I've been on mental health leave for several weeks now. It's much needed and disorienting, and I know I still have a lot of work (on myself) to do. But, things are getting better, one little change at a time. I thought I'd be writing something here sooner, but here we are.

Everything is different now. Instead of falling asleep and waking up to an overwhelming list of tasks that feel urgent, I'm able to think and plan in the longer term. That's the idea, at least. There's a powerful urge to go looking for fires instead. When you wake up to a fire, you don't have to think too hard about what you'll do next: You put it out if you can, or you get to safety. Is it more stressful than a thoughtful plan? Definitely. But you get the momentary satisfaction of surviving or putting it out before moving on to the next blaze. In contrast, right now I'm looking at acres of ideas, desires, needs and relationships, and trying to decide how to arrange them. How do you sew the seeds to make your life more worthwhile when you get the chance to catch your breath? What can you do to minimize the risk of fires in your future?

For me, the focus has been on things I've neglected, namely my mental and physical health. Most important and challenging (for me at least) has been reconnecting with others and building meaningful new social connections. Secondarily, obligations like taxes and planning for the future—those non-urgent things that float in the back of my mind, only drifting back to the forefront when I try to relax.

Relaxing is a challenge for me. Worries and guilt spring up like mushrooms after a rain whenever I consider "unproductive" things like socializing or playing a game. There's this insidious habit of always asking how something will this make us more productive. It's echoed all throughout our capitalistic society: life, health, and happiness are not intrinsic rights but hot commodities. It's the type of thinking that results in some people going hungry while food production is at an all time high and others living on the streets while countless buildings stand empty. Proof that our societal system values not human well-being but currency is everywhere. It's a system structured around fear, and for a variety of reasons, some of us feel this ever-present threat more acutely than others.

Understanding that human life and well-being has unquantifiable value while watching the world demonstrate otherwise, over and over again, is a profoundly dissonant experience. It would be willful ignorance to refuse to see what our eyes show us again and again, wouldn't it? I intended to write about my mental health and here I am writing about the evils of capitalism. Sorry not sorry, I guess.

One of the (probably intended) side effects of a system that puts a price tag on human well-being is that those of us who are valued less by the system are reminded of our lack of value more often than others. Convenient that this same system sells happiness and thrives on profit. All of that to say that it is a challenge to separate the "worth" imposed on me by society from my intrinsic value and worth. We live in a world where it can be very difficult to honor yourself and recognize your own true needs.

Thanks, as always, for reading these thoughts. Wishing the best for you.

Recent Reads:

During this time, I've been reading and listening to some audio books, and I'll mention a few. Fiction summaries will be short to avoid spoilers but are highly recommended.

This Is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone
A beautiful bit of scifi involving time travel that I'd recommend to most folks.

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
A wonderfully inventive story about a fanfic writer going off to college. Touching, funny, and nerdy in turns.

The Undoing Project by Michael Lewis
The story of how Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky came to work together and their work in behavior economics. Honestly, I think this did a much better job of contextualizing a lot of the material from prospect theory and heuristics than Thinking Fast, Thinking Slow, and it provided a lot of humanizing details that made the lessons much more memorable to me. I really enjoyed this audiobook and would recommend it to anyone who's curious about how our brains work and common judgment errors.

Attention Span by Gloria Mark
This is a book about how our attention works, and a large amount of the content relates to the role of technology and devices in our lives. It's long-winded, and I feel like the author spread the material out over far more chapters than necessary, but it included some good insights about how human attention works, and how technology interacts with this, usually to our own detriment. The author presents a very sound argument for prioritizing human well-being over productivity.

Imaginable by Jane McGonigal
An absolutely fascinating read for me. The author is a futurist and game designer who specializes in social simulations. It includes a lot of interesting material about the human imagination and how episodic future thinking (imagining a scenario in the future) can be applied.