I had a nap earlier and woke with a crushing sense of my own mortality. I am not exactly carpeing many diems and spend far too much time on Netflix. Self-flagellation is only another form of narcissism, which is is probably getting into uber-self-flagellation at this point.
I did go to the gym this morning and did a really good exercise class that saw me bathed in sweat (or feeling like I was) at the end and this cheered me up no end. Exercise really is magical, but I get annoyed at the likes of Niall Breslin who promote it as a treatment or prophylactic against depression. Firstly, if you can get up and exercise you're not that bad. It's like saying that looking harder is a good treatment for blindness. Depression is itself the inability to get up and do things, including exercise. And I object strongly to the idea we should exercise in order to ward off mental illness. That's just reducing everything to mental health homework. I don't believe in doing anything for the sake of our mental health. That is an unpopular opinion, but almost every activity that promoted on the grounds of its mental health benefits has other benefits that are specific to that activity. We suck the marrow out of life to reduce everything to some kind of psychiatric hygiene régime. We rob life of its variegation and its multiplicity and the complexity that is in everything. Exercise makes me feel better, it makes me stronger physically and also reduces my heart-rate variability making me calmer in stressful situations, it has functional benefits when it comes to running for a bus or moving furniture, it gets me out of the house and my classes are handy fixed-appointments in an otherwise unstructured week.
You could also say reading has mental health benefits and we should read more for our mental health. But when we look at reading we see a host of other benefits that don't overlap with those of exercise: I learn new things and I like learning, it makes me better at my job, it helps me answer quiz questions, it develops my understanding and appreciation of the human condition, it makes me feel less alone, I like to marvel at the cleverness and artistry of great writing, it brings me into a community of like-minded people who also like readings and literary events.
To put reading and exercise in the same category seems absurd to me. It connotes a world where there will eventually only be three or four categories of activity. Or maybe even two; activities that are harmful to mental health and mental health homework.