I wanted this newsletter to be a space for me to talk about writing and creativity. At the moment, it’s difficult to write about those things when we are inundated with the continual terrifying realities and manifestations of white supremacy, anti-trans discrimination, a global pandemic, and more. It has been even more difficult while my family and I have been figuring out how best to support and care for someone we love deeply who recently got diagnosed with a mental health disorder. It has been excruciating, exhausting, debilitating, and destabilizing. In previous weeks, I have tried to frame these newsletter dispatches around the importance of finding joy, solace, and purpose in creative practices amidst the current state of the world. This week, I just want to talk about mental health and wellbeing.
I always loved the parting mantra of Another Round (RIP): “drink some water, take your meds, call your person.” The last few weeks have made me confront what it means to take care of yourself in these very concrete and specific ways, more than I ever have previously. It continues to be a work-in-progress.
Ever since I first started going to therapy five years ago, I’ve learned things about myself, what I need to feel a sense of balance, and how to create a routine and structure to maintain that balance. I maintained that relatively well up until the pandemic hit, but now, I find it even more difficult to do now that I’m someone who is both supporting a loved one and needs support themselves. I’ve been discussing the constant tension of balancing closeness (intimacy) and distance (boundaries) with my therapist. I am reminded of the airplane adage, “Before you assist others, always put your oxygen mask on first.” But balance is so hard, so nebulous. What does that look like in practice?
For me, this has started to look like daily reminders and to-do lists containing simple actions, keeping in mind they all connect to a greater purpose. To keep my focus and attention, I try not to multitask. To disconnect from social media, I have been reading every day for a solid hour, listening to podcasts on long walks, or baking something that requires lots of butter (can’t scroll with buttery fingers!). To connect with others, I schedule catch-ups with friends (phone calls are better than video chat). To express all that I’m feeling, I let myself cry and vent in a safe space. I still struggle with knowing whether creativity is a balm or a burden at any given point, but I try not to put too much pressure on myself either way.
I’ve also learned that no matter how much I try to carve out a space for myself, it is not always possible to maintain it. Emergencies and concerns become impossible to ignore. Sometimes, there are no good choices; there are only less awful options. It has taught me radical acceptance of the situation and the options. To think long and hard about short-term injuries vs. long-term benefits, to take small wins and be happy with just putting one foot in front of the other, even if they come at a great emotional cost. To work in conjunction with others, console and commiserate, and take turns with more direct care and communication.
Although I am learning a lot, I still feel like I have very few answers, only more questions. How do you cope with exhaustion and fatigue? What are ways you can evaluate the best solution rather than just reacting to the chaos? How do you stick to non-negotiables (hydration, exercise, connection, nourishment) when you’re standing on shifting sand? How do you remain adaptable without losing your own sense of self? How can you acknowledge the hurt that’s been done to you without withdrawing from someone you love, someone you will fight to the ends of the earth to care for? What do you do when your love and care isn't being received? How do you make choices and make peace with yourself when you can’t be sure of the outcome?
I think that the aspect of control and knowing what I can and can’t do—or what I can choose to do—is the scary, uncomfortable part. That I can control how much of myself to give, when, and to who. Part of me frequently feels I must throw myself repeatedly on the fire, even if I get burned, because in my head, that’s the definition of being a good sister, a good daughter, a good partner, a good person. The hurt will prove that I tried. The pain is more familiar than a world in which I do not throw myself in the fire and instead watch my loved ones burn without me. But I know it is unsustainable. Inevitably, we would all burn out. That is the worst outcome, one that I cannot even begin to entertain.
Which all comes back to balance and keeping the important things in focus. Honestly, there are days when nothing seems to fucking matter. There have been days where I feel so low and helpless. I watched Palm Springs recently (a time loop rom-com) and this interaction between the two leads stuck out to me:
Nyles: The pain is real. Why can’t you understand that?
Sarah: It doesn’t matter. Nothing matters. Right? Those are your words.
Nyles: No. Pain matters! What we do to other people matters! Being a source of terror is not fun, okay. It’s not fulfilling. I know this from experience. It doesn’t matter that everything resets and people don’t remember. We remember. We have to deal with the things that we do.
What matters is acknowledging our pain and the pain we cause others. What matters is how we treat each other no matter how hopeless a situation seems. What matters is how we treat ourselves, to do our best, and to know our own limits. What matters is that there are no clear answers to complicated questions, but we try again anyways.
- On feeling healthy, a zine by The Creative Independent
- Esme Weijun Wang is offering a workshop on July 25 on Obsession & the Creation of Fiction. Scholarships are available.
- Check out The Resort LIC’s virtual membership and writers community, which includes online group writing sessions, Q&As with author and industry professionals, and publishing resources and talks.
- By the Books is Mailchimp’s (oh hello!) virtual book festival which includes so many excellent book recommendations, authors in conversation, and curated essays, videos, and podcast episodes.
- Aloe Bud, an iOS app for self-care reminders
I finished Alisha Rai’s romance novel Girl Gone Viral which is a heartwarming read with a rich setting and a strong focus on family and mental health. For a book club, I read N.K. Jemisin’s The City We Became which made me ache for New York. I continue to be awed by Jemisin’s worldbuilding and how she critiques real social systems through these constructed worlds.
My partner and I have watched some old and new (surprisingly dark) rom-coms: The Apartment (IRL Mad Men from 1960 that’s satirical, earnest, and ultimately hopeful) and Palm Springs (it’s a perfect 90 minutes that moves at a brisk pace with equal parts humor and existential dread). I saw Spirited Away for the first time and loved it. I watched the second season of Ramy and sobbed quietly at the end of Normal People because Paul Mescal’s tears are too much.