Aren't you afraid of what people might think of you? Every now and then I get asked that question since I published Living with the Dragon, launched my online courses on mental health management and publicly opened up about my struggles in the past with depression, anxiety and anger. The initial fear of going public has long since passed. I overcame that fear of judgement because I also knew that very same fear is preventing me from making a significant difference to the mental health community, and it is the very same fear that kept my shame alive after all the years. And as everyone knows, when there's shame, we get stuck at a place of resentment, bitterness and external blaming.
As my collection of friends begin to show their age (with knee problems, high blood pressure, cholesterol challenges, balding), I sometimes think about some of my own aches and pains including my lower back and knees after playing intense games of basketball. And when I think about recent celebrities passing away at the young age of 75-80 years old, I begin doing the math of the remaining time I might have on this planet. So at the turn of the New Year, I reached several conclusions. Not resolutions. Conclusions.
We get thoughts that pop up in our head based on a memory. If your childhood was plagued by bad experiences of abuse, trauma, arguments and family violence, your brain became programmed to those negative experiences. The repetition and patterns of negative behaviors in a negative environment hard wired your brain to have recurring thoughts even as you get older. And since you get thousands of thoughts every day based on your experiences, you'll sometimes get these negative memories creep into your headspace, reminding you of those bad times. These reminders can make way for unhealthy behaviors. This is partly the reason behind depression and anxiety because we create these unhealthy thoughts from our past which creates the depression, and we respond with fear and anxiety.
My delightful millennial coworker Stella often teases me at work about my Gen X philosophies and idiosyncrasies. When I was in my 20's I never would have imagined going to bed at 8pm and that's one of the many things about me that she banters about. When I explained to her that on my dating profile, I included that I like to have meaningful conversations about life, she exploded in laughter pointing out that it's far too serious and a turn-off to say that. After her brief 101 on dating, I stood back and said yikes...she's right! Thus, I elected to save the meaningful conversations about life for a blog or with my close friends only.
I woke up again in the wee hours of the morning, unable to get a decent night's sleep. I desperately tried hard to fall back asleep, but restlessness became my blanket and soon my eyes were as wide eyed as my cat's. I rolled over and fumbled around in the dark for my phone and saw that it was only 4:03am. Another 57 mins to go before my alarm is supposed to wake me up to go to my bootcamp class at the gym. Unable to find interest in any of my apps on my phone at four in the morning, I for no other reason than boredom began scrolling through my list of phone contacts.
Those who experienced childhood abuse will go through a different journey than those who didn't. It can be sometimes difficult to explain this journey to someone who's never experienced it before. At the end of the day, it's your journey and your life to own. And finding peace with your journey opens doors to so many great things that you didn't even realize before.
Choices are made based on the thoughts and feelings we have. These thoughts can sometimes be created by past woes, experiences and triggers. Tuning them out isn't as simple as saying you have a choice. People who experienced childhood abuse and trauma need to regain a sense of themselves before they can learn to make healthier choices consistently.
When people live with the pain of depression, anxiety and anger, it's even more critical to become more self-aware of the ups and downs of the powerful emotions and re-channel them through expressive words. This is especially true for men who struggle at home communicating their wounds to their wives and kids. Men who are unable to recognize the reasons behind their struggles, need to take a deeper dive and explore what could be triggering some of their unwanted feelings. And for men who don't, may fall into a deep abyss of their depression and anxiety. If improperly managed, it can lead to anger and in many cases emotional, verbal and physical abuse.
Today is World Mental Health Day and I had the opportunity to reflect on some of the things I take for granted. Something miraculous happened to me along the way when I had a relieving conversation with my friend Joon who lives with schizophrenia. This post is dedicated to her and all the courageous and wonderful people in the World who live with a mental illness.
Depression isn't something that can be summed up easily in one sentence. Just ask anyone who's experienced depression, it's so much more than not having energy to do things. Depression comes and goes and even behind my biggest smiles, I still sometimes feel depressed. Mental Illness Awareness Week is from October 1-7, 2018. Support your community's mental health organizations by raising awareness. Feel free to share about a mental health group in your community below in the comments!