Let me preface this by saying I am not a medical professional nor do I have a “one size fits all” solution that will solve your problems. Everybody is different. What works for me may not work for you.
I hesitated to publish this for quite some time. Wrote it, rewrote it, reworked it, deleted it, wrote it again. I was nervous putting this out there, nervous what people would think (anxiety lol) but after a while, I realized I couldn’t filter any of it, it would diminish the point. This is the naked truth of my experience, at least part of it, and I hope by sharing this I can help those of you in a similar situation. And if you have friends suffering from mental illness, I hope this helps you to be more understanding and empathetic to their issues. Keep reaching out to them, even when they’re ignoring your calls. Especially when they’re ignoring your calls.
If there is one thing I’ve learned living with these two burdens it’s this: you can’t beat them by yourself. Can you live with it without help? Yes, but you’re fighting a losing battle. Without a support system, you’ll push everybody away, isolate yourself, and your afflictions will get worse. Living with depression and anxiety by trying to outthink them is a paradoxical concept. Your brain is what’s broken, trying to use it as your only tool to fix the problem is like trying to put out a fire with more fire. I did this for years, and I would be OK for a day or two and then come crashing back down. Like a hangover, the depressing, self-hating lows always follow the manic highs. I could never sustain happiness because I didn’t put in the effort to be happy, I just assumed these issues would work themselves out, effectively handing the reins over to my demons. I let these irrational, paranoid thoughts control me and thought that’s how things were supposed to be. I tried to fix the surface level stuff without addressing the underlying issues
I spent most of my early 20s in a deep, dark hole. No goals, no long-term plans, nothing to keep me going. It’s hard to find direction when you have a profound sense of worthlessness that infects every part of your personality. No matter what I told myself, my mind was made up, I was convinced that I didn’t deserve happiness. You know those cliche platitudes like “don’t hang around toxic people” “surround yourself with ambitious people”? I was the toxic person, just shitting on everybody’s ideas and ambitions because I had none of my own. I desperately needed friends and support but my horrendous mental state influenced my actions and pushed everybody away. I didn’t make any long-term plans because I didn’t expect to be here this long.
I didn’t try to follow my passions, travel, nothing. I just masked all my feelings with mind-altering substances and hoped that I would “figure it out” one day. Which is hilarious in retrospect considering I was doing absolutely nothing to figure it out, and by “it” I mean life. Irrational hope was the only thing that kept me going. I was deeply depressed but had this optimistic notion that tomorrow could be better. That was based on nothing, especially not my actions, but hope is a strong motivator when you have nothing else to keep you going.
I was going nowhere fast and the less I did the worse my anxiety got, and the worse my anxiety got, the more depressed I got, which meant I had even less energy to do anything about it. I had a job that I hated and felt trapped in a life I didn’t want. I looked around at other people progressing in their lives and careers and wondered how they made it happen. What made them different? Why couldn’t I figure it out? I was working hard, trying the best I could to remain positive and squeeze myself into the mold I thought society wanted for me. It just wouldn’t take.
I had friends that tolerated my bullshit and penchant for running away (sometimes literally) from every slightly stressful situation. I would not have made it out alive without them. I didn’t have any coping skills, even when I was doing what I thought were the ‘right things’, I still felt worthless all the time. Not a “boo hoo” kind of sad but more of “I’m tired of dealing with this” kind of sad.
I didn’t love myself. I didn’t even like myself. When people would criticize me I would think “Believe me, nobody hates me more than I do.” I had racing, paranoid, circuitous thoughts that would recycle negativity ad nauseam until I just wanted to slam my head through a wall to silence them. Everything good that happened was a fluke, everybody was nice to me because they felt bad. I had no confidence. No way to vent the frustrations of constantly feeling like a worthless bag of shit. Without an outlet, these feelings just compound and calcify on your consciousness until you’re buried under a mountain of self-hatred.
I’m in the process of figuring things out, a process that will never end. I didn’t have an epiphany one day and immediately turn my life around. Instead, I started to slowly but surely learn about my condition and then take incremental steps into making it better. I’m impatient by nature which makes it hard to stick to a routine, but once I got into a rhythm, things started to become bearable. The second I fall out of rhythm, I can still regress back to my old self. There are no days off, but once you accept that it simply becomes a problem that you work at solving.
My main issue was that I was distracting myself 24/7 to avoid the problems right in front of me. Once I faced them head on, I started to make progress. Imagine if your kitchen smelled like shit because the trash needed to be taken out, but you kept buying air fresheners to mask the smell instead of taking out the trash. That was me, taking prescription meds and drinking like a fish so I could turn a blind eye to what was really wrong.
I guess what I’m saying is if I can make this sort of progress, anybody can.
Start small and keep going
I’ll write more about these in detail later on but here are the basics of what I did to start making my mental state bearable. Am I still sad? All the fucking time, but I don’t let it control me anymore.
