There are a lot of things that, albeit indirectly, have helped me immensely in terms of maintaining decent mental health and behavior control:
- I'm a musician. I didn't choose to be a musician. Music did not initially appeal to me, nor did I have a natural talent for it. At one point I wanted to stop music studies to focus on other things that I was better at. My parents refused. I went through the motions for a couple more years until I finally achieved a level of fluency that allowed me to understand and later communicate musically, connecting with people in an unmediated way that I had never experienced in normal social interactions. I have since studied music seriously, which was probably the first hard thing I made myself do. I learned a lot then about my limitations and how to incentivize myself or trick myself into doing things I normally would not. I still play. The abstract logic of music is very good for my mental health and the social aspect of music makes me be nicer to people. Music, to me, is humanity's most redeeming feature and has made me interested in the stability of the human race because a destabilized society means no more music generation.
- I have a low sugar diet. A lot of food makes me sick, so I mainly eat the same things over and over again, mostly protein and fiber. This also happens to be the most stable diet for mental health -- no sugar spikes, no twinkie-defense, no need.
- Being a woman. I've never really had my megalomaniac fantasies indulged that much because I'm a woman. Men do not consider women a viable threat and women often look down on other women. So even though I felt like I could do absolutely anything, I never had anyone echoing that sentiment, which has forced me to be a little more realistic than I otherwise may have been. Also experiencing hormal swings has taught me that I can feel things that aren't real (emotional hallucinations). And girls are sort of evil with each other, so I could get my kicks through emotional manipulation and not through other riskier behavior.
- Being Mormon. Yes, there is the moral code, but I think some of the more important things about growing up Mormon for me were the endless primary lessons trying to get us to understand our emotions, the emotions of other people (e.g. he hit me, which made me mad, so I hit him back, and now he's sad). and that we can control our emotions ("turn your frown upside down"). I got the sort of "this is a happy face, this other one is a frowny face" explicit emotional instruction that I feel is largely lacking in a lot of formal education nowadays, with our focus on mathematics and reading. And I had to learn to interact with all ages, races, and backgrounds of people.
- Writing in a journal. My religion encouraged it and my narcissism wanted to document the early life of a genius (actual entries in my childhood journal). The side benefit was that it forced me to contemplate who I was and to realize some of the consequences of my behavior.
- Being smart. There are an infinite number of ways this has affected my life, but for now let me just say that being perceived as being smart allowed me to get away with all sorts of things I otherwise would not have. Teachers gave me the benefit of the doubt, even when I was caught redhanded. I was given all of the social goodwill of a "good kid" simply because I scored so well on tests.
There are other things that I feel lucky for -- a middle class upbringing with its de-emphasis on material goods, self-interested neglectful parents who largely left me alone, a superficial but straightforward culture which largely prized surface attributes and accomplishments that made it easy for me to mimic, and being a middle child who benefited from watching the failures of older siblings and was in a prime position to be a powerbroker, both between siblings and between parents and children.
So when people ask me things like how do I maintain my life like I do, I don't know. The answer is complicated. I don't really expect people to learn a musical instrument or convert to Mormonism. But I don't know what else to say besides, it couldn't hurt?