Mental Health Priorities

I feel like I've started nearly every blog post out like this lately, but it's been a very long semester for me.  Losing two family members, missing my mom, entering a new relationship, being far from home for nine whole months, starting therapy, learning to open up to the people who love me...

It's a lot.

But in the traditional Madysen fashion, I want to acknowledge one major lesson I learned this semester:  taking care of your mental and physical well-being comes long before anything else.

My grades aren't going to be as stellar this semester as they have been in the past, but I'm okay with that.  I may have had some meltdowns along the way, but I've finally reached the zen point about this issue.  I spent a lot of time with E this semester, and some people might see that as slacking from school, but the moments with him are the moments that kept me sane.  His presence constantly reminded me that there's life past college; that life means more than just your grades.

Mental health, however, is more complicated than an obligatory therapy session once a week.  Taking care of yourself mentally is draining and you have to allow yourself down time and space to process what insights your gaining into yourself.  That's a lesson I'm still trying to learn.  But mental health also includes (for me) going to concerts, sleeping in when you need it, spending time with friends, and putting all of your homework aside to enjoy a moment with a person you love.  Sunday dinners with E are amazing on their own, but amplified by the fact that it's just the two of us in the moment cooking dinner and being silly together.  By Sunday night at 6pm, I'm done with my homework--whether it is actually finished or not.  We put on some music, cook an amazing dinner, and dance around the kitchen, having the time of our lives.  There's not the stress of work looming over me, and there's no guilt for the "wasted" time.  If you don't keep a few hours a week to yourself at the bare minimum, how do you expect to stay sane?

Understanding that my mental health comes first, however, was only a realization I could find once I stepped off of Columbia's campus.  Every moment I spend at this school, I feel as if I'm being brainwashed.  The war on fun that everyone talks about is not just the administration cracking down on partying, but the entire student body punishing each other for taking it easy.  No advisor expects students to take 20 credits per semester plus intern plus work study PLUS numerous clubs.  No, it's the students who set these bars.  But success cannot be attained when you're too mentally exhausted to work.

I love my internships, they are the time for me to be around people who love the same art as I do.  Plus, when the work day is over it is definitively over.  The same is true about the people with whom I've spent my time this semester.  There's a priority difference between the people who go have fun and those who hole up and do work constantly.  There are some moments when you do really just need to buckle down and get that paper written, but that should not have to be every night.

This past weekend I had to write 35 pages in finals papers.  Now, I know I should not have put them off this long, but that's a separate issue.  This weekend also, however, were Christmas parties and E's character class showcase, and our usual Sunday night dinner.  I knew that sitting in a dark room writing for hours would not be the most productive way to spend my weekend.  I knew what I was going to write my papers about, it was just a matter of sitting down and writing at that point.  So, I went to the parties and shows and went out to dinners and brunches.  I also woke up at 6am and did not go to sleep until 3am in order to write.  But I knew that I would not get any more written if I spent 72 straight hours on those papers than if I enjoyed my last weekend before break with E and wrote in the spare moments.

I finished those papers, and I've never been prouder of any piece of writing for school.

It's all a balancing game.  Hell, life is a balancing game.  But that's not what I was told directly or by society for the majority of my life.  It's always been school and work first, play second.  And no matter what opinions people have of me for putting play and enjoyment first, it has made me a better, happier, more fulfilled person.


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I'm Madysen, born and raised in Nebraska but now living out my dreams in New York City. I moved here to go to Columbia, but living in New York has become so much more to me. This blog is a space where I can share my experiences of reconciling my midwestern upbringing with the life I live in the city. But even bigger than that, this blog serves as a space where I can try to understand where I fit into the larger social world, where I want to go in life, and how I want to go about pursuing all of these endeavors.

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