Four months ago, I was losing my mind. The stress of performing a very public job that I often didn’t believe in had recently compounded with that of the election, an impressive amount of interpersonal conflicts I’d (at least largely) brought upon myself, and back-to-back illnesses that left me with neck pain I couldn’t shake off, resulting in days when I’d spend more time crying in — and sometimes out — of the office bathroom than fulfilling the duties of my employment.
In late February, I took a week off in the hopes that my physical and mental symptoms would clear up with rest. I stayed off the internet and buried myself in books, and after a few days, began to feel clear-headed and comfortable. Maybe I could stick this thing out a little longer, after all! Then Friday came, and with it, the neck pain and crying jags.
One big reason I’d been afraid to leave my job was health insurance, but in that moment, I began to fully grasp how toxic internalizing my work-related stresses had become. What if my job was, if not causing, then at least aggravating and prolonging my ailments? I gave my notice that Monday, leaving early to pick up my shiny new prescription for the apparently acute anxiety I’d spent the majority of my life understanding as nothing more significant than somehow willfully bad behavior.
I can’t believe how different I feel today. Somewhere between the fake Zoloft and the CBT and the self-help books and the commitment I made to learn what I truly wanted and actually ask for it (now that I’d kicked out from under me the corporate ladder I’d ascended as quickly as possible without ever actually considering my path), it can feel like I’ve grown more in 2017 than in my previous three decades. I have, I think, repaired the relationships I’d previously stretched to a breaking point. I’m giving people boundaries and using “I” phrases instead of “you” ones. My neck pain has mostly subsided. I’m cooking for myself and visiting friends and walking any reasonable distances (sometimes unreasonable ones, too). I’m working on my photography skills, and cleaning my house multiple days a week. I’m pitching publications as if I know what the hell I’m doing. I’m making videos with my friends about important social issues! I’ve rekindled my love of thrifting, and am considering how to support myself while making fashion more accessible for low-income people and people of size. I have a legit good podcast idea! When I’m feeling really brave, I even ask people if I can pet their dogs instead of trying to use interspecies ESP. I still have reasonable anxieties, but overall I’m learning what I need to be both a sane person and a person who can pay rent.
Of course, I come from an exceedingly privileged position; I recognize not everyone can up and leave their job, no matter how “The Yellow Wallpaper” they’ve been feeling of late. I guess what I’m asking is, what activities have you found are necessary for maintaining your mental health, whether or not you do them for a living? Writing poetry? Painting nature scenes? Fishing? Building circuit boards? Maybe it’s gardening. Maybe it’s attending the symphony. Maybe it’s just making yourself a particularly special lunch. Maybe it’s softball. It’s softball, isn’t it?
Whatever the case, tell me what you do, and what makes it so crucial to a happy, healthy you. Okay, love you, have a great weekend!
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