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The tightrope of mental health

My mental health is like walking on a tightrope, one slip and I’m done. Getting back up could take years for someone like me. The truth is, things are hard on the best of days. Getting out of bed, shaving, cutting my hair at regular intervals, things that would come easy to some require sheer force of will to accomplish. All the small choices through the day eat away at what little energy I have until I’m drained before breakfast. Yet here I am, pushing forward. It’s days like today remind me that for all the progress I’ve made, it’s still just a tightrope I walk.

We’re inundated with motivational slogans of pushing through limits and being more than what we are that I think we tend to forget that the fact is most people are simply average, because the average is most people. Winning the lottery is not done by force of will, it’s done by luck. I think the same applies to success stories. Sure, it takes work, but it takes an equal amount of (if not more) luck. I’m hoping I’m someone who will be lucky, but then again the odds are I’m average.

There are about a million things I need to get done and the sooner they get addressed the better. Unfortunately, today is not the day. My body reminded me this morning that I need a break, so I’m taking one. I’ve learned over the years to not fight it, it will only make things worse and then I will fall from that tightrope into something far worse. I mean I’ve already wasted years of my life struggling to get back onto that tightrope, I don’t want to do that again.

First, I’m fine, I just need to catch myself. I go through this fairly regularly, even since I’ve been blogging, although I’m not linking to those posts here. Sometimes I get pushed too hard, too fast, and too far. Even for a normal healthy person, that type of pushing isn’t healthy and you can’t function like that on a regular basis. I’m forced to slow down far more frequently than the normal person, but that’s why I’ve made it as far as I have.

A PhD is a gauntlet of trials and a years long battle for your mental health. People drop out all the time over mental health issues and I could very well add one more to that statistic, but today’s not that day. I’ve made it this far because of the safeguards and structure I’ve been lucky enough (see luck) to be able to put in place. Things like the way I manage my time, make my schedule, etc. Things that others may not be able to control, I can work around and they work with me.

I know my limits and instead of trying to do the very American thing of ignoring it until it kills me, I try to put a nice little buffer in the things I do so that I can take breaks when needed, even unexpectedly. I’ve gotten where I am because I’ve prioritized my mental health after all those years of just ignoring it. Then again it took me almost a decade to get to this point and be in a position where I could prioritize my mental health at all.

What I am saying is that I am not a normal or even average person. I struggle all the time with my health and more importantly (to me) my mental health. If I hadn’t had a whole lot of luck, I wouldn’t be here. That isn’t belittling all the hard work I do or have done to get to this point either, it’s just that there has been an outrageous amount of luck that’s helped me along. People in senior positions who helped me when I needed it the most, random meetings that changed the course of my career, things that my motivations and career as a student, good or bad, had no effect on.

It’s days like today that I reflect on those days, all the lucky encounters that helped nudge me along that tightrope and get me to the position I am now. I often think about how the system is designed to basically break students and ruin their mental health. It shouldn’t be like that, I shouldn’t have needed all the luck I did to get to where I am, but here we are. The system should be nurturing learning and accepting anyone who really wants to learn.

If it wasn’t the compassion that was shown to me, I wouldn’t be writing this and I doubt I would even still be alive. It’s days like today that I’m stuck thinking about the people that aren’t so lucky and how not that long ago I was one of them. It’s days like today that remind me that I’m doing this so I can be in a position of power and make sure that the people who need some of that luck will get it. It’s days like today that remind me that while I am doing this for me, I’m doing it for a whole hell of a lot of other people too. It’s days like today that remind me that at best, I’m walking a tightrope of mental health and that more than once people have caught me just because they were kind enough to see me.

It’s days like today that make me want to remind others walking the same tightrope that I see you too.


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