This post was written by Pat Everett and his experience with mental health. He is a dear friend of mine who is brave enough to share his story. Thanks Pat.
Reading through the posts that Nathan has made on this great blog has really stirred some reflection in me. I am not unlike many of you reading who have endured and/or continue to endure battles with poor mental health, or at the very least know somebody struggling with a mental health issue. Currently, I feel very satisfied and stable in the condition of my mental health. I feel that by sharing my experience, I can help people who may have similar struggles to think up a new strategy to improve their progress or help get some progress started towards a healthier mental state.
Before I press onward I want to make clear that I do not intend to preach down from on high, nor do I claim to represent any clear cut medical strategy for beating depression/anxiety in the following words. My story, and my recent triumphs that I will share herein are merely meant to be a guiding light from me to you, in order to help bring more people into a healthier, happier life.
The first post on “My Brain’s Not Broken” really resonated with me, because it made me think back to when my depression started when I was 17. It’s hard to put down a marker on a timeline or calendar when that lowly companion we call depression creeps into a space in your mind that seems so impalpable and takes a seat in your everyday life.
Looking back, I can see that my depression started because I had a severe issue with dealing with failure. Sure, we all have little failures each day that many people can push through, but to me it seemed like I was failing at all the things I felt were incredibly important in my life: relationships, friendships, sports, and my plans for the future. I sank inside myself, I withdrew, and with that came the crushing anxiety, the night terrors and sleep paralysis, auditory hallucinations and an eating disorder. Every inch towards progress I made, which should have given me cause for joy, I shrugged off. I couldn’t appreciate the good that happened to me, and only focused on my failures.
I started to realize that I was depressed, and I had a very banal view of my depression that I only realized was off-base years later. My perception of my depression was that I was this lonely, sad person, sitting at the window and looking outside at the world. A world of happiness and positivity where the people could enter my domain, but I could never open that window and join them. It was only in this past year that I began to form a new view of my depression and general mental health that is really the whole point of me writing this: I started to view my mental health as a muscle.
My perceived failures in life had amplified and I was completely miserable. I just got really tired of failing all the time. So I needed to try and dig myself out of the hole. I did that by taking stock of what it was that was causing me depression: Lack of a job, lack of a social life, and being terribly overweight. These are three very distinct and separate problems, but ultimately they caused the same feeling of depression in me. So I needed to get my mental muscle going.
I started by doing one thing, just ONE thing, each day that would help me to get this back on track. Whether it was applying for one or two jobs, or going out and meeting up with people, or working out and changing my diet. Eventually this brought me to a place of relative contentedness, and then I started doing multiple things each day that would help get me on track.
Then I started setting goals in the short term that were easy enough for me to knock out each day. I was succeeding little by little and if I failed one day, I knew that I had a chance to succeed again the next day. And what do you know? Now I find myself in a place where I am extremely satisfied in these areas of my life. I learned that I had to work out my mental muscle each day to build it up to a strong positive force in my life. I also needed to shatter the glass of that window view that held me back, and totally change direction.
Now this mental muscle approach might also seem black and white, or based in causality, when in fact many people’s depression or suffering mental state is not caused by such concrete obstacles as I have outlined above. Many people experience these ineffable sensations of doom or dread, panic and anxiety that bubble up from some unknown origin and insert themselves into a person’s consciousness. I would be remiss to not point this out, as I have experienced anxiety and depression in this way as well.
When I felt this way, I would just do something that I enjoyed, something that makes me happy. No matter how depressed you are; you are still a person with interests and hobbies. I would use these as an outlet or an escape in times of stress, whose source I could not determine. This may seem like a played out method or something you feel has failed you before, but it is important to remember that you are not solely your mental health, the sum of your parts is far greater than that lowly companion that sits on that itch you cannot scratch.
Finally, I would just like to say that if you have tried a similar type of approach to this and it has been unsuccessful, I would encourage anybody to keep trying and keep changing. Attack this from every angle you can imagine or conceive. I know that even though I feel secure in my mental station, there may be a day where things fall apart, and I’ll have to start working out my mental muscle again, and it might have to be with a totally new process.