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Mental Health Monday: You Need a Nap, a Snack, a Hug, and a Good Story

Alas! And alleluia! I cannot spill any tea nor sling any fudge as promised last week because for now, my family's immediate financial security and access to health care have been restored in exchange for our discretion. I'm sure you know how it is. Sometimes we can make a clean, healthy break and leave a toxic relationship, family, or employer behind us forever. And sometimes that isn't as possible or simple as we would like it to be. So while we learn to survive a harmful situation that can't be ended quite yet, we must be careful not to give up anything that is not required. For example, my husband has promised himself and his family that he will no longer work overtime or agree to do anything in exchange for money that would unnecessarily risk his life or his health. 

Now let's pause and send some healing energy to the survivors and surviving loved ones of that candle factory in Kentucky that bullied low-wage overtime workers into staying in an unsafe building when they knew a tornado was coming. It is better to be broke than broken. And to keep ourselves whole, we must demand for ourselves enough rest, nourishment, and love. And to be effective self-advocates, we must find the right kind of stories to believe in.

Over the weekend, my husband and I filled up on a long-awaited feast of magical energy when we celebrated his 40th birthday in our snug cabincore kitchen, along with three other December birthday friends who all went to high school with us--a very magical, unique, and kind of Hogwarts-like public school that no longer exists in the form it did when we were there, and which we have learned to appreciate deeply only after it has faded into legend. But guess who hasn't faded into legend? All of us middle-aged AP class kids who felt compelled to settle back where our roots run deepest and use our esoteric educational background to develop weird, secretive, unprofitable powers that each of us see and appreciate in each other. 

It's hard to explain, but anyway, there is nothing like basking in the warm glow of longtime loves who have shared an indescribable formative experience with you. We turned up the hygge all the way and shared the joys of a macadamia milk hot cocoa bar, a colorful burrito bar, a spontaneous discovery of parathas with cream and honey, a variety of exquisite and festive libations, a key lime pie, and a round of personal catch-up stories that only we would appreciate as much as we did.

The relaxation! The food! The vaccinated HUGS! And oh, the good stories! We feel restored to our fullest contentment and ready to handle whatever nonsense comes along next.

People can't be productive or useful or good at anything if we don't have our basic needs met, needs which are human rights which nobody has to earn. If you have a romantic partner, a family member, or an employer who makes you feel like you don't deserve health, happiness, and comfort until you earn them, you are being poisoned with psychological abuse. The antidote is self-love, guarded by strong boundaries around your rights.

As often as you can during a stressful time or a sojourn in a poison paradise, lie down someplace warm. Eat a cookie. Snuggle up to someone who loves you. Tell or listen to a story that makes you feel powerful. Do these things before you feel like you have to.

Sometimes we can make a bad situation better by practicing believing in our worthiness and our right to enjoy being alive. Not to sleep when we're exhausted. Not to eat after we've starved ourselves or punished our bodies with overly intense exercise. Not to pay for a massage only after our bodies have stopped working. Not to dutifully consume whatever articles, books, TV shows, movies, and music someone has told us we should like. Feeling our own happiness and joy should come first, not last, because when we love ourselves and treat ourselves well, we are naturally more creative, energetic, supportive, and fun for others to be around.

There are many psychological reasons why it can be hard to believe that we deserve happiness or even small comforts without earning them, and a lot of those reasons are rooted in messages we pick up in our culture about owing our whole existence and every moment of our time and every drop of our lifeblood to our employers and our parents. 

I hope that if and when we become bosses and parents to someone else, we don't use our power to snuff out the lights of the next generation in service to ego wounds that compel us to abuse our power. Let's break the cycle, starting with ourselves. To better understand the causes and consequences of feeling unworthy of happiness, or even believing that happiness must be earned, I read some helpful articles by Tracking Happiness and

It was interesting to reflect on myself, how I've absorbed beliefs about my need to earn happiness, comfort, and even basic health based on family dynamics, my educational systems, certain emotionally abusive friendships and romantic relationships, and my work environments.

But now, as an adult in a healthy marriage, with better boundaries and insights regarding family issues than I had as a child, and as the mother of a child I never want to burden with feelings of inherited shame or worthlessness or lack of agency, I understand that there is nothing lazy or indulgent or "extra" about demanding, up front, the right to healthy sleep, nutrition, time with loved ones, and the freedom to write and experience and live out stories that are meaningful to us.

Through my 20s and 30s, I have fought hard against negative self-beliefs to carve out the time to write two novels, Leirah and the Wild Man (on sale now) and The Grove of Thorismud (coming in spring 2022). Both of these novels were therapeutic for me to write in different ways. 

Leirah, the main character in my first book, is a semi-feral orphan who scavenges her survival out of the land and a life of crime. I didn't write Leirah as a homeless orphan and nationless outcast to gain sympathy from the reader; to be honest, I wrote her that way to fulfill a wild fantasy of my own, to imagine what it would be like to feel no obligation, ever, to an oppressive family, school, employer, or society. Of course, a fantasy is not a wish. I am well aware that I am fortunate to have a family, an education, and many years of work experience. I would never even consider trading my life for one like Leirah's--I don't even like camping! But in a movie or a book, we can find release from the pressures of our real lives in the perilous adventures of a fantasy character who has problems compelling enough to distract us from our real life but whose dilemmas don't trigger our own real-life worries because they don't hit too close to home.

In the end of Leirah and the Wild Man (no spoilers, though), Leirah seeks a life that more closely resembles mine, and describing her yearning and gratitude and wonder at this kind of life made me feel more appreciative of the privileges, comforts, and blessings I have.

The main character of The Grove of Thorismud, Rosemary, is another young woman, but she is the opposite of Leirah in many ways. Rosemary is a cloistered princess with an excess of stuff she doesn't need and a numbing lack of danger in her life. And yet she doesn't have her real needs met either. She's bored, lonely yet deprived of all privacy, so anxious she suffers from insomnia within a cushy fortress, and smothered by the overbearing obsessions of her mother.

Rosemary doesn't have the education, the wits, or the physical ability to escape her gilded prison, so although she rebels in small and secret ways, she doesn't make a conscious effort to flee or fight her circumstances. Instead, her frustrated desires take on a life of their own, growing and bucking beneath the surface until the force of her cravings implodes like a black hole, sucking a latent magic from the wilderness through the defenses of her fortified home and her pure and virginal body, a magic that has the power to grant all of her wishes, at a terrible cost to every traditional structure and system in the land.

But does Rosemary get punished for this wanton intemperance of desire, in the end? Or does she revel in unearned naps, snacks, and pleasures of the flesh, happily ever after? 

I can't spill that tea either, not quite yet. 

But I do hope that someday, somewhere, someone reads her story while eating cookies and snuggling with a sexy partner in a sumptuous bed, only dropping the book to fall into a blissful and uninterrupted slumber full of indulgent dreams and fantasies. And that the reader awakens, refreshed and rooting for poor little Rosemary whether they like or admire her as a character at all, because happiness should not have to be earned.

Jean Michelle Miernik is the author of Leirah and the Wild Man: A Tale of Obsession and Survival at the Edges of the Byzantine World. 


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