It was almost 5 years ago that I shared Part I of this letter; opening up about my struggles – as a coach, practitioner, and more importantly, as a human – with depression and anxiety.
These days, I typically refer to those struggles as my journey with mental health. However, as I penned my last piece on the topic, I did not think of it as a journey at all: if I am being honest, it felt like something I was escaping; running at full speed away from my mental health, not learning to live with it, embracing it, and dare I say, using it to my advantage.
But, back then, I was just getting out of the woods really. My story was undoubtedly one worth sharing then, as I had already come such a long way. However it was still early days. Nearly a half-decade later, though, I can report back that, I did not just “escape” the clutches of depression, I have actually learned to walk side-by-side with it, at peace with it all.
This word has taken on a whole new level of meaning for me over the last five years.
You see, I used to always strive for happiness; a relentless pursuit of it, really. But over the years (many, many years) I could never quite grasp it.
Build a career, and then I will be happy.
Be financially independent, and then I will be happy.
Have a relationship, and then maybe, just maybe I will be happy.
Enter depression: just when you think you have finally reached all of which you have coveted and worked yourself tireless for, ultimately you still wake up feeling empty. You might too know the feeling.
While depression drove me to some really, really dark places personally, I am actually quite fortunate: it seems that depression combined with perfectionism can make for a potent cocktail professionally. Shake’em both up and what did I get? Work-ethic.
If I did not look or feel like the person I wanted to be, maybe I could work my way there. Hence why my career and training (physically) take such a precedence in my life: with work comes progress. If I work hard enough, maybe I can become something – someone – that I am happy with.
But with work also comes fatigue. And after a decade-plus of 60-80 hour work weeks (and 10-15 hours spent lifting weights, running, and cycling – not to mention practically starving myself for much of it) “fatigued” would have been an understatement. I was exhausted, and it just wasn’t sustainable for much longer.
Chasing happiness got me pretty much nowhere. If anything, not only was it evasive as hell, but the fact that I could never ever catch it made me question myself further:
What is wrong with me?
Am I just a miserable person?
Why can’t I just be happy with who I am?
And now enter peace and acceptance.
You see, here is what I learned – my “secret”: happiness is positive, in the same way that sadness is negative. Peace, however, is agnostic. There is no emotion attached to it. Finding peace simply means accepting things for how they are. Not to be confused with complacency, finding peace doesn’t preclude us from wanting or striving for more. However, once we truly find it, peace allows us to detach from how strongly we feel (good or bad) about our current circumstance. Our current situation – well, it just is.
To be candid, I am not a fan of my physical appearance. In fact, self-esteem issues are at the heart of the struggles I went through. However, despite beating myself up over it since I was around 10 years old, the fact is, I just can’t change my face (practically speaking anyway). So, why fret, toil, agonize, or suffer over it?
It took me, 15+ years to finally ask myself that question. But, once I was able to remove the emotion from my perceived shortcomings, coping with them became manageable. Moreover, rationalizing it all actually became possible.
Sure, I knew that I couldn’t change my appearance much – that is exactly why I took up exercise: if I can’t change my looks, well then I will sure as heck change what I can: my body. But rather than spending hour upon hour suffering on the bike or in the gym (and then living with the guilt any time that I did not do a two-a-day, let alone miss a training day), accepting myself for who I am allowed me to appropriately work on myself in a more measured and less emotionally-taxing manner.
It has taken time, but I have been able to reason this out for so many different aspects of my life that gave me worry, guilt, or despondence.
There’s my personal life: look around and all I see these days are people my age with flourishing social lives; then there are the high school friends with a baby (or four); weddings and proposals and gender reveals. I turned thirty-years old recently, and I feel like I am further from any of these things than ever. A few years ago, this was a scary and incendiary thought that, if dwelled on long enough, could turn things dark in a hurry. However, these days I am quite at peace with where I am: sure, I am not involved with anybody, but I have spent an awful lot of time working on myself. Learning to live with myself. Learning to accept and (hopefully one day) love myself.
And, much of why I am in this position personally is because I have spent so much time on myself professionally. Ten-plus years ago, I would have told you that I would gladly sacrifice my personal life for my career. And, you know what? That’s what I did. So, today I am going to accept that I did it and be grateful for what has come of it so far (with an eager, open, and patient mind for what could come next).
And really, there really is a lot to be thankful for when it comes to my journey with mental health. I firmly believe the introspection it took to get me past the worst of it all has helped me to not only understand myself, but to more generally understand others. It has helped me become a better communicator, and it has given me perspectives that I don’t think I could have otherwise been able to see. I may not be able to view the world through rose-colored lenses, but I do believe I can see it through many more shades of humanity. People are vulnerable, every last one of us. Our ability to understand and truly feel this is a key to human connection.
And this is why I share my journey with others. If you can’t see how vulnerable I am, I will show you. Because once you see it, you know that we are the same. If you are struggling with your own mental health, then in me, know that you have an ally and an example of somebody who has quite literally sunk to rock bottom and somehow managed to re-emerge from those depths and gone sailing on their way. If you are not struggling with mental health, then in the very least I hope that me sharing gives you better insight into who I am and how we are still alike in some ways because, ultimately, everyone struggles with something at some point in their life.
Whatever you are (or will one day be) struggling with, I too hope that you can find the peace and acceptance necessary to truly and thoughtfully work your way through it and continue on your journey.