When I finally came to the realization that I needed help with my depression and anxiety, it was scary and eye opening at the same time. I finally realized that what I was going through did not mean I was broken or that I was a bad person, it just meant that I needed to work on my mental health as mush as I needed to work on my physical. The biggest "aha moment" came when I started going to therapy and discovered that I didn't have to do this by myself. Actually, in my case, I COULD'T do it by myself. I needed the assistance of my therapist, my family, my friends and my co-workers. Holding everything inside made my mental health issues difficult to cope with and made it harder for me to get to a better place. This website is just part of my journey and I hope it can be a part of yours.
For the longest time, I just wanted to be normal. I would see happy people all around me and wonder how they could be so normal. How could they just go about their days accepting things with such little regard for the obvious pain that would show up in the future? How could my peers truly see life with such hope and positivity? Didn't they know the future is filled with disappointment and struggle? I wanted that. I wanted to be "normal."
It has taken years of therapy, meditation, mindfulness and some soul-searching to come to the realization that normal is relative and my normal is not only like anyone else's normal, but it should not be compared to others. Compare and contrast are great for SAT questions but terrible for the human psyche. What I have come to realize is that my anxious thoughts and desires are a part of me. They are my "normal" and make me who I am today. Changing my own narrative opened up doors to places I never knew existed.
Each and every one of us have a relative normal. We don't need to need to compare our struggles with the next person. When we do that, we base our pain on the pain of others and unknowingly base our progress on the progress of others. It is ok (and in most cases, best) to help others with their progress but we should not allow our progress to suffer because of outside forces.
We are all relatively normal.
I don't remember how I felt the first time I heard the word "depression" said out loud by my therapist. I can't remember if it was said while I was in a therapy session in college....or maybe my second stint in therapy in my mid-20s.....or in my third stint in my late 20s......or maybe my fourth stint in my late 30s where I am now not that I am 40. I do know this - I didn't fully comprehend it. I had thought that I had been depressed or going through a rough patch. I didn't really feel that I was suffering with a mental illness. However, through dozens of session and hours of guidance I now know that I live my life as an adult with high functioning depression and anxiety. On the outside I am "that guy." I am usually the life of the party, I make other people laugh and, generally, people like to be around me; I can always find a silver lining. But, after being this person for so long, I can finally admit that this was all an act. I was doing all this to throw up a facade so no one could truly see the real person.
By my mid to late 20s, I was masking my pain with partying, alcohol and food. I racked up debt because I couldn't bear to stay in the house and deal with my issues, so I constantly went out to bars and restaurants. Looking back at that person I used to be, I was ashamed, I was embarrassed, I was hurt. It took years to forgive that person. And the reason it took so long was because I still saw myself as that person even though I got in shape, cut down on the senseless partying and alcohol, got my finances in order and got back in shape. I made so many positive changes in my life, but I still felt like that insecure 20-something that had no idea how to cope with anxiety, feelings of guilt or depression.
For a lot of us, making changes in our lives doesn't change who we are mentally. We still struggle silently to find our place in this world. Too many times, we revert and go back to old ways or in dire circumstance, attempt to hurt ourselves. Depression doesn't have to be our enemy, sometimes it can just be "us." It doesn't have to be a burden that we continually fight - we can take its power and use it for good. That is what I am trying to do every day of my life. This process is never-ending.
Acceptance is tough. It means that we may have to come to the realization that we are actually the things we have been telling ourselves we are not. To accept that you are a drug addict or an alcoholic is often seen as the first stage of recovery. Accepting that I had a mental health issue was my first stage of recovery. The only thing, with me, is that there was no drug, no therapist or no quick fix solution that would make me feel better about myself. This is a long road. But I learned this: long roads only look that way from the beginning or the end. In the middle, when we are in the thick of things, we only see what is either in front of us or behind us. We rarely know how far we've traveled until we stop, take a breather and think about our progress. My progress has been monumental. I have transitioned from the scared person who could not accept the fact that I needed help to that person who not only understands that I need help, but that I can also help others.
Life gives us so many tough hands; we all know this. It can be a tough pill to swallow but take that glass of water, pop that pill in your mouth and take a long a satisfying gulp. The greatest thing about acceptance is the amount of power you regain from that moment on. No longer do your emotions and feelings control you, you control them. When you are sad, you start to understand why you feel that way and learn the ways your body and mind will react. When you are happy, you don't just see it as coincidence, you see it as a product of your hard work and accomplishments.
I have accepted that nothing is wrong with me - I AM who I AM. Do I sometimes wish I was different? I would be lying if I said no. But soon after those wishes, I snap back into reality and give myself more credit. It is at those moments, I really start to love myself even more.
With Thanksgiving quickly approaching, I thought it would be fitting to talk about being thankful, gratitude, being grateful or whatever you would like to call it. Those words, used every day, are meant to invoke a person's emotional obligation of knowing that they are not fully responsible for the good fortune. Phrases like, "Be thankful for what you have," or "You should be grateful that only THIS bad thing happened," are said constantly by people trying to be helpful in certain situations. What I want to write about is the part of this that a lot of people either don't know or don't understand; gratitude's evil twin: invalidation.
It goes without saying that we all go through things constantly. Whether it is personal issues, issues with work, issues with school or financial issues - things will always come up. Some of us take those in stride, others have them linger for a bit, while even others cannot shake those things that give us anxiety. Whichever person you are, if something truly gives you anxiety and acts as a trigger to any mental response, the one thing you fear is that your thoughts and feelings are not real; not VALID. Speaking for myself, I know that a lot of the issues that make me depressed or anxious might seem small and trivial to an outside party. Other people might think, "how can he let something so small get him down?" And to be totally honest, I have thought that same thing about myself and others. Then, that same person might tell me, "Hey, you should be thankful that you have your health (or your family, or your job, or your house, or food on the table, or....well, you get the point)."
The people who say this don't mean any harm; however, unbeknownst to them, they are actually causing it. When we use phrases like, ".....well, you should be thankful....," what we are actually doing is saying, "Forget about your actual feelings, they don't mean anything because what you should be focusing on is this." Now, do I think any of my close friends and relatives would say this to me? No. Do I think they understand that IS what I hear? No. The fact of the matter is this: words matter and how we communicate with people with mental illness matters.
When someone is brave enough to talk to us about negative things impacting them, our response should not be to dismiss their feelings and say they should be focused on something else. That is unfair and can be truly detrimental to one's psyche. Our goal should not be to "fix" their problem or to even offer solutions. We should just listen. That's all. Listen. Listening is one of the hardest things for a human to do. Listening doesn't allow us to interject our feelings or opinions. Listening requires restraint that few have. Because of my anxiety, I have become a great listener because I know what it is like for a person to open to someone at a time of vulnerability. It's hard. And, like me, all a person usually needs is a sounding board.
Thanksgiving is a few days away, and so many people will be expressing what they are thankful for. This is a wonderful time of year. But, for those people who have a tough time seeing everything that is great in their lives because they are trying to get through the fog of depression or anxiety, all you have to do is be there for them and listen. Don't offer opinions or advice unless this is asked of you. Validate their feelings and be a good friend. And of course, this is all easier said than done.