Musing about maintaining wellness on World Mental Health Day

World Mental Health Day. In the handful of years that I’ve been maintaining this blog, I have yet to stop for a moment to acknowledge this annual effort to raise awareness of mental health issues around the world.  In fact, I rarely address the subject even though mental illness, and the stigma it carries, has profoundly impacted my life. With significant costs.

And yet, compared to many of the people I have known, worked with, and cared about, I am lucky. I am capable of functioning well with medication and therapy. Mind you, I was well into my fifties with a ruined career behind me before adequate support for my bipolar condition was finally in place. It shouldn’t be so hard to access care, but it is, and continues to be so no matter where one lives.This morning, with another fresh snowfall on the ground, only a week after we were treated to an entirely unseasonal 40 centimetres of the stuff, I made my way downtown to volunteer with our annual readers’ festival. As I walked through the cold and fog, my mood was bleak. The importance of a strong social network is regularly stressed for the maintenance of mental health and well-being. However, in this city where I’ve lived for most of my life, I have no strong social connections. I have family, but we are not close. I have children—a daughter who is making plans to move to the US to marry her boyfriend and an adult son I live with who has his own long standing mental health concerns, but they really need to be living their own lives. Close friendships, meaningful relationships, continue to elude me. My closest friends, even my last partner, have been at a great distance.

A sense of loneliness, growing deeper and more pervasive in recent years, has become my most constant companion.

*

The city’s damp, misty streets seemed to feed negative ruminations as I walked. Much of a mood disorder is, to be certain, beyond one’s immediate control—my darkest, near suicidal depressions have come at times when things in my life were positive—but I am fully capable of falling into dark spaces when I allow myself to dwell on what I don’t have. My losses. My failures.

Fortunately, although the weather remained dismal, my day brightened. I made three runs to the airport to pick up visiting authors and, as a result, I was able to enjoy in depth conversations about life, literature, and writing with journalist and author Rachel Giese, and novelists Rawi Hage and Patrick de Witt. I was kept busy, engaged, and interacting with writers.  A good day—good for my writerly self and really good for my mental health.

So on this World Mental Health Day, I suppose I want to say that access to appropriate mental health care is vital. And for each person that can look  very different.  But the reality of living well with a serious mental illness, even with medical support, is a daily effort. For myself, being able to engage with others who are passionate about reading and writing is a vital part of maintaining wellness. It’s one of the factors that keeps me engaged with an online literary community, but it is always nice when I can enjoy a good conversation in person.

Author: roughghosts

Literary blog of Joseph Schreiber. Writer. Reader. Editor. Photographer.

15 thoughts on “Musing about maintaining wellness on World Mental Health Day”

  1. I appreciate this post. So well said and relatable. I’m curious, does online life (this blog, social media) help with loneliness anywhere near add much as in person stuff does? I’m thinking of taking a big step back from social media soon, but I’m worried about feeling lonely…

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    1. Because I lack close friends who share my interests (I have social groups and casual friends but it’s not the same) the social media and my online commitments beyond my blog (editing and writing reviews) have led to real connections. And good friends. Some I have been able to actually meet up with when I travel. It’s funny, but when you know you have books in common, there is always something to talk about over coffee!

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  2. I can certainly relate to this! I had a depression crisis in 2007, did 2 1/2 years of talk therapy, and still take an anti-depressant (which has had noticeably positive effects). I live abroad (in Mexico), which might produce loneliness but doesn’t seem to. I live with seven companion animals (four cats, dog, hedgehog, ferret); they are a great joy and help keep me balanced. My cultural and intellectual interests are also a lifeline.

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    1. Thanks for sharing. I made a decision a few years ago to live on less but make budget conscious travel a priority. Somehow, in a strange city where I don’t expect to know many people, I feel less alone than in my “home” town.

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  3. Since discovering your criticism and personal writing – I can’t remember how, alas – I’ve found your voice (both voices – the “creature” and the “critic.”) – congenial, and always look forward to hearing it. I read for the “voice” as much as for the sentence, and sometimes I wonder whether the literary voices that sustain me are just sustaining a delusion of being part of a “community.” I do not write, after all – I find my own voice inadequate. Depression? Anxiety? There are names and there are conditions, but the solemn and somewhat insolvent end of “mental health” talk for me has always been, and remains this – I feel sane when alone with my books, and only begin to feel crazy when I talk to other people. It’s sad, because there is almost nothing more satisfying than communicating with another person about a voice, a sentence, a poem, a book! Well, I say “it’s sad,” when I mean “I’m sad,” I suppose. Just finished reading Markson’s WITTGENSTEIN’S MISTRESS for the first time, that contorted contradictory comedy about “the world,” and what could possibly be the case when language allows everything. I laughed a bit too knowingly as I read, but the snickery snuffling melancholy of the book has hit now. And I’ve no one to discuss the book with – in great part because I fear getting books “wrong.” Community, how does it work? I am glad you know how it works, for enough time to sustain you.

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    1. Thank you for the good words. Twitter has probably been my greatest social connection. Together with my blog it has led to opportunities to write and edit, but it also connects one with a world of fellow book lovers/literary geeks. And when I have discreetly shared real traumas (like the sudden deaths of my parents two years ago) I have been surprised by the people who reached out to me, often through a direct message, to offer support. Much more than in my real life where the only people to give me a card and small gift were—surprise—the staff of an independent bookstore where I often shop!

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      1. Book Twitter is truly not bad! I largely got out of Political Twitter (exhausting), and my feed and my own tweets now focus 90% on books, animals, music, film, art, architecture, baseball, beer, history, philosophy – you know, the good stuff.

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  4. Laura, I’ve recently abandoned Facebook, and I can tell you that not only do I not miss it, but I’m finding I have more time to keep in touch with friends. I don’t miss their posts about cooking and gardening, but I was missing their occasional company. Off FB, I send cards and make phone calls and organise chats over coffee. It’s better.
    I’m never going to abandon my blog and following my favourite bloggers, and I still use a carefully curated Twitter list to keep up with what those online friends are doing, but the time-wasting that was eating into my real life interactions and the company of friends is over.

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  5. Joe, when we run long loops on a trail and we see other runners passing by, each one hollers out to the other saying ‘good running, man… good running.’ Let me shout out ‘good running’ to you!
    \m/

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    1. I don’t know where I’d be without an online literary community. Even when I was working at a job I loved, I longed for bookish and intellectual interaction. The Guardian was the first place I found. After I started blogging and using Twitter, my connections and opportunities to engage in literary interactions has greatly increased.

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  6. I’m glad you had a good and fulfiling day, Joe. I know what you mean about needing that human interaction – although I do find that the online stuff gives me an outlet as I’m surrounded by non-bookish people most of the time. I think having variety of contacts in your life really can help.

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