"Moments of Mental Health IV" by Becca DeMent
“Moments of Mental Health” is a series created to offer small digestible excerpts about mental health and offer friendly ways of healing and thinking about the self. These short pieces of work offer a brief and easily understandable point that can be meditated on for a day and offer a piece to the thousand piece puzzle of self reflection.
The Best Kind of Zero Tolerance Policy:
You have the right, always, to do what you need to do to live in safety, comfort and security. No matter how small the issue, you deserve to be respected and honored. We as humans have innate needs that our conscious minds can do little to change. When we are uncomfortable, we are uncomfortable. No amount of conscious awareness of how “small” or “trivial” something may seem will change the fact that it is indeed making you uncomfortable. You deserve to live a life in comfort and safety.
By the time this is published, I will have finished my first semester of law school. I can say that it has been the most challenging period of my life, and I don’t mean just academically, although that has played a significant role. The constant pressure to achieve the highest academic demands I have ever experienced, affected the reasoning behind most of my other choices. However, this alone did not make it the hardest mental emotional time of life. In recent time, I have learned how even the smallest things that we deal with and live through everyday, play a huge role in our daily needs and emotional well-being. Despite the challenges, this time has graced me with what I consider now my “Zero Tolerance Policy,” and everything that falls within it.
In August 2019, I moved into the Tenderloin area of San Francisco, with the hopes of being more connected to my online school community. In my small studio apartment, on a busy street in one of the most impacted areas of the city, my windows were always open for the heat that berated the Bay Area for months. This let in a light breeze, but all of the noise with it. When trying to study and sleep my small room was stuffy with heat and filled with car honks, screaming, blared music, motors, ambulance sirens(about six times a day), police sirens, and flash bangs at night. I tried to ignore it, and figured it just came with the territory. I tried to be tough and get over it. I betrayed myself.
With the thirteen hour day demand of class, homework, and not falling behind, I didn’t always have time to cook and eat. In fact I didn’t much. At the advice of my therapist, I ended up having to ask my parents to cook me food so that I could eat throughout the week. If you’re wondering why I couldn’t just walk somewhere, it really wasn’t easy to. If you’ve ever been to the Tenderloin in San Francisco, you probably understand why. I will not talk badly about a place that is home to so many who undoubtedly would leave if they could, but are so impacted by the faults of our society, that this is not an option. Pray for those who are suffering in the Tenderloin. It did pose certain challenges for me in terms of my mobility, as I am a young fem passing individual who was by no means immune to the harassment that can occur in the streets. I did not feel safe enough to leave the building, and only went for a walk to the pharmacy three blocks away once, as my only on-foot lone adventure. There were no close grocery stores, and it was extremely difficult for friends and family to aid or visit me given the parking near the Civic Center area. This left me incredibly isolated. I tried to keep myself busy and focused, and figured there was no need to go out when I had so much work to do. I betrayed myself. I thought this back story was necessary to examine what I wasn’t seeing, and why I tried for so many weeks to make the situation work. Almost everyday I ended up in tears of overwhelm, but I thought it would get better; that I could make it better. I betrayed myself. Seven or so weeks in, I had to go home.
By this point my body was so overstimulated by the constant heat, discomfort, noice, hunger, soreness, isolation, loneliness and frustration that midday on a Tuesday, when a flashbang went off right outside my window, I broke down. I came home to carry out the rest of my semester, and move.
Okay here’s the real point of the article, I learned some very important things about myself.
1. You can try your very hardest at something, and still need help. As I’m sure many of you are, I thought I was perfectly capable of starting in a totally different environment, without my partner who I’d gotten to live with for five months, to learn a difficult and brand new profession. I made schedules for myself, went to sleep early, tried to eat, keep my room clean, do yoga. The works. I killed it in high school and undergrad, why not this? I was so convinced that like so many other challenges in my life, if I just worked really hard, focused, and used all my tools, that I would succeed. One way or another, in our time of transitioning into true adulthood, we realize that sometimes hard work really doesn’t matter. You can’t outwork the noise, or the isolation. You can’t outwork your sense of safety and sociability. You might have to ask for help, and accept that the current goal or plan is just not attainable as it is. I think it can be really hard for some of us because we don’t want to feel like we’re giving up. I didn’t, and you haven't.
This experience helped me to accept that life sometimes presents us with limitations that we cannot cross, no matter our ability. It isn’t about failing the goal, it’s just about changing the plan; the approach. I didn’t fail my semester, I just couldn’t succeed from where I was. I was so deadset on doing it just that way, thinking I was proving something, that I couldn’t see that it wasn’t serving me. Be open to changing at the presence of struggle. It doesn’t mean you’re failing or giving up, only that this route is not serving you, and it is up to you to figure out, and stand up for what will.
2. Have a Zero Tolerance Policy. One of the biggest barriers that kept me from accepting my situation and doing what I needed to change it, was the strict unconscious belief that I could, and should, tolerate it. I pay to live here and I just spent so much time moving all my things in, I should try to make it work. While this seemed like a rational thought, it told my subconscious that “money and time are more important than how you feel, and you should have to tolerate the discomfort.” It’s hot, loud, I’m hungry and it’s hard to focus, but I have so much homework. I’ll just go downstairs to the lobby or do my reading on the couch instead. This seemed like a reasonable solution, but really it was saying to me “I don’t care if you’re hot and hungry. School is more important. Sit down and deal with it. ” My point is that when you are bothered by something, it is an indication that there is an opportunity for you to honor yourself and your needs. I didn’t for weeks, and it now has given me a very low tolerance for an environment that makes me uncomfortable and unsafe, and you should have a low tolerance for that too. You do not have to constantly betray yourself to be tough and capable.
These examples are limited, but think of your own life. It could be the comment that your parents always say about you that doesn’t make you feel good. Do not betray yourself. You have the right to voice your needs. Maybe it’s the noise downstairs, or music coming out of your siblings headphones when you’re doing work. Maybe it’s when someone doesn’t tell you they’re going to be late or need to cancel. Maybe it’s not feeding yourself enough of the food you like. Maybe it’s your friends or family calling or texting you too much. All of these are just examples of the little things we experience in life that we feel the need to just tolerate, versus change, because we think we should. Well you shouldn’t.
Sometimes it just takes a little speaking up, in a clear, polite and direct manner, to ask for the thing that you need.
“Can you please turn it down?” “*parent* I can’t talk right now. I will text/call you when I have time available.” “I will get that take out.” “Will you please let me know sooner if you cannot make it? I’d really appreciate it.” *moves out*
Give yourself permission to need things. You are a person; a human. All people are are beings with preferences and desires. Act on them. Many of them are actually really reasonable and even if others have to act on behalf of it, it probably won’t cost them much. It is reasonable to want to be in a living situation for which you are safe and comfortable. It is reasonable to want to be in a social environment, family and friends, that makes you feel safe and comfortable, whatever that looks like. It is reasonable to want to sleep in peace, communicate in peace, go about your business in peace. We betray ourselves all the time when we put society’s and (unduly) the needs of others ahead of ours, where it is perfectly reasonable that we have our needs met too. Have a zero tolerance for even small things that disturb your peace. Speak up and speak up now because it is perfectly reasonable, for you, as an individual, to need that thing to feel safe and comfortable. Give yourself permission to live the life you want, and where you are happy, safe, and comfortable. It is probably more reasonable than you think.
Disclosure: This article is not to suggest that everything can be changed where you experience hardship. Everyone’s situations, needs, and resources are different and many people are forced to tolerate a lot. The sentiments in this article article are only meant to exist where they can.