Redefining A Mental Health Day
Mental health days are slowly but surely becoming acceptable. There are still businesses out there, bosses, corporations, that frown upon the idea of a mental health day. “Isn’t it just a sick day? Don’t you have time to run your errands before work?” But it isn’t a sick day and it is a different version of a personal day. It is a day when you’ve reach the snapping point. A day when your brain needs to refocus, recalibrate, relax. A day away from everything you are faced with on a typical Tuesday morning.
I have taken mental health days disguised as sick days because I feel guilty calling them mental health days. I’ve written about it before regarding my panic attacks that can wake me up in the middle of the night. The stigma is real and I don’t make it any better but not admitting I am taking a day for myself because I am suffering. Usually, I will still work through these days because that is what our society has forced us to think we have to do. We have to work. I mean, it’s easy! We can just work from home when we are sick! It’s from our bed, it’s relaxing! But it isn’t relaxing. It is still work. It is the guilt driving the car and it is no different than if you went into the office.
I am taking a mental health day today. And yet, here I am still writing a blog. I am my own worst enemy. But let me share why I am taking a mental health day. It seems silly because I am not currently working; I am writing and reading. I shouldn’t need a mental health day, right? I am not escaping from the grind or taking my stress to the spa. I shouldn’t be considering taking a day off from my word count.
But I have to because my brain needs the break.
I have put a lot of pressure on myself. I have been insanely unfocused this week as I waited to hear from a possible job. I had no details in terms of start date, pay rate, benefits, etc. It was giving me major anxiety as it would anyone to wait and hear if I was still in the running and what they were offering me. My brain was focused on that and I typed a lot of shit. I’m a point in my novel where I am between big plot points and action. I am trying to fill it with character relationship development and dialogue. It hasn’t been going great. I am not stuck. I have ideas. They just aren’t very good words and I am forcing it all out of me because I have to.
I keep telling myself I have to. I have to get this done. I have to write everyday. I have to finish this draft. These promises to myself that I am going to complete. I have to because I wrote about them and received support to do them. I have to because June is over. I have to because if I don’t do it now, when will I do it? Will this just be another dream that dies in my arms and I toss it away, angry at myself for letting it go? I have to do this. I have to.
And that’s why I need a mental health day away from it.
I was sick last week for a few days and took some time to veg out. I watched rom coms and read and attempted to write but my brain was fuzzy with congestion and lack of sleep. I thought that would be enough rest and relaxation for me. Enough time away to readjust and take that time for myself. But it wasn’t. Because that isn’t a mental health day. That’s a sick day.
A mental health day can look very similar but I try and choose my activities, if any, to benefit my brain in other ways. If it is an anxiety ridden mental health day, there’s a formula that helps me. If it is depression, that’s trickier but I have tools to assist. If it is stress, I know what I need. Right now, my brain and imagination are a little fatigued. They are running on all cylinders and burning out. Add the pressure I’ve put on myself and they are a powder keg waiting to explode. I cried yesterday when I realized if I take a day, I might not reach my goal. June is almost over. That job if I get it would start soon. I’m a failure. I’ve failed.
Which again is why I need the mental health day.
This is a new one for me so I am redefining it. I’m taking this day to stimulate my brain in different ways than I have been. I’m going to the movies and then I am going to see a Broadway play. The movies was an invitation I received yesterday after deciding to take this day and the play we’ve had tickets for. It is honestly better than I could have planned. I would have gone with the anxiety escape route with laying in bed watching familiar movies and eating mac and cheese. But I’m changing it up and trying this new version. Tomorrow I might take a few hours as well. I might go to the Metropolitan Museum of Art (my happy place) and wander like I used to when I first moved here after college with headphones in my ears. Or maybe that will be next week as I continue to wait for my job offer. We can see how today goes first.
My brain needs to step away for a minute and take a break. Much like any mental health day, it needs time to escape and rest. Time far away from the keyboard and bad dialogue. Time to be stimulated by something different in the outside world and maybe that will spark some new ideas. Fresh ideas. Ideas that I didn’t create. Or maybe it will just have a vacation consuming new art and be satisfied like I am after a depression day with Harry Potter and cheese.
Whatever happens, I am giving it a shot. The guilt of taking this time is real and that is also why when my husband suggested it, I balked and said “But I need to write my blog!” He suggested I write about this then. So I did. And I didn’t need to write this blog but I did because I can’t escape the guilt and if I am taking time away from my word count, I have to present something so I don’t feel entirely useless.
See? That’s such a poisonous mentality but we all experience it. Let me send this email. Let me do this one thing so I don’t feel badly taking time for myself. What a ridiculous thing to think but that is how we are conditioned. I look forward to the future where mental health days are on the same level as sick days and bosses respect that time away needs to be time away. For now, I am my own boss sending those emails to myself to do ‘just one thing’. Shutting it down.
Mental health day for me as a writer: take one.