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My Mental Health Mantra is a Tracy Morgan Quote

My favorite piece of mental health advice comes from Tracy Morgan. In a 2016 Rolling Stone interview with Brian Hiatt, he discussed the experience of being in a near-fatal car accident:

“I still have shit here to do,” Morgan says. “It’s gonna take more than 18 wheels for me to get out of here. I have to raise my girl, raise my wife, raise my family.” Exotic pets, too. “Gotta keep my octopus alive. Gotta keep my sharks alive. Those are God’s creatures! I’m needed!”

I am obsessed with this quote. For one thing, it sounds exactly like something his “30 Rock” character Tracy Jordan would say: “Those are God’s creatures, Liz Lemon! I’m needed!” 

For another, my friend Margot and I immediately began sending this quote to each other as a pep talk. At this point, over the years, it has ascended to the level of scripture, and simply texting “🐙🦈🦈” when one of us in distress does the job (although neither of us is remotely hazy on the precise wording of the original quote). 

“Gotta keep my octopus alive, gotta keep my sharks alive” has become, quite unironically, my mantra. It is a powerful reminder when life’s obligations feel overwhelming. It forces you to ask: Who or what is my octopus? Who or what are my sharks? What really matters? How can I make sure I’m nourishing the things I cherish most, even in times of great distress? After all, those are God’s creatures. I’m needed.

Sometimes I am my own octopus, and the quote has been deployed against me when I’m suicidal. Sometimes – usually – it’s more mundane: I don’t want to go to my friend’s birthday party and socialize, but listen, I gotta keep my sharks alive, and by “sharks” I mean “social ties.” 

The quote has a wonderful elasticity like that. Your sharks and octopus are any and every responsibility you’re secretly proud to have. You’ve worked hard to get them and care for them, and even when you feel like garbage, you want to remember how much you care about them. Your friends, your home, your family relationships, your career, even your actual pets can be sharks and octopuses. You can’t just bail on them; those are God’s creatures.

You’re needed!

Featured photo by Zo Razafindramamba on Unsplash.

Published inPersonal

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© Mary Gaulke 2023