#9. On "Surge" + Mental Health

We all need help and Instagram knows

There’s a story running in my head, and I suspect you’ve seen it play out. It goes like this: someone in your circle is extremely unwell, on a hospital bed — possibly old, frail, and dying. Phones are ringing through the night, everyone in whispers is preparing themselves for the impending loss. Suddenly, the dying person displays sparks of recovery. They’re walking, eating, maybe even laughing. The phone calls are still raging, now with a tremor of hope. But before you or anyone else can begin to comprehend anything, the person passes away.

If you are an avid Grey’s Anatomy re-watcher you would have identified the vocabulary for this “spark-of-recovery-before-death” situation as the surge. It’s what happened to Mark Sloan after a plane crash, that eventually claimed his life. 

Eric Dane on Grey’s Anatomy as Mark Sloan, because why the hell not.

The “surge” is a body drawing from the well of energy stored for short-term survival and emergency situations. What I did not know was that this phenomenon applies not just to physical health, but also mental health. I found out via an essay titled,  Your ‘Surge Capacity’ Is Depleted — It’s Why You Feel Awful by Tara Haelle. Easily the best thing I read last month. 

The surge explains everything. If you’re anything like me, you perhaps also get regular sponsored posts from mindpeers.com that you hungrily double-tap on. You’re not surprised anymore when you finally put your phone aside at 3:49 AM and wake up the next morning to fresh sponsored advertisements by Calm App offering to fix your sleep cycle. If our mental health is a leak in the ceiling, then Instagram is like a bucket under it — collecting all residue insecurities. 

We all need help, Instagram knows. And if I may say, we all deserve better than Instagram’s data-mined interest in our emotional well-being. 

Tara Haelle’s essay is that better, comforting thing. It’s a roadmap, but most importantly it supplies what Instagram never does: an explanation, to what we might all universally be experiencing. There is literally nothing better than understanding that our brain is filled with chemicals and that it is bound to fuck up. 

The essay begins with breaking down our “surge mental capacity” — that allowed us to function with a mix of optimism and enthusiasm through march/april/may. Instagram feeds back then were filled with us discovering banana bread, cooking, gardening, and just generally trying to make the “best” out of things. 

With each passing month, the optimism replaced itself with a depleting mind. No more banana bread and fresh salads. I just want to go back to swiggy-ing meaty, cheesy burgers and eat them without the five-minute ritual of sanitising the boxes and myself. Our (or at least, my) surge capacity is over big time. 

We have what everyone calls a “new normal,” and I spend most of the time wondering what that is. Is it feeling awful, frustrated, and a persistent lack of control day in and day out? Is it the widening of distance? Is it feeling lumps of loss growing on you? 

Not all of us may have lost people, but surely we’ve lost things, spaces, experiences, mobility, and time. Doesn’t everyone feel like things are just happening to them? That no consent was taken for so many hours, days, weeks, months to pass all at once. No warning, no notice period — for so much change.

A lot of this essay got me thinking about aspects of living and how they’ve possibly changed. I grew up as the youngest person (by a wide age gap) in the family. This, I know has many perks. The best one is that you grow up on the scandalous, twisty-bendy sitcom of adults around you making mistakes. You’re always only “watching” —  because at any given point you’re too young to be involved (don’t fall for it, they’ll tell you this at age four and age twenty with the same conviction.)

But the experience itself, of first-hand watching adults, mess up and complicate their lives adds up to be a life-altering perspective. I can never be a plan-oriented, solution-based person. Not even if tried. If you grow up knowing that even the good people — the ones who pay taxes, get travel insurance, buy an extra two-year warranty on all of their home appliances can guarantee nothing about their own future, chances are you’ll give up on plans. You’ve seen too many of them fail. 

Tara Haelle’s essay really taped into this insight. It made sense of living in a chronically clueless situation. As she says, “Our new normal is always feeling a little off-balance, like trying to stand in a dinghy on rough seas, and not knowing when the storm will pass. But humans can get better at anything with practice, so at least I now have some ideas for working on my sea legs.”

Thank You for Reading.

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