I think the most frustrating lesson to learn in my 40s is that life hacks are a big grift. Especially as someone who suffers from an anxiety disorder and depression. But honestly? I believe it’s true for all of us: Brené Brown quotes on a Canva template do not actually hold the secrets to living a fulfilled and content life. (Trust me, I’ve made plenty of those things, I should know.) Humans are nuanced and our lives are complex. You’re not going to suddenly be more satisfied with your life if find true love, get a better job, or get your kid into the right college. I often think of the line from Walt Whitman’s Song of Myself 51 where he says, “I am large, I contain multitudes.” That’s the one that we should all post on our Facebook feed.
At any given moment in time there feels like there is one big thing blocking our path to fulfillment or contentment or *cough* happiness. (I have been trying to avoid the quest for “happiness” because I am trying to be okay with the fact that I may never feel complete happiness as someone with mental illness.) It’s so much easier to look at our lives and just choose one thing that needs to be fixed. But…I keep learning time and time again…it’s never just that one thing.
I remember talking to my Psychiatrist when I was in the trenches of taking care of Mom and facing the pandemic and my husband was out of work and I said, “I just really need a vacation. If I could just get away for a little while and rest in peace I think I’d feel better.”
He responded, “Kim…you do that a lot. You say things will get better after the pandemic, or things will feel better once your husband finds a job, or things will get better once your Mom gets settled. And all of these things may be true, some things may get easier or feel better…but the goal is to find ways to harness peace and contentment in every moment of your life because you never know what each day will bring.”
And…I kinda already understood this to a degree. Medicine has never been the cure-all for my depression or anxiety, I also need my in-the-moment coping skills or my daily routines or my therapy sessions. I think it’s just hard for me to blow up that understanding of the complexity of my brain and my anxiety disorder or my depression and not also blame all of my negative feelings onto one thing.
Sometimes I understand the complexities of my brain. After swim season was over and things settled down a bit I said, “You would think I’d be less anxious after swim season…alas…I’m not.” To which my husband said, “You are always stressed about something.” And that’s when I reminded him, “Yes. That’s why it’s called an anxiety disorder. My body’s anxious response is disordered and occurs even when there’s nothing that someone with a functioning response finds stressful.”
Other times I beat myself up because swim season is over, why am I still not sleeping?
And I blame the desire to simplify the human existence into a life hack.
If I could just get 8 hours of sleep every night I would feel better.
If I could exercise 30 minutes a day I’d feel better.
If I could meditate every morning I would feel better.
And while all of these things are true to a degree, they are not the life hack the internet wants us to believe they are.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately because I really like my job. I don’t get paid for shit, but I really feel like I’m doing something worthwhile while I’m at the library and I’m not sure I ever had a job before that gives me a bigger sense of purpose, you know? And yet…I still feel like I’m always on a quest for contentment and peace and fulfillment.
I am large, I contain multitudes.
I have had to learn that there are some things that are going to fuck up your brain for awhile. Learning to face the systemic racism in our country and wake up to my own white privilege means can not be undervalued in the mapping of our multitudes. Neither can things like January 6th because many of us now have these concrete visuals to line up with the fears of what White Nationalism and Trumpism can bring.
Those type of things can not be cured with an inspirational quote or even a regular benzodiazepine.
Other times we are plagued with worry about the climate and the planet we’re leaving our children. Or maybe we’re worried about the world waiting for the Trans children in our lives. Or maybe our roof is leaking or our car is making a weird noise.
At any moment in time there are big and small worries in our lives that will occupy our heart and we can not beat ourselves up for not being able to make all of those things stop with one solution. Just like how they tell us to “diversify your retirement funds” so that a collapse in one industry won’t screw your future…we need to also diversify our approach to our emotional well-being.
We need to go to therapy.
We need to breathe fresh air regularly.
We need to try to nourish our body in the way that makes us feel the most energized.
We need to drink more water.
We need to have some good relationships.
We need to find work that fulfills us.
We need to find ways to move our body that makes us happy.
We all need to take a multi-pronged approach to our mental health. Sure, adding a regular creative practice to our days can help satisfy a part of our brain that needs stretching, but it’s not going to suddenly make you wake up with a permanent perspective change on the world. And what good it does may not counterbalance the negativity of bad sleep habits.
I am trying to remember that my emotional well-being is as complex as my physical well-being. My Mom’s hypertension was this big frustrating medical thing in her life for years. So many different combinations of medicines and dosages and nothing working for a long period of time. Because she would never address any other part of her life, she would never change her diet or her exercise…she would never look to therapy for depression or anxiety. All she wanted was a medicinal treatment and with that path alone, she never found stability.
Emotional health is the same. And I find it frustrating as hell.