I do need to donate some money, but I’ve done my share of street-level election work. Other, younger people – people with the requisite mental healthiness – are now responsible for that. I trust them to respond. I expect surprises from them.
My new focus, unsurprisingly, is mental health. Given what we know about the state of people’s mental health across this country, it ought to be everyone’s focus to some degree. There is no issue or area of society not impacted by mental health issues. To this end, and with my values in mind, not to mention what I know of my limitations (and skills), I am working on a few projects.
“Working on” – if you can slow, plodding, baby steps work. This is where a mindful approach to my own health keeps guilt at bay and lets me move forward at whatever pace I am capable of.
This blog. I’ve been blogging since 2005, in various venues, and have always enjoyed it. At times, I’ve had pretty good readerships, too. My anxiety, however, tricked me into thinking I had to be better than I was, which led both to depression and quitting. (The definition of depression might be “quitting on your life”.) If I want to be healthy and live my values, I have to write in this blog regularly. Readers would be nice – that’s another part of the overall work challenge – but what I can control is sitting down and writing this blog a few times a week. Just writing. It doesn’t have to be perfect or brilliant or anything else that demands an adjective except: completed.
A mental health … thing. It was going to be a podcast, but in looking at that field, it seems harder to grow a podcast than just about anything else. I’m not famous, I don’t have credentials, and I am not a speaker who is funny, charming, or otherwise compelling to listeners. So what I’m thinking of instead, weird as it may seem, is YouTube. It may be easier to get people to watch short videos – I’m thinking five minutes or so – than to spend even that same amount of time on a podcast.
Social media. Whether it’s a blog or pods or vlogs, skillful use of social media is critical. One of the things that appeals to me about this is that it demands a lot of creativity. For example, my belief that human society is 20,000 years ahead of the evolution of the human brain: how do I get that across in a meme? How do I use Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, etc, to get my friends to read this post?
Do I look into LinkedIn? (Oh, the humanity!)
Almost a thousand words here. That’s bordering on long-form, which is death for a blog. In the past, I would keep on, seeking to write a Brilliant, Compelling Essay. Today, I’m going to call it quits, post this on my website, and put together some social media notices. If I can’t make a coherent point in a thousand words, I should consider I had no point to make in the first place.
And there is always, I hope, tomorrow.