On Achievement and Mental Health

I am going to write this without getting too personal. If this is triggering, please skip, though it's not at all graphic.

 

 

I think a lot of us have the idea that if you reach the top of the mountain - whatever your conception of that mountain is - you will instantly feel like a champion and all problems cease to exist.

We make fun of the many athletes coming forward lately to admit their struggles with mental health, and we say, under our breath or in private, having millions of dollars must be so hard.

Or we speculate, when someone harms themselves or attempts to, that this shouldn't have happened because of their many achievements.

We have a lot of problems in human society (and this is not really an American thing), but this idea that the only thing to strive for is achievement is harming us all. It harms the ones who don't achieve in socially acceptable ways, and it harms those who do achieve by denying the validity of their struggles.

It's hard to get out of this mindset. We spend tons of energy (and money, so much money) on keeping up with the Joneses. If we don't manage to keep up, we feel bad. And if we do keep up - or if we become the Joneses others are chasing - then we feel bad because we still can't shake what we feel.

Mental health is health. Or, to paraphrase a quote about something else, health is mental health's last name.

Any of you who is over the age of, I dunno, twenty knows that you will not see your health remain exemplary without effort. Your choices matter for your physical health, even if you are lucky enough not to have a serious chronic illness or injury. You know if you eat certain things your body will feel pain. You know if you don't exercise that walking up stairs will be a challenge. And you are free not to care (I am not judging anyone). 

Yet we don't prioritize mental health, making choices specifically to improve how we feel, unless we absolutely have to. And then we play catch up, and it's harder to win when you're coming from behind.

I make no proclamations here. Literally none of you know what leads to another person's health struggles, be they external or internal.

The only thing I can say is, unless they tell you - or, perhaps, unless you tell yourself - we can never assume someone feels the way they want to feel. Depression lies, and it never stops lying. You definitely know someone who is being lied to by their brain, even if they haven't told you as much.

Be as kind as you can be, within the limits of what you as a non-professional can do. That's really all you can do.

And for anyone who has struggled, whether or not you are what society would consider a high-achiever, just know that although the fight may never truly end, it's worth it to keep going, even if it doesn't seem that way.

I hope this is useful to someone.

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Justin Gerald

Age: 28 Hometown: NYC Location: NYC Career: Education Undergrad: Princeton Grad: New School Likes: Cooking, Baseball, Socializing, Parks, Pop Culture, Feminism Loves: Traveling, Running, Lifting, Trivia, Teaching, Equality