Katrine Lynn Solvaag
I’m one of those people who struggles saying ‘no’ to certain projects. While this has brought a multitude of hilarious memories and a killer CV, it has not been without a significant mental toll. It wasn’t until I was meeting up with an old lecturer of mine that I began to realize something was amiss. When told about what I’d been up to lately, she asked: ‘Are you doing this for yourself or for other people?’, a question which still rumbles through my brain on occasion.
My mood comes in waves. The tide is affected by my current levels of stress, social engagements and deadlines. Some days I may enjoy feeling the sand between my toes, reading beneath the sun in tranquillity. On others I’m battling against a tidal wave of responsibilities, growing higher through the fact that others aren’t keeping up their end of the bargain.
My body has its own way of forcing me to take a break. Whenever the stress piles up too high, my immune system drops, and it’s only a question of time before I’m stuck at home beneath the duvet. Only then will I stop up and realize the amount of pressure I’ve been under.
Being ill allows me the power to say ‘no’ to certain engagements and delegate responsibilities.
However, I shouldn’t have to wait until physical illness appears to take care of my mental health. This is where the concept of a ‘mental health day’ comes in.
I came across the term about a year ago by accident, scrolling through my Facebook feed as one does. It was a post written by a mother which had gone viral. In the post she explained how she grants her daughters five mental health days a year. This means that if they for any reason feel unable to go to school that day, they are allowed to stay at home. No explanation necessary.
It’s a concept I feel is missing from our society. It’s in everyone’s interest that individuals are capable of looking after their own mental health at the same level as we try to look after our bodies; however the idea of needing time off to recover from high amounts of stress remains almost too taboo to ask for.
We live in a society which emphasises personal fulfilment, displays of happy times through beautifully captured Instagram photos, and which prefers for the darker days to remain in the shadows. Regardless, we need to feel as if it is okay to be more open about what is troubling us, either we can place a name on it or not, and reach out to other people. We need to be able to say ‘no, I can’t come in today; I need to take a day to care for my mental health.’
It’s not as if caring for our minds is any complex feat. The advice available remains rather similar to that provided in regard to our physical health: get enough sleep, eat healthy foods, exercise, spend time with friends and loved ones, do not expose yourself to excess amounts of stress, and seek medical attention where necessary. The two are so interchangeably linked, yet we insist on viewing the two differently.
There are times when we are pressured to the point where we feel we need to be super-humans in order to cope with all of our responsibilities. However, even Wonder Woman will need a day once in a while to Netflix and chill with some good food and a blanket, to have a day to sleep in, to escape into the wilderness and feel at home among the trees, and to watch as the ocean tip-toes away from shore.
Once in a while we all deserve a mental health day.
Katrine Lynn Solvaag is an MA Creative Writing student at the University of Kent where she also completed her BA in English and American Literature and Creative Writing. For two years she was the university’s Creative Writing Society’s president, lead organizer of the Full English Festival, and editor-in-chief for the society’s annual illustrated anthology. She’s a performance poet based in Kent, and has performed at an array of festivals ranging from Wise Words to Brighton Fringe. In addition to this, Katrine is also the co-founder of the online based Sunday Kitchen Session, as well as being the founder of Dissonance Magazine.