- Love yourself
- Forgive yourself for making mistakes
- Do some type of physical activity on a regular basis
- Build positive habits and get into a routine
- Find something you enjoy doing – channel your emotion into that
First and foremost, you need to learn to love and forgive yourself. Without taking this first step, you will not be able to progress. At the end of the day, the person in the mirror is all you have, and you need to make that person proud.
I chose working out as my first step. I promised myself I would go to the gym 4 days a week and stuck to it. Working out decreased the amount of anxiety I had on a daily basis and allowed me to think more clearly. It also gave me a habit that I could build around. Your body wants to do physical activity. You’re built with the DNA of an animal that used to hunt and kill food every single day, you need to feed that part of your psyche.
Also, once I started going to the gym I built other habits around it. I started writing in a journal every day after the gym. I would search for jobs and apply to at least 3 before going to the gym. It was the start of a positive routine. I proved that I could do something positive with my time and I stuck to it for a few weeks until it became a habit. That got me out of my dark place 24/7. I still had terrible days but they slowly decreased in regularity.
I also tried yoga randomly because when you work out a lot you run out of ways to make it fun. I thought it would be a decent stretching routine and if it sucked I could stare at hot girls in yoga pants the whole time. What I wasn’t prepared for was the meditation aspect of yoga. It was a game changer for me. My mind is constantly racing so to be able to sit in a dark, hot room and focus on nothing but my breath was a godsend. Seriously, I had a religious experience during my first session. I never thought something natural could help my mental state that much. I felt clear headed, happy, relaxed, focused, everything that I wished to be but couldn’t attain. Now, meditation isn’t for everybody, and sometimes it can cause you to focus on the negative thoughts, but it’s easy and free and you can give it a try with a number of free apps (I used the insight timer). Try it out and see if it works, even if you’re not in a deep, dark depression.
Therapy is also key in making that first step and making it through the tougher times. Having somebody to talk to and coach you on how to deal with the intense bouts of sadness or anxiousness will save you hours of time trying to figure it out on your own.
And here’s the part I’m still fairly new at, that took me forever to come around to: Do what you love. Chase a dream, fail spectacularly. I discovered a love for writing and it’s helped me in ways I never thought possible. I sucked at it for a while, nobody read my stuff, and now dozens of people enjoy my writing. My measure of success is not being a famous author or ‘going viral’ with one of my posts, I just want other people to enjoy it. It makes me happy. It’s the reason I get up in the morning and it keeps my mind occupied. Find something that does the same for you. Where you don’t care how much you suck because you love it so much. Fail, fail, and fail some more. It’s better than brooding in your room for hours.
I’m by no means ‘cured’ or perfect, I’m a work in progress. But I’m working towards something rather than wandering aimlessly carrying this burden. It took time to get here, I couldn’t reverse years of bad decision making in a week. I messed up a lot but I kept pushing forward. Start with something small, a goal or a passion or a dream you’ve been telling yourself that you would do for months but have never gotten around to it. Maybe it’s going to the gym, maybe it’s writing a journal, maybe it’s something as simple as doing your laundry. Make a checklist and check one thing off. Once you do that, you’ll have some momentum to keep going.
Anything is better than nothing
There’s no need to sit there like a corpse while these mental illnesses eat you little by little like an army of ants. I’m never going to be happy all the time, but I’m OK with being happy sometimes. Take the good with the bad, know that if you work at it the highs are going to outweigh the lows. We have this weird attitude in America that if we’re not overjoyed every minute of the day there’s something wrong. It’s why over half the country is on anti-depressants. It’s OK to be sad sometimes, it’s not OK to be sad all the time. And it’s really not OK to accept that as your situation in life.
You’re going to have bad days, horrible days, but do something about it. Learn a new hobby, go to the gym, do anything but sit on social media and get more depressed. If there’s any advice I can pass on, it’s “keep moving”. When you become stationary you think too much and can start to fall down the rabbit hole.
You should try to stay as sober as you possibly can, at least until you’re in a good place. Drugs aren’t bad but they’re distracting and if you have mental health problems they can start to distort reality and make it impossible to focus on your goals. Also, as I mentioned earlier they only cover up your issues, they don’t solve them. Yes, even weed.
It took me way too long to get to that point and for anybody going through the same feelings right now, don’t try to beat it on your own. Don’t listen to your brain when it tells you to push everybody away, to ignore their phone calls, to isolate yourself because there’s no way in hell anybody could ever truly care about you. Your brain can be really mean sometimes for no reason, that doesn’t mean you have to listen. Love yourself unconditionally, find a group of people you care about and who care about you just as much, and do that thing that you always wanted to do. Even if you suck at it. And don’t get discouraged if you have a terrible day, tomorrow is always better.
I love you, you can do this. And if you need support, even if your depression/anxiety is just temporary, email me @ firstname.lastname@example.org.