As many of you may already know, I am an avid reader. I actually think the distraction and escapism I find in books is my key coping mechanism in living with mental health problems. It is for this “books help me feel better” reason, that a few days ago, I started reading the next novel on my shelf.
I know you shouldn’t make snap judgements with books or anything in life, but ten pages in I was well aware that this book was unlikely to be a new favourite (or to put it bluntly, I absolutely despised this book with every fibre of my being and wept for the poor tree who had sacrificed its life to become paper that was then decimated by the words comprising this hideous monstrosity). I won’t say the title of this work of fiction here because I don’t want to put anyone off reading a book that may be just what they are looking for, so for the purpose of this post let’s just pretend the book was called “The Orange Segment” (the reason being that, as people who have been reading my blog for a while will know, I HATE oranges with a passion similar to my hatred of this particular work of fiction).
Now, this was a book I was reading by choice/“for pleasure”, to relax and to try to escape a little from the confines of my head. It was not a book that I was being told I had to read for any educational purposes, and I was not being held up at orange point (very much like gun point but instead of shooting bullets at you the bad guy throws tiny clementines at your head), with the threat of being pelted with vile citrus fruits were I not to finish.
Therefore I was well within my rights to put the book down, pick an alternative, and try again. But I couldn’t.
You see when it comes to books/anything in life, I am adamant that whatever challenges face me, I will not give up. I am the kind of person who will run for a train that has already left just to stop my head beating me up that I am a failure who “didn’t even try to stop the train with their bare hands”, and this determination has served me well in some circumstances. People are always saying that once I set my mind to a task I will jolly well do it, and I have always thought this to be a positive thing. That was until I read The Orange Segment and found myself unable to put down it down, instead being forced to sit staring at an intimidating 500 pages of hell before me. In all honesty the mere thought of reading another word made me burst into uncontrollable sobs, I dreaded the next few weeks of using the tiny bits of free time I have between mental health appointments and rituals to spend time reading something that was making me feel miserable, and it was then that I realised that this internal voice of pressure in my brain yelling at me was utterly ridiculous.
Lately in life, I have noticed that society seems to have some kind of obsession with persevering. WITH EVERYTHING.
They say that if you live in England you are never more than 20 feet away from a rat, but to be honest I feel it is more a fact of you are never more than 20 feet away from some poster telling you something “encouraging” like “Quitters never win”, “Keep calm and carry on”, “Just do it” or the ever popular “Never Give Up”.
To an extent I agree with this “just keep going through the hard stuff” attitude. Without perseverance we would probably all still merely be a sperm cell snuggled up under a blanket somewhere watching repeats of Friends on a very tiny television with no interest in swimming in search of some much discussed “egg”. However, lately I think this obsession with perseverance has become a little overwhelming and the pressure people seem to feel to succeed and not “be a failure” is not helping anyone, especially when you have mental health problems making you miserable and leaving you feeling like a waste of space who can’t achieve anything anyway.
Indeed, mental health issues or not, I think this craze of never quitting anything and quitting being seen as “weak” or “easy” is a lot of pressure for anyone, with nobody offering the possibility that sometimes noticing that something isn’t working and changing your course of action is actually a very strong and difficult thing to do.
Why should people always have to run themselves into the ground in every task they try to accomplish no matter what the consequences? What the hell is wrong with giving up on something, quitting an activity once in a while if it is not helping your emotional wellbeing or making problems you already have worse? Cheryl Tweedy/Cole/Fernandez Versini/Whatever her name is has always told us that in relationships we feel are breaking down we must “fight fight fight fight fight for this love” but does that mean there is no excuse for giving up on something that no longer makes you happy? Do two people have to stay in a relationship that is making them both miserable because to give up is weak? ANSWER ME THAT CHERYL. ANSWER ME THAT.
What about hobbies? What if you decided to run a marathon and then six months into training realised that you had a deep hatred of long distance running (I don’t know why it would take you six months to learn something I grasped in five minutes of cross country at school but I suppose we all learn at different speeds). Should you keep running regardless because in life you should “never give up?”. I am all for perseverance and determination but if something is making you miserable why the hell is it so frowned upon to walk away (at a glacial pace as we have already discovered that we do not enjoy running).
