learning how to live life well (in all its conditions)

[This post is my contribution to LIS Mental Health Week, Jan 18-24, happening by the gracious and good natures of @skeskali and @kellymce. Check out the conversation on Twitter by following #lismentalhealth.]


 

On Me
I’m not one to “disclose” because I don’t think of myself as being “sick.” If I’m never going to “get better,” then I don’t have an illness, I have a body that operates a certain way. Sometimes that changes and then I shift accordingly. Doctors have told me that I am bipolar. I take that word and put it on a nightstand and look at it every once in a while, but it’s not locked in a closet and it’s not on display. It’s just part of my landscape. I’ve dealt with how my brain and body work since I was 12. I’ve had 16 years of learning how to live life well and for the past few years I’ve been doing a pretty good job of it.

I have two catalysts for improving my quality of living: a friend who invited me to a 12-step program meeting (my Grannie had just passed and I needed a support group), and a doctor I met with just once but for 45 minutes.

The meeting introduced me to the HALT acronym (standing for Hungry-Angry-Lonely-Tired) and it’s a measure I still use regularly. If I’m feeling one of these things, it’s not time for making big decisions. If I’m feeling all of them, it’s time to call in supports.

The doctor I met with was the best medical professional I’d ever dealt with (and I’m talking from 16 years of experience). She told me to do these four things every day: eat two big servings of vegetables, drink just one cup of coffee a day (preferably decaf), get at least 8 hours of sleep, and walk an hour. Every day. Even if I’m not doing well, these four things have gotten me through the day.

 

On everything Not-Me
As Jen Dziura, one of my favourite people on the Internet, has written “If I had been raised in a kinder, more socialist democracy—in Sweden, say—I would be a different person. Someone who doesn’t say things like, “I only like relaxing on the beach when I feel I’ve earned it.” But I am this way because we live in a cutthroat capitalist system with little safety net.”

There’s something to be said for recognizing the game for what it is and playing by those rules in order to live a decent life. We do what we have to in order to survive inside the framework of capitalism.

So what does that have to do with mental health? Well, consider that it’s now common practice to go beyond the scope of your job. We’re encouraged to take our work home with us, even on vacation with us. How many of us have email on our phone? We never escape it. If we feel like we’re constantly “on” and in work mode, something is going to give, eventually.

My sister is a nurse; in her profession they are very real and upfront about how common burnout is and what it looks like. Now, yeah, nursing isn’t exactly information work, but I think they both tend to attract people who are giving of themselves. Add in teachers and we have the feminized trifecta.

Mental health might not have any inherent or obvious links to librarianship or information work, but I don’t think it should have to in order for this discussion to happen. Good and strong mental health means confident and capable employees who, when supported, do good work. They do really great work.

So what can libraries/archives/etc. do for their employees about #lismentalhealth?

For starters, give them health insurance. Give them really good health insurance. Know what your workplace can offer your employees and make sure that you tell them about it. My workplace (a small university which I will never stop raving about because they are fantastic) has several things set in place to support good mental health: anonymous counselling as part of health benefits, discounts on gym passes, wellness workshops, work-life balance programs, flexible scheduling.

Build trust in your working relationships. People shouldn’t feel compelled to disclose their health to you (even and especially if you are their boss) but letting your peers know that you support them, in whatever ways you are able to, goes a long way.

And just be kind. Say hello. Check in. For me, this really speaks to building an ethic of care and compassionate community building into your everyday.

Kindness matters. Always. 

 


 

postscript:

I wanted to include Esme Weijun Wang somewhere in this post. She often writes about mental health and creativity; her pieces have helped me through some trying times. If you’re not familiar with her work, I highly recommend it.

 

[photo from pexels]

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