Y’all probably know I’ve dealt with anxiety and depression and Type 2 bipolar disorder for a few years now (well, diagnosed at least). To say that those issues have caused some issues in my life is an understatement.
Everything has been affected — from my marriage to my physical health to my career. I can’t think of anything that’s my mental health hasn’t had an impact on, and in general, it’s been a negative impact.
Because I am exhausted y’all. Mentally and physically. I am fatigued.
To help combat this, my counselor has given me a pretty good metaphor:
Managing mental health is a juggling act
Every aspect of my life is a ball that needs to be kept in the air. When I am in peak performance, my social ball, family ball, career ball, marriage ball, hobby ball, fitness ball…they’re all being tossed up and caught pretty easily.
But when I’m not in peak performance, I can’t keep my eyes and hands lined up. Some balls hit the ground. Now, I can catch some of them. But not all. I’m just not coordinated to keep them all afloat.
The struggle here is deciding which balls to let drop. Because despite being unable to keep them all up in the air, I am still able to choose which balls I focus my attention on.
No matter what, something is going to drop. So I need to be the one to decide which ones I am
So do I drop my social ball? That means less time with my friends, maybe. Less interaction online. Or do I drop my hobby ball? Which means my side-hustles and pure for-funsies stuff gets neglected (video games, blogging, podcasting). What about the fitness and nutrition balls? Should I focus on keeping those afloat and making time to run and eat well and exercise at the expense of seeing friends, spending time with my wife, podcasting, or even making good on my work responsibilities?
Like Shakespeare said, Ay, there’s the rub. (It’s Hamlet, people! Read a book!)
Sure, there are balls that I have to let drop. Sorry, hobby ball. TTYL social ball. You’re both just pretty much resting on the ground indefinitely.
The rest of them…well, thank the maker they bounce. Because I swear that every single one of them has hit the ground a few times over the past year.
And they’re going to do it again, I’m sure.
Because Let Me Be Honest
I can really only keep one ball in the air at a time right now. Since the beginning of the year — and especially after April with my mom’s diagnosis — one ball is all I can count on (and yes, go ahead and make your jokes).
And even then, it doesn’t get tossed too far up. It’s the bare minimum I can do sometimes just to keep it off the ground.
In real-world terms, it means that I can generally only give my attention to one thing at a time. Sometimes, it’s work. I can focus on work and meet all my responsibilities and write good content, but doing so means I am exhausting myself from being able to take my wife on a date. Or take back that pair of pants that’s too big (for real, it’s been over a month now, and I just…can’t).
At other times, my family ball is in the air, and I may write less-than-stellar articles for work. Right this very moment, I am trying to do my best to keep my fitness ball and work ball and my marriage ball up at the same time.
And It Is Fucking Exhausting
Each of them, I’m sure, is getting nowhere near as high as it could if I were to focus on it individually. But I’m trying. I have to. Because that’s how life is. It keeps moving on. The sun keeps coming up. And the only thing I can do is deal with it and do the best I can.
Unfortunately, that means basically everything in my life is getting the minimum available energy I can allocate to it. Which is actually the maximum available energy I can spend on it. If I want to keep more than a single ball in the air.
I have X mental and physical energy. Juggling a ball takes Y energy. Some take 2Y or even 3Y to keep in the air (not everything in your life takes the same amount of effort, after all). So I have to find a way that my Y’s don’t
For instance, my wedding anniversary is Halloween. That means this month is very important to us. This year is 9 years. So my marriage ball must stay in the air. I have to focus as much as I can on her and on us all the time, but especially right now.
My career ball is in the air. Because, well, I like food and shelter and shiny things (and my job itself). Unlike when I was teaching, I don’t get 4 months a year off to recharge. So this one’s gotta stay up as much as possible.
And I am working very hard to make sure to pick back up my fitness ball. I ran a half-marathon in April. I’d run more in those 4 months than I did in the previous 2 years. Then my mom got diagnosed with cancer and died, and I basically threw this ball on the ground and went home without it. Last week, picked it back up and tried to include it in my routine again.
Y’all…I’m tired. Like all the time. I wake up tired, work tired, run tired, and sleep tired. Because I am trying to just keep these three fundamental, basic life skills in somewhat running order.
It shouldn’t be this hard to get by. And that’s what it is. Right now, nothing in my life is flourishing. But it’s getting by. For the moment, it’s good enough.
Good enough isn’t going to work forever, but until the grief and depression subside a bit, that’s the best I can do.
Even that’s only because I have had to become okay with letting some balls drop and not going after them.
I mean, my hobby ball? It bounces up occasionally. Like now, I’m writing this out. Not because I want to or really even have the mental energy to spare, but because it’s cathartic for me. It gives me something to focus on besides the blank wall in front of me. Video games, too. I can’t even focus on the awesome new Spider-Man game on PS4. It’s amazing (heh heh heh), but it takes attention. Soooo…I’m still in Act I.
The nutrition ball? I eat a lot of cereal these days. And protein cookies. Good for me? Nope. Do I care? Sure. Enough to pick up the ball and include it in the routine? Nope.
And the social, family, and countless other balls a normal person juggles in the course of a day, week, month, or even a year? I look down and see them scattered around, not bouncing back up, but not rolling away, either, necessarily. But definitely at rest where they are for a while.
And I hate that. I don’t like it. I don’t like it one bit. It all feels downright terrible.
It Is What It Is, Though
As much as I wish I could say I’ll be back at peak soon, I can’t. I am fairly certain that during the holidays, I am going to drop one or more balls for a little while.
It’s hard to get my mind around that being okay. But it has to be.
Right now, I am spending all of my energy on these three balls. And that’s okay. As I can, I will grab one of the others and see how it works. Maybe it’ll be light enough to juggle for a while, too.
All I know is that this is how life is right now. This is how anxiety works. It’s how depression and grief work. It’s how bipolar 2 works. A lot of my recovery has been wrapping my mind around not being perfect, not being able to control everything, and just chilling out and letting things happen.
This situation is just a part of that.
I don’t want to drop the ball on anything. I want to be the best employee, husband, friend, writer, podcasting partner, runner, gamer, health nut that I can be. But right now, I can’t be all of those things. I can’t juggle it all for a number of reasons.
And while that’s not okay. It’s okay.
And if you’re in the same situation I am, where you just don’t have enough energy to give everything as much energy as it deserves…try to come to grips that you may have to let a ball drop. Just try not to let it be a glass one.
Remember, the sun will come up tomorrow. And the next day. And the next. We can’t stop it. Our only option is to deal with what comes our way. Our choice, however, is how we deal with it all.
Sometimes the best way of dealing with things is making the decision to focus on what’s most important and come back later to pick up what you dropped.
If my counselor is to be believed (and she’s never steered me wrong), it will all be waiting for you when you come back.
Good luck out there, folks. Stay shiny.