Had I listened to that pressure to not give up, I would have forced myself to read The Orange Segment for no reason other than to shut up this horrible voice in my head telling me to keep going, but after my realisation, I actually challenged myself to put down the book and never to pick it up again. Immediately I was overwhelmed with guilt. I felt I had to pick the book up and finish no matter what, or else I would be some weak and terrible person. It was then that I decided that I needed to write this post for people who struggle with a similar “YOU CANNOT GIVE UP” dictator who is damaging their mental health.
To all of those people, I simply want to let you know that as great as persevering is, sometimes quitting is pretty ok too, and if you need to quit something, be that a job or a damaging relationship that is having negative effects on your mental health, that is ok and does not make you weak.
Now, I do not want this post to be interpreted as a call for everyone to stop doing every activity in life that doesn’t bring them joy and benefit their mental health. If we never did things we didn’t want to do, none of us would go to the dentist, have jobs or meet the in-laws for Sunday lunch (I don’t have in-laws personally but I hear that this kind of thing is something few people look forward to). No, I am not telling you to give up everything that makes you miserable, I am saying give up all the unnecessary baggage and things you put yourself through like bad books or horrendous jobs that are doing nothing for your mental health other than make it worse. If you are similar to me in that you have internalised this pressure to “never give up” to the extreme, when you find yourself doing something you hate, to see whether or not it is a good idea to quit, I would say you should ask yourself one thing, that being:
“Is this going to benefit me in the long term”
This way I think it helps avoid what some people could assume to be a blog post about never doing anything. Indeed, this whole “it is ok to quit” attitude could be used by people to justify giving up on mental health recovery for example. As we all know, recovery is not all jolly fun and challenging yourself to face your greatest fears is not something that makes anyone happy or feels any benefit to mental health…in the short term.
In the long term however, as painful as it is in the moment, challenges in recovery like eating a scary plate of food or touching a door handle are beneficial to your future mental health and are overall good things to persevere through for the pay off, just as revision for exams is worth it when you get the results you achieved by working so hard. Asking this question also avoids “well I hate my job so I am leaving today” issues but it also allows for that too. If you are stuck in a job you hate and have no legal obligation/monetary need to continue, why do it? Just so you can not be seen as not quitting what most people would see as a wise career choice? If you have a job you hate and there is an end goal in sight or a long term benefit of “if I just get through this placement I can advance to a level I actually want to be in”, “I will just keep going until I get another job” or “if I just stick out another year I will have the money to take that course I want to attend” then by all means, keep going.
However, if it is a job you hate, that will only get you a career that will be damaging to your mental health without looking for an alternative, all because of this mental pressure yelling either “it is a good career most people want so you must want it too” or “giving up on my job because of depression means you are weak and a quitter” then dear Lord my friend quit right now. Much like I shouldn’t feel shame for not reading that godforsaken book, nobody should be ashamed for giving up on something if it is bad for them just because the act of “giving up” is bad in itself. If you need to quit your job or quit a hobby that you cannot manage anymore, do it, and don’t ever feel weak or ashamed for taking control and doing what is best for your mental health and wellbeing.
Overall then, if you are reading this and don’t hate anything in your life, then I guess you don’t have to do anything with this post (though thank you very much for reading anyway and feel free to share this with all your friends and family incase they are struggling with mental pressure not to quit too). If you are reading this however, and you can think of something you are doing, whether that be continuing a damaging relationship, something big like a career that is damaging your mental wellbeing, or something small like reading a book you hate, then I would like to challenge you right now/give you permission to quit that detrimental thing and move on to something else that is more worth your time. Not giving up on things at the first sign of trouble is a valuable quality to have, but it is also important to acknowledge that in life, when it comes to finding happiness, sometimes quitting a trip in the wrong direction is the only way to discover the path that is going in the right one.