Your Mess for Labor

In John Irving’s book The World According to Garp, the titular character, Garp, has a moment where he criticizes psychiatrists for being “dangerous simplifiers” and “thieves of a human’s complexity.” “The psychiatrist’s objective was to clear the head; it was Garp’s opinion that this was usually accomplished (when it was accomplished) by throwing away all the messy things. That is the simplest way to clean up, Garp knew. The trick is to use the mess—to make the the messy things work for you.”1

In middle school, I wanted to find a way to motivate myself to do my work. I thought that if I constantly compared myself to others and put myself down, I could artificially create a strong sense of motivation to succeed. As you may predict, this technically worked, but just not for my mental health.

After I learned how to not hate myself (which was a long and arduous journey in itself), I was still left with all this mess.

The purpose of this entry to call attention to the quieter ripple effects of mental illness, specifically depression. I won’t make an argument about depression in the workplace as I believe it’s both obvious and common that severely depressed people can be extraordinary workers, doers, and thinkers. An example of one of depression’s side effects is intense self-reflection at an earlier time and deeper level than peers. This inward thought eventually leads to identification of what changes I’d want to implement in my life as well as a visceral motivation to put these changes into motion (as it’s quite literally do or die).

There are obvious uses for the “mess”: at some point, angst forces your hand to seek outlets to express and distract yourself. One of these is creating bullet journal spreads. Finding new habits, either for coping or not, is another by-product of depression that ultimately may lead to a healthier, more creative lifestyle. Moreover, I find that struggling with depression allowed me a greater sense of empathy and compassion for others and a heightened sense of general appreciation, especially for the small things in life. Not to mention the incredible resilience I had no choice but to develop.

I’m not saying the benefits outweigh the cons or that the serious negative effects of depression shouldn’t be taken seriously. But at least I’m putting the mess to work.

  1. John Irving, The World According to Garp (Dutton: United States, 1976), 215. 

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