I thought long and hard about what to contribute to LIS Mental Health Week.
You can probably tell. This is going up on the last day, after all, and it’s not super insightful or well written or anything. Nobody’s gonna grab my hands, or cry; there is no moving or shaking to be had, not for even the saddest of library journals. Oh, not that you shouldn’t read this! You should! You should read everything I put into the world.* It’s just that, like everything I create, this is going to be neurotic, (mostly) practical, and squeaked in at the last acceptable moment.**
Like many other people, I live with mental illness. I’ve been successfully treated for social anxiety disorder, clinical depression, EDNOS, and borderline personality disorder. I’m at a place where it doesn’t affect my life much. Most days are good days. Bad days are mild and I know how to handle them. This is the case because I’m lucky, I had access to care, and I’ve had success with DBT and medication. (So much success that disclosing this is only making me hum ever so slightly with anxiety, and I am going to treat that anxiety with sweet headphone jams that let me get back to work rather than crawling under a pile of cats and blankets for a week.)
Anyway, like I said, there are a lot of us. I didn’t feel interested in detailing the ways mental illness has made things hard on the internet, mostly because I have a hard time with vulnerability and humor only goes so far as social camouflage, but I wanted to participate because normalizing mental illness is a Rad, Super Good Thing. In the off-chance that my Strategies for Dealing ™ help somebody, I’ve decided to share them.
Rubes’ Tips for Functioning as a Mentally Ill Professional
Know Your Triggers (and Plan Accordingly)
For me, two of my big work stressors are writing things that other people will see, and administering the first session of a round of interviews/tests. Yours might be presentations or desk shifts or when Milton drops by to discuss watering the plants. So instead of hoping I’m just not going to stress out this round, I budget extra time for these activities – I’m going to play with Word styles for five minutes, write for twenty minutes, take ten minutes to breathe and be present and tell myself I’m not the trash heap’s incompetent sibling, write for twenty minutes, etc.
(Image of Marjory the Trash Heap, from Fraggle Rock. Sourced from http://muppet.wikia.com.)
It’s like emotional exercise, I gotta get a warm up and a cool down in there or suddenly I’m out six weeks with shin splints. Giving myself permission to take care of myself when I’m stressed out, as opposed to pushing through to meltdown town, wastes less time in the end and means I actually get stuff done.
Plan for Your Brain to Not Work Sometimes
Actually, gonna take that last one a step further and recommend you plan in buffer time for your brain to just Not Work Anymore. There are times when I’m so balled up with anxiety, whether it’s from a surprise meeting or a cat being sick, that I write and unwrite the same sentence ten times in half an hour. Knowing this, I need to be sure my schedule has the flexibility for this to happen, and to allow me to bounce back from it.
This is actually part of how I try and keep myself from completely overextending in general: if I get an offer to do something, or an opportunity comes up, I have to mentally review my workload and be like “if my brain crashes and I’m not at my best for a day, can I still catch up on my obligations? Two days? A week?” If I can mentally imagine dropping more than one ball in the coming months if Steve the Anxiety Brain hits hard, I’m not only gonna have to say no to shiny new thing, I should probably start cutting back existing obligations.*** Being honest about your capabilities helps everyone in the end.
Get Your Head Out of Your Navel
When people at my work are flipping out about something, and everybody’s stressed out, my boss likes to say “it’s not like we’re saving babies”. And I love it. Because it’s not at all like we’re saving babies.
We get way high on what we do in libraries, and libraries are way cool, but ten people being annoyed because I forgot to change a font colour is not the town mob that my anxiety is making it out to be. Sometimes, when I’m stressed out over a new project and feel like a fraud or whatever, I like to sit and imagine a world where no one did my job. Things would be worse, granted, but… the world would keep going. My university would keep going. My library would keep going. And that’s ultimately super friggin freeing. Because the worst case scenario is that someone does nothing, and even then nobody’s going to die or truly suffer for it. And even at my super depressed-est, even I have to acknowledge that I can totally do better than a non-existent person doing nothing.
Train Yourself to Believe that Done is Good Enough
I’ve written about the Cult of Done before, because it rules and single-handedly saved my productivity and therefore degrees/career. Seriously. If you are at all anxious about performance/productivity, get this stuff taped up on your walls. Stare at it. Say it out loud like you’re rehearsing a dang play. Repeat it. FORCE yourself to finish a thing and then use the thing as you’ve finished it, no messing around. Eventually it gets way easier and you actually believe that “done” is fine.
Use the Sick Day
If stuff is really, really hitting the fan? Like you wake up, and you’ve had two panic attacks before shower time, and you’re going to be late getting in and the thought of people looking at you has set your skin on fire?
Use the sick day. Seriously. That’s what they’re for. Just because it’s your brain technicolour yawning and not your guts doesn’t mean you don’t need a sick day. Just remember to actually take care of yourself when you’re home****, so you can go in the next morning and kill it like you usually do.
*I’m pretty great.
**The fact that I couldn’t get my shit together mentally to upload a thing about getting your shit together mentally is my favourite thing in the entire universe.
***If anyone has tips for doing that without Steve the Anxiety Brain losing it I would like to subscribe to your program please. ship me your boxes of charms and supplements I will take it all.
****Sitting in a dark room thinking about how your boss hates you now is not self-care. So you know. That one took me a while to figure out.