I haven’t posted to social media in a long time, as you can tell by the massive gap in my timeline. So, what have I been up to all these years?
Short Answer: Dealing with life the wrong way by burying my heart in the sand and marching forward like a “tough guy”.
Long Answer: I apologize to everyone, friends and family, that felt connected to me throughout the years that I lost or lost me along the way for any actions (or inactions) I took that lead us apart. I feel it today more than you know.
This post is about my mental health journey, and I hope that if you are out there struggling, it inspires you to take action in your own life. Show up for yourself!
My marriage of 15 years ended last year in 2022 and my step dad died a few months later. It was devastating, but my real mental health struggle starts years prior and became critically serious in 2015.
I read somewhere about how big of a window of time you can concern yourself with while living through calm and stressful situations. When everything is calm and great, you may be able to plan your life months or even years out. As life starts to get chaotic, you may be able to only think about weeks ahead. If you are struggling to make ends meet, you may only focus on days at a time. Under even more extreme stress, your window might be reduced to hours or even living your life 1 minute at a time. If you have never had to experience life one minute at a time, consider yourself lucky. This is where the struggle to just simply exist lives. If you need a frame of reference, imagine someone in an active combat shooting situation, someone on the brink of death due to a health crisis, or someone dealing with extreme levels of pain and torment.
For many years, my window of time for planning and living was minutes to weeks at a time, highly stressful. I took on the stress of others by my own doing. It was rough, but I was fresh and ready to take on the world. I had also learned from growing up that you can just knuckle up, soldier on, and keep pushing to get the mission accomplished. In 2015, I fell ill to pneumonia and according to what I later heard, the ER doctor said I was hours from death. I was already living my life minutes to weeks at a time, and I suddenly had to live one minute at a time. In that moment, as I felt myself literally drowning with my pneumonia, something inside my mind whispered, “I am done, this is the end.”
I had been misdiagnosed and struggling with my illness for over a week before it was properly addressed by antibiotics. Also, before that, I was just “dealing with it” at home because I was going to just tough it out and soldier on. That learned behavior failed me miserably, and as a result, I felt like a failure because how could I take care of anyone in my life if I couldn’t take care of myself?
I physically recovered, my mental health started to decline, and I closed off. My world slowly became very small as friends and loved ones fell away. I disconnected from who I was and had lost the zest of life. When the pandemic happened, everyone experienced life one day at a time, but I was already living that way for years and the stress just piled on.
My ex-wife told me towards the end of our marriage, as we were discussing my illness and mental health, that people over the years (bosses, friends, etc.) would ask if I was doing OK. I had lost my laughter. I didn’t notice, and the people around me did. I became easily agitated and irritated over trivial things. I had no idea about my problem, because the tool I use to assess my situation (my brain) is the one that was struggling with mental health. Again, I kept to what I knew: soldier on and just keep marching forward. Internal emotion fell away, and I would go on to think I was just this quirky “robotic” kind of person that didn’t really have emotions. I later discovered that I was locked into the “getting shit done” mode and never came out without professional help.
Realization happens before thought. Life slapped me in the face last year and I woke up, I realized I had a mental health problem that needed to be addressed. I had basically been marching forward, staring at the ground, for many years and finally was forced to look up and saw I was so far away from my life path that I wasn’t even on the map anymore.
I reached out for therapy and worked through how I came to be so far off my path. I worked hard on processing emotions. I had to start at such an infantile level of emotional processing using something called the Emotion Wheel. I journaled emotions daily for a month. I first started by using logic to apply words that made sense to things that happened to me that day. This graduated to a process of accepting myself by walking my emotional “inner child” through the things that happened to me throughout my life until I caught up my “inner child” to my present adult self. Towards the end of the month, I was able to feel and communicate those basic emotions on the inner ring of the Emotion Wheel.
Yep, there was a lot of crying. At first, I resisted and pushed away, “men don’t cry”, “get a hold of yourself”, etc. I remembered I was actively working on emotional processing with my therapist and the next time it came I finally accepted the tears and let it come and this is when I learned to love and accept myself. I wasn’t a failure, life just took some twists and turns for me, and I dealt with it in an unhealthy way. There are much healthier ways to deal with both short term and long-term stressors in life.
I was showing up for myself and started greatly increasing my physical activity, hitting the gym and going on hikes.
On the outside, my journey might look like a physical weight loss journey, and I share my story in person where applicable and tell people my journey is a mental health journey. I remind people that mental health should be taken as seriously as physical health for a happy life.
I soon realized how alone I was after all of that and am actively working to increase my social circle. I am actively pushing myself towards romantic love. I learned to love myself, and I learned to love others again. Nothing in life that’s worth doing is easy.