A Dream Deferred And Its Effects On Your Mental Health
This a very hard truth that a good friend once explained to me, in a conversation about the fear of taking time off from school to prioritize her mental health.
Hopes, Dreams, And Mental Health
We all pretty much have major plans and goals for our lives. Many of us typically have at least one distinct plan in place, that we set for ourselves to follow. Even if we don’t have that, we at least have a few dreams that we’d like to achieve throughout our journey in this life.
It’s so easy for us to spend our time and significant portions of our lives planning and curating what we want for ourselves, then actually getting to the hard work that it takes to actively move towards those goals. Something that we never usually see coming, or plan for, is the deterioration of our mental health. We can be so busy going about our daily lives, that we forget to care for and pay special attention to what’s going on upstairs.
The truth is that for many of us, (especially as people of colour), taking care of our mental health isn’t really something that we’ve been raised to believe is particularly important. The main focus is usually on maintaining our basic needs, and everything else usually comes after, with mental health normally taking the very last place. Go to school, graduate, get a job, find a career, get married, own a home, and support a family. But what happens when being able to function as a normal human being becomes compromised? The possibility of securing and maintaining those same basic needs also becomes compromised.
My friend continued to explain the immense pressure she felt, having been recently diagnosed with both Social Anxiety and Bipolar II disorder, and finally going to see a psychiatrist because of the symptoms she was experiencing for a couple of months. She explained that her grades had started to drop drastically as a result of dealing with these symptoms, as she felt exhausted and burnt out pretty much all of the time. Attempting to manage these symptoms along with trying to stay afloat at school, her grades suffered and she felt a great deal of disappointment in herself and from her family for not being the high functioning person she once was.
She eventually decided that taking time off to pay more focused attention to her mental health, was not only something that had become suddenly valuable to her but also a means of survival. In spite of the disappointment from family, and the expectations from the people around her, she realized that this was something that she had to do in order to survive, to heal, to come back stronger and that was all okay. She had to learn to accept this new and very different version of herself, in order to move forward on her path. Taking a break doesn’t mean that she was a failure, neither does it mean that she was giving up on her dreams. It was simply taking the time out that she needs to really meet and understand who she is outside of the pursuit of her dreams and goals.
What Happened To A Dream Deferred? The Shame And Stigma
Another truth is that a lot of us feel the need to have it all together and figured out all the time. Unfortunately, life just isn’t like that. It’s full of unexpected twists and turns, hard lessons, and acknowledging that it’s okay to not be okay sometimes. Mental health issues are a particular hurdle that some of us have to face on the path to our own personal success, but they don’t have to become a brick wall that blocks us off from what we’re trying to achieve.
For some reason, there seems to be a lot of shame surrounding taking time off from work and school, especially when the reason is to address our mental health or to seek professional help. There is this fear of people moving on with their lives and leaving us behind, in this apparent “race of life”. Another source of fear is that time is running out for us to achieve our goals, and that taking a break from it all is a bad thing. To people who think they have to be strong all the time, this is seen as a sign of weakness and incompetence, which is harmful, and can affect one’s self-esteem even further. This then, of course, makes them less likely to seek help, eventually resulting in burn out.
There’s a negative stigma surrounding people who experience mental illness, which is actively harmful to our communities. We often see them as othered and less than, like “crazy”, “mad”, “not all there”, “lazy”, and ”stupid”. This is often normalized and seen as a joke. As a result, people who experience mental illness anticipate discrimination against them, which leads to self-imposed limitations in their interactions with other people. This may then cause them to fail to pursue great opportunities that have the potential of helping them to become the best versions of themselves and more than just the illness. It starts with us showing compassion for these diagnosed individuals and encouraging them to see themselves as more than just their experience.
A Dream Deferred: Time Off Due To Mental Health
When you take time off from work, school or the pursuit of your dreams, you’re suddenly met with a lot more free time. This can naturally be intimidating for some of us who are classic workaholics or high functioning individuals. Your biggest concern will likely be keeping busy for the most part, considering the big change in your situation and environment. There will probably also be a lot of pressure to want to be productive during this downtime, especially if you’re not used to relaxing and really spending time with yourself.
This is a perfect excuse to be self-serving and discover what exactly you’re really passionate about. You have the freedom to decide what you want to do with your time and know that it’s okay to not know or have it all figured out just yet. Try not to Isolate yourself and cut out everyone from your life while you’re focusing on your healing. It’s good to have solid support systems in place in case you need a shoulder to lean on from time to time. This is also a good time to seek help from a professional and get the treatment that you deserve. This time off can help provide a clearer state of mind, and an effective means for the treatment to work most efficiently.
Balancing The Good Days + Bad Days
There will be good days and bad days and that’s okay. It’s important to have self-compassion and to be as gentle with yourself as if you were encouraging a friend. Try not to listen to the comments of people who do not share the same experience as you, as they are usually coming from the limited perception of their prejudices. Only you know the full extent of your experience and the hardships that you face. Your expression of that experience is completely valid and it’s all yours! Try your hardest to cultivate a spirit of gratitude in the meantime and know that this downtime is not a setback, but rather an opportunity to tap into your inner strength. With this, you can then (if you choose to) come back even stronger than before.
We say that it is irresponsible to take time out from work and school, but taking care of yourself is reason enough. As a matter of fact, it is the single most important thing that you can do for yourself. You have the responsibility of taking care of yourself in this life first, before anything else and you certainly can’t pour from an empty cup. Your dreams and goals will still be there after you’ve prioritized your health. They’ll be waiting for you to grab at them. What is for you can never be taken away, so there’s no need to feel shame in deferring your dreams. It is something so courageous, to walk away from everything that you know, to embark on the path to your own healing.
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