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GUEST POST: “Stuck in the Mud” by John Conklin

Frog in the Mud

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The last few months haven’t been terribly hot for me. A combination of school stresses, social isolation, and a general lack of fulfillment generally don’t make for a good time. Basically anyone could tell you this, and that same basically-anyone could tell you that this combo is a recipe for disaster for understanding your world. I think the problem is that legitimate life issues can easily become mixed-up with ones that a busy, stressed-out brain concocts for you. A stressed person is probably a person acting out. I didn’t treat the people around me the way I’d have liked to‐- even though I was still treating them better than I thought I was. My concerns about my papers and their quality were real and valid, but I had it in my mind that they were far more dire than they really were.

This happened when I was dealing with things in my day-to-day life that weren’t going my way. I was struggling to find a new place to live and to prepare for a new degree. I took my difficulty in finding a new place not only as evidence that my life was spiralling down the drain, but that I had done something to earn this unpleasant situation. At the same time, a friend of mine wasn’t really talking to me as much as I was used to. That’s not to say that they weren’t talking to me at all! Just not as much as we used to. The ‘social austerity’ became ‘social starvation’ in my own mind. An unanswered text wasn’t just that (even though, let’s be real, we’ve all left texts unanswered for days or weeks before). In my mind, it transformed into something I had caused. I had done something to upset them, and I was never going to get that friendship back. When I thought about how I could move forward in light of this situation, I was certain that my assessment of the situation was correct. I was convinced that a small social break, as a result of difficult circumstances for the both of us, was ‘terminal.’ I had stress dreams where I was friends with this person again and then when I woke up I was depressed that I had ruined a friendship.

But let’s be clear. I was making it up. We were fine. My friend was as busy as I was. I had just concocted a situation in my head that seemed as real as any of the other events happening in my life. The fact that I wasn’t talking much to my other friends meant that I spent more time than usual in my own head, allowing these false narratives to marinate and to grow into something as ‘real’ to me as worries about paying rent.

What are solutions to this? First of all, don’t do anything rash when you can detect you’re in a bad place psychologically. Times of stress are not times to reorient your life or make drastic changes. Just because it worked for St. Francis to take up a life of poverty and self-denial on a whim, doesn’t mean it’s going to work for you. And you’ll be more depressed when it doesn’t work.

Second, favour long term solutions, even minor ones, over those aforementioned short term solutions. And pursue them in the long term. When I first had these issues, my doctor reminded me to continue going to the gym as often as I could, even if it seems trivial; physical activity and healthy routines are more valuable than bold moves made, especially when you’re stuck in a mental state that can’t really distinguish good ideas from bad ones. This might mean keeping a friend updated on your social situation or even something as basic as keeping steady with your medications. These problems snowball and keeping them at bay over time helps you to progressively heal long-term, even if the wounds of mental health never really ‘close.’

Sometimes it’s best to just try to remember that these things pass. That isn’t to say that you should just let yourself sit in it. You should try to improve your mental state, if anything just to give yourself a sense of agency about your own health. Even that can be hugely beneficial. But things will go on. Times do improve. That’s not to say that they’ll stay better, but you can cross that bridge when you come to it. And the okay times in between let you prepare yourself for bad times in the future. There is no miracle cure. Working at it, rather than putting your faith in something unreliable or untested, will always be more fruitful in the long run. And you should never confuse the despair of a crisis for the true way of the world.

Photo by Jill Heyer on Unsplash