Over the past several months, I have been taking steps to create positive change in my life after a dip in my mental health. I went to a few counseling sessions, which encouraged me to refocus on activities that were both meaningful and enjoyable. This is one of the major and most obvious forms of self-care.
I decided on a few concrete objectives:
1. Read More
I never really expected to have this problem after graduating, but once I started working, somehow my time started to slip away. Between working, commuting, maintaining my home environment, running errands, looking after my physical health, and spending time with loved ones, either in person or on the phone, I found I had very little “me time.” I identify as an introvert–while I love spending time with my people, I need time away to recharge. One of the ways I do this is through reading.
But reading felt like a fun activity that should come after all of my perceived responsibilities and obligations. And even though I’d heard this idea of cultivating and balancing personal contentment for better overall health and accepted it as a truth, I couldn’t allow myself that rest. There were chores to be done, bills to pay, freelance writing to keep up with; I needed to go to bed on time so I would be alive for work the next morning (still working on this). I needed to make sure to reach out to people I loved to combat the isolation that sometimes sets in due to my geographic location, which was compounding the lethargy and disengagement I was experiencing but not really noticing.
Megan and my partner certainly noticed though and they were concerned. I went to the counselor, not because of my own self-awareness, but because these loved ones let me know that I seemed to be struggling more than usual. They were worried. For my part, I recognized that I was always tired, laughed less, smiled less, felt less alive every day…but I didn’t have the emotional or mental energy to calculate what that meant.
It took the counselor telling me that I needed to set aside time to read, write, and do other things that would contribute to my personal sense of happiness before I could actually disengage from all those other obligations I felt swimming around me, nagging at my attention and patience.
Luckily, the co-author of this blog is an absolute book fiend (if you hadn’t noticed from some of her posts). She is always reading something new and her stack of books-in-progress often threatens to topple tables. So I know I can rely on her to suggest a title or author.
I also started re-reading the Harry Potter series, which has been incredible. It’s been years since I’ve read the books cover to cover. They were so familiar to me that I used them almost as a comfort blanket–whenever I was really stressed during school or just wanted to relive a scene, I would pull out the book and read a few chapters. Revisiting them now seemed like a natural decision.
As a writer working through my own first novel, I could see the framework behind the story and all of the concepts that go into creating the setting. I could recognize moments where the writing itself was weak and in the next moment be blown away by the development of certain characters and scene. One of the (sorry, going for the pun) magical qualities of J.K. Rowling’s work is her ability to create an immersive and inclusive world. That aspect of the series is probably one of the major reasons, if not THE major reason, why these books are so successful. It captivates people, but not just people who love fantasy or long, sequential adventure stories or coming of age literature. The story and the setting has something that calls to most everyone.
I started reading the series again in late September after coming back from Paris. I just finished The Deathly Hallows last night. With each re-reading, I have learned so many things that I’m sure will take me a while to process and assimilate. As a writer, this journey back into the world of Harry Potter has been a source of inspiration, comfort, and a very concrete example of writing that is, in spite of acknowledged flaws, wildly successful. (I even found a typo the other day! Helps take the pressure off…)
But it has also been a wonderful emotional experience as a reader. I have been noticing over the past two weeks that I’ve felt more engaged with the world around me. I’ve experienced a wider range of emotions, beyond tired, grumpy, sad, irritated, angry, and/or depressed. The old affection, appreciation, and hunger for the world has started to kindle inside me again. I feel like a mountain breeze has swept past me, offering a deep lungful of fresh, clarifying air.
Already I can feel myself thinking about how this experience can enrich my writing and my relationships–now that I’ve tasted a cornerstone of hopelessness, I can more accurately depict this quality in a character’s voice. The possibilities are stretching before me and I’m excited to pick up the thread where I left off.
But I also have to acknowledge the importance of my loved ones in guiding me to this point. Without them, I may not have decided that there was a problem. It’s highly likely I would have continued to view my emotional fog as normal and any possible solutions as worthless to accomplish any meaningful change. It’s scary now to think back on those weeks/months and realize how bad things were becoming. I give thanks to those around me who kept a weather eye and helped me find my own path out of the pit.
And to those who suffer from long-term or clinical depression, I lift my hands and my heart to you. My situation was temporary and brought on by external factors. I cannot imagine the strife and the struggle that occurs when the soul and the heart and the mind are at war in such a desperate way. It is my hope that any and all who live with this condition, whether it be chemical or situational, can find whoever or whatever they need to support their growth and empowerment to a healthy state of living.
Please see subsequent blog posts for a continued discussion of my objectives and the journey behind the progress.
In a semi-related video, see below for an interesting discussion on “The Essence of Humanity” depicted in the films and stories of Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli. I enjoyed the narrator’s focus on the desires/needs/growth of three dimensional characters and the techniques that connect a viewer/reader with the characters of a story. Thanks to Channel Criswell for this content.