Mental Health (and Giant Robots)

I had a rough night last night. That’s a pretty universal feeling, right? The world being what it is right now, I imagine a lot of people are having rough nights. I received some unpleasant news and, well, it sent me into a bit of a tailspin.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with me, I struggle with anxiety. This anxiety tends to take one of three forms: social, medical, or financial. Last night, it was the financial anxiety that was eating away at me. You see, I had made the decision to switch careers just before this pandemic kicked into high gear. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but the week I turned in my letter of resignation turned out to be the same week that mass shutdowns began happening across the nation. This left me in an awkward position, as my own job’s shutdown impacted the timeline of my departure in ways that didn’t fully crystallize until last night.

Long story short, yesterday ended up being my last day with my old job, and it was far more bittersweet than I had anticipated. It also made things very real for me regarding my new career, which will emphasize flexible, remote jobs and freelance writing and editing (quick plug – if you’re in need of editing, proofing, or content creation, let me know).

I started to panic. Was I truly ready to make this transition? Could I earn enough money doing this? I had assumed I would stay on at my old job until we reopened; what would I do without that safety net? Most frustratingly, I didn’t even feel justified in being upset – after all, I was the one who had given notice. I was the one who had picked the end of the month as my end date. I shouldn’t have assumed the strange circumstances of our times would change that. In fact, it was pretty stupid of me to have expected anything different. And hey, I’d had time on my hands! I had far fewer duties at my old job during the shutdown; I should have been using that time more effectively! I should have been taking courses and making connections and working harder to get my freelance business off the ground. Why had I been so stupid and lazy? Now we were going to be broke and it would be my fault.

See, that’s how my brain reacts to things – it goes pretty quickly from a minor insecurity to major self-loathing. The reality is that, yes, I should have been a bit more diligent about getting my freelance work set up, but it wasn’t the end of the world. The whole reason I chose to make this transition right now was that my wife and I are financially stable enough that I can give it a shot without bankrupting us.

Normally, when I have these kinds of freak-outs, I just sort of… shut down. I feel like I need to work on the thing that’s bugging me – in this case, finding new work – but at the same time, I can’t focus enough to do anything. Last night, I tried to play video games a bit immediately after getting the news, but I just wasn’t feeling it. I decided that instead, I would watch something. After all, that didn’t require any work or input on my part. I could lay on the couch and mope, hoping that whatever I put on distracted me from the plethora of negative thoughts in my head.

Luckily for me, I recently bought a ton of blu-ray collections of my all-time favorite franchise, Mobile Suit Gundam. Obviously, I’m a huge Gundam fan – after all, episode reviews are the only recurring feature on this blog so far! If you’re not familiar, it’s a massive anime franchise in Japan; it pioneered the ‘real robot’ genre of anime, in which realistic mecha are used in science fiction stories, often focusing on military use of the machines. Gundam in particular largely deals with themes of war and oppression, and though its stories are often bleak, they usually end on a hopeful note.

My two favorite Gundam series are Gundam Unicorn and Gundam Build Fighters. It’s important to note that this franchise has been around for 40 years at this point, so it has spawned a lot of different series, many of which take place in entirely different continuities – the two shows I’m referencing don’t actually take place in the same universe. Gundam Unicorn is a resolution of sorts to the story first told in the original Mobile Suit Gundam, while Gundam Build Fighters is a wacky meta-story set in the real world, focusing on the popularity of gunpla (plastic model kits based on mecha from the Gundam franchise). Build Fighters is just fun as heck, and it got me into gunpla myself. It seemed like just the thing to raise my spirits, so I popped it into my PS4 and flopped onto the couch.

You know what? It worked. It was good to see one of my favorite shows again, but more than that, it was good for me to actually take time to relax and process what was happening. As I said earlier, my go-to move in situations like this is to try to figure out a plan of action… but then I get bogged down with fear and doubt and freeze up, which just makes me feel worse because I’m still not getting anything done. This is one of the first times I can remember where I actually gave myself time to relax, calm down, and not focus on my problem for a little while. Instead of mentally berating myself, I was kind to myself (something my wonderful wife is always encouraging me to do). It really made a difference.

On top of that, watching Build Fighters reminded me of an important lesson I’d learned from another Gundam show, the aforementioned Unicorn. That show is, at root, about the dichotomy of hope vs. despair. Eventually, the show stops being subtle about it and the protagonist and antagonist discuss the topic while staring into a Nietzchean abyss. The villain contends that all of the hero’s actions are ultimately pointless, because in the end, everyone dies. On a long enough timeline, even the universe itself will experience heat death, and nothing any living creature has ever done will have mattered. The hero responds with a simple phrase: “But even so.”

The words “even so” are a recurring element of Gundam Unicorn, often used by the protagonist or his allies to defy authority or push back when told something is impossible. It illustrates his will to keep fighting, to do the right thing, even in the face of danger. Finally, in this climactic scene, it transcends its previous status as a character’s catchphrase and takes on a deeper meaning. This time, it’s not about arguing with a superior or charging into a tough situation despite the risk.

Our hero isn’t saying the villain is wrong. He isn’t giving some bombastic speech about how good will always win out in the end. In fact, he’s acknowledging that the villain may be right; maybe all of this is pointless in the end. But that doesn’t matter. All that is is an excuse: an excuse to be selfish, to be lazy, to be cruel, because hey, it doesn’t matter anyway, right? In this instance, the phrase “But even so” is about dismissing that excuse. It’s about trying your hardest, no matter how things turn out in the end. It’s about making a choice – optimism over pessimism, love over hate, hope over despair.

At the beginning of the year, I was also struggling with anxiety, so I made myself a vow. My New Year’s Resolution was that, whenever my negative thoughts started to creep in and bring me down, I would tell myself “But even so.” Last night, I needed to be reminded of that – but once I was, I felt so much better. I told myself, “Okay, sure, things are a little rocky right now. But even so, I’m prepared for this. I knew these first few months would be rough. I’m a resourceful guy and I can handle it.”

I’m also blessed to have some incredible people in my life to help me through these situations. My awesome wife encouraged me to relax and get my mind off things for a little bit. My incredible friends offered to hang out with me all night (over Xbox Live – social distancing, folks!) and play video games to cheer me up. I even got a thoughtful message from my brother-in-law, who had no way of knowing the kind of mood I was in, that let me know he was thinking about me and my mental health. I have a truly great support system that I am thankful for every day.

Oh! And I’ve already got a session scheduled with my therapist today, too. Talking through this stuff with someone always helps.

I had intended to write about Animal Crossing: New Horizons today, but after going through that last night I wanted to take this time to talk a little bit about my mental health stuff and let people know how I got through it. Like I said earlier, I’m guessing a lot of people are having similar fears right now; frankly, I’m lucky to have held onto my old job for as long as I did given what’s been happening lately. I hope that anyone reading this who is also having a tough time takes a few of the things I’ve said here to heart. Give yourself time to relax and get back on your feet. Rely on your support system! You’ve got people who are there for you, so let them help. If you feel like you need to, look into therapy – it’s been a godsend for me. And when things get really bad, just tell yourself: “But even so.”

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