Wait But Why

By Alex Martin

I’m not sure what I want to say about mental health.

I’m a procrastinator. This post has taken 4 weeks longer than it should have, because of mindlessly scrolling Facebook.com and more mindfully reading cool posts on waitbutwhy.com and also coming across videos of baby kangaroos jumping into little pouches. But aside from being distracted by cute baby animals hopping into cozy pouches, I have found myself re-writing and cutting and pasting and deleting as I try to find the words to convey my thoughts on this topic. So that I am saying something that will be meaningful to you. So that I’m not wasting your time with my ramblings. Because if all 3,791 people that have liked Project Pilgrim happen to be reading this then I’ve already used up about 29 hours of your collective time. So here goes.

I’m not sure what I want to say about mental health.

To begin with, there’s the story I feel almost obliged to share–a story that was my day-to-day life for a long time. When I was 12 I decided I would try to lose some weight and get in shape. Next thing I know I’m 18 and consumed by hopelessness and a complete focus on only one area of my life: my body. There are a million variations of my story.

My eating disorder took me so far away from myself–from everything that it is to be Alex. I lost positivity in exchange for negativity. I lost the laid-back confidence I used to take pride in. I didn’t tell many people about what was going on at that time because I felt like if anyone knew they wouldn’t believe me, or they would see me differently. I couldn’t understand why someone as fortunate as me “couldn’t handle my life.”

I was very lucky to eventually find the kind of help that worked for me. Recovery was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do, but I am now in a place I never thought I would get to. I accept that it happened. I am no longer embarrassed to talk about it. But I also feel like I have become so much more than just that story.

Life after mental illness is sometimes a weird limbo land where you live in fear of relapse, where you kick yourself for all the time you lost now that you know how vibrant life can be, and where you try to find some deeper “meaning” as you get to know yourself outside of the illness. The current state of my mental health lies somewhere between an immense appreciation for what it feels like to be healthy, an ebbing and flowing fear about the future, and a constant worry that “I could be doing this life thing better.”

I am painfully aware of the ways in which my life feels out of step with my ideas of what it should be. I tend to overthink things. I feel like I can always see every side of a given situation, including my own situation, and it leaves me feeling stuck, confused and conflicted. “Do more.” “No, do less, and enjoy the present moment.” “You’re stuck.” “No this feeling is normal.” “The problem is that you’re trying too hard.” “The problem is that you’re not trying hard enough.” “The problem is that you think there’s a problem.” You see what I mean? I find myself frozen with procrastination, stuck in these states of doing nothing “valuable” but constantly wanting to be distracted. I don’t really know what it means, or where it comes from, and I get even more paralyzed when I think too much about it.

Over the six weeks it has taken me to finish this post, I have decided that I am going to start facing these uncomfortable thoughts head on. Because being this ruminative-overthinking-distracted kind of person seems really far from me. I don’t want to waste any more time feeling “blah.” I’m ready to reconcile these feelings and find a place of self-love and authenticity; to figure out what’s meaningful and discard the stuff that isn’t.   

There are some things that already make me feel better.

Like this Wait But Why article.

Like when I’m lifting heavy things at the gym and all I can think is “aiiiiii don’t drop this don’t drop this don’t drop this.”

Like when I’m outside and find my mind focusing in nature; walking by a tree and thinking to myself “wow that’s a really great tree.”

Like those moments when you’re with your friends and you don’t think about the past or future or about feeling awkward because they’re people that feel like your soul mates.                                 

It’s one of the most noticeable feelings–realizing that I haven’t mentally checked out for a minute or an hour. I call that fuzzy checked out feeling the “brain fog.” I live to avoid the brain fog.

I also like thinking big picture. Sometimes when I’m overwhelmed or frustrated I ask myself: “When I am taking my last breath on this planet–will this matter?” If the answer is no, then I try to let go of whatever worry I’m feeling. It puts things in perspective. I am not certain of a lot of things, but I am certain that in that last-breath moment it’s not going to be money, or that time I tripped in the library while holding a box of pizza, or my 2nd year microbiology midterm mark that matters (it was a 34 if you’re wondering).

Even bigger than that, I like to remind myself “I’m just one person living one moment of my life on this little blue planet in this thing we called the Milky Way nestled into a universe so vast that my brain can’t quite grasp it.” Keeping that awe about the absurdity of it all alive is something that really works for me.  

I am paying attention to these little (and big) things that make life feel brighter, those that lift the “fog,” because I think it’s those moments that add up to a change. Right now I am finding happiness in connecting with people–trying to get outside my own situation a little and make a positive difference. I used to think I had to pick between accepting myself and being content with where I’m at, or making changes and self-improving. But I think this quote sums up the alternative: “You are perfect as you are, and you could use a little work.” You can fully accept yourself and seek to be more of who you are at the same time.

About The Author:

My name is Alex Martin and I’m a 5th year Psychology major who often used to wonder why people took 5th years. I was born in Toronto, but grew up in Romania and Spain. Three and a half years ago, a lucky series of circumstances led me to become heavily involved with Jack.org, where I co-lead the 2014 Jack Summit and worked on various mental health initiatives. I’m a big fan of coffee dates and snuggling my 3-legged cat, and my lifelong goal is to be as cool and carefree as I was at age 5.