The oft-lauded sports cliché to play through injuries can apply to life more generally with a broader view of “injuries.”
I was listening to my new favorite podcast, The Hilarious World of Depression, while driving the other day and had a realization. There is a strong myth of the tortured creative. People believe that those who are creative do better when they are depressed or anxious. This is a seductive myth, because those who do not consider themselves creative can dismiss it by saying they don’t want all the baggage that comes with it. However, there is a big problem with this myth.
It is asinine.
Believing that creative people do their best when depressed or anxious is like believing that athletes perform their best when seriously injured. No one expects a basketball star to excel after he breaks his leg. They expect him to rest, get medical attention, and take the time needed to recuperate before returning to full activity. People who have mental health struggles deserve the same kind of space for recovery, as well as recognition that their condition is just as serious as physical injury.
Beyond the space for recovery, mental health sufferers deserve compassion and an acknowledgment of the monumental effort involved in confronting daily life. It is easy for us to recognize the effort required for someone to play through a sports injury. But mental wounds are harder to see, both the injury and its effects, and this can make them even more painful. In addition, the playing field for someone struggling with mental health is their every day life. That is the arena in which they are expected to perform, even when they should be on injured reserve.
When I started going to therapy, I told my therapist once about how cranky I am when I am woken up, especially in the middle of the night. To me, that meant that I was a mean and selfish and cranky person at my core. Getting woken up was essentially bypassing all of my defenses and showing my inner personality. Her response was so validating and healing. She encouraged me to consider instead how much work is required of me to interact with people throughout every single day. The fact that I can generally be a kind and patient person in spite of my brain’s instincts to snap and be irritable should inspire compassion for myself.
The next time someone is short with you, or seems to overact to something you might say, pause for a second. Before responding with anger, consider whether that person might be playing through injuries. Maybe she is doing the best job she can today. Maybe he really should be on the bench getting looked at by the trainer. And when you are tempted to beat yourself up because you treated people more poorly than you wanted, practice compassion for any mental injuries you might be carrying. This world can be a rough place. It is ok to admit that you are not at 100%, and make some adjustments.
We would all be better served by approaching our experience with curiosity instead of expectations. And when change is needed, practice compassion instead of judgment.