Mental Health Is Messy and Variable, But Still Important
Greetings. It’s time for a somewhat odd end-of-year post, but bear with me. As anyone sticking around here can tell, I’ve been struggling for years to update this blog regularly. I’ve considered writing about the process many times, because I think it’s important to talk about mental health and capacity in activist communities, but it’s also tough to put myself out there and be vulnerable about my own mental health. I wanted to speak up today, though, while I’m in a particularly introspective place with regard to my mental health, have a good support structure to back me up, and have been reading some really thought-provoking work that’s made me think about how we rate our own “issues” as serious, or not serious, “enough.”
The posts I’ll reference here have very little to do with one another, at first glance. One is about executive function, another about sex-negative feminism, and the third about strategizing when to “call in.” The common thread, though, is that all three got me thinking about things in my life that often seem too “mild” or trivial to focus on or use as justification for behavior. And this is a thread that’s been incredibly prevalent and challenging for me in my attempts to practice self-care.
At a glance, I have a lot of potential mental health issues, but none of them are particularly severe, and particularly don’t seem so in comparison with what my friends and fellow activists face. Some of the people I’m closest to live with health needs that are extremely challenging to meet in this ableist society, from autism to chronic pain to severe food limitations to suicidal depression. In contrast, my mental health is a hodgepodge of various “issues”: moderate but medicated depression/anxiety/social anxiety, garden-variety introversion, a childhood history of compulsive lying that has some minor adult consequences, a history of disordered eating that never reached a critical level, some general issues around control, mild executive function difficulties, slight obsessions and compulsions that come and go, moderate focus difficulties that may or may not “count” as ADD, sexual history that includes several “not quite non-consensual” experiences, varying levels of gender dysphoria, and an auditory processing disorder that’s mild enough that I sometimes wonder if everyone has these issues hearing speech and I’m just assuming the worst. None of these things keep me from holding down a job or maintaining relationships with other people. I don’t see a therapist, though I’m doing some cognitive behavioral therapy on my own. I often feel that I could just “get it together,” and occasionally I can rally some motivation and actually accomplish a lot in a span.
In some ways, I suspect these kinds of issues are just symptoms of living in a fucked-up racist, patriarchal, capitalist society. I feel whiny and selfish sometimes when I focus on them, because I know that many many much-more-marginalized folks are surviving much worse every day. Black women, for example, are particularly discouraged from seeking out mental health care. People of color in general and poor trans and physically disabled folks may not be able to afford mental health care in our deeply unjust system. When I think about those struggles, it feels pretty embarrassing that I can’t just write a damn blog post every week. But when I’m feeling compassionate and able to look more carefully at the full context, I realize that my mental health problems are valid. The fact is that almost none of us are raised and educated in such a way that adequately prioritizes mental (or physical) health and wellness, and we all face the negative consequences of living in this deeply fucked society—even those of us with relative privilege.
So while I would never advocate for allocating more resources or focus to people like me when compared with those who face more severe challenges, I do think it’s important that those of us who deal with “minor” challenges are gentle with ourself and acknowledge that our health needs are also valid. That’s why working towards a better healthcare system, and a better society in general, is crucial for everyone—focusing on the needs of the most marginalized is important to prioritize the emergencies, but over time building a better system can also affect everyone’s long term health for the better. And, since we live in our own bodies, and external support is always limited, it’s okay to focus on our own needs from time to time if only to ensure that we can in fact do the work. Everyone deserves health.
In 2016, would you like to read more blog posts from me on my personal struggles with mental health? Leave me a comment and let me know. I can’t promise anything, given the vulnerability involved, but I’d like to know what readers are interested in.