Life After

Old Letters Library Handwriting Old Letter

Recovery for me is a multi-faceted term.  It means acknowledging my behavioral condition, understanding it and understanding that I and it are not one in the same – that I am more than my condition.  It means that I recognize the signs and symptoms of episodes or relapses, or the risk of those states.

It means that I understand and practice the steps I need to take to rise above my condition and live a life that not only benefits me, but those around me who depend upon me.  Finally, recovery also means I accept that it doesn’t equate perfection or panacea – there will still be struggles, but with the tools I have learned to utilize I can and will live a better life experience than the one I once knew.

For more than a decade I have been sharing my personal experiences with mental health issues with others who are also struggling, through the platform of writing and through private communication.  I have also stood in front of a group and told my story and I have allowed a newspaper article to be published about my very personal experiences.

All in the belief that by sharing what I have gone through and felt, it will assist those who are in a similar situation to relate to others and understand that they are not alone in how they feel or what they are facing.

Often times our thinking leads us in a very negative direction, hindering our ability to recover.  A major part of recovery is shifting our focus and training our perspective on the process of rising above the past experiences that frequently hold us down and back.  My recovery heavily centered on altering that perception of myself, establishing goals that were attainable, believing that change was possible, and finding the courage and inspiration to achieve recovery.

So, every recovery begins with perception, the perception of pain, the perception of self, and perception of life beyond the obstacles and setbacks we face throughout our lives.  By having this self-awareness of my thoughts and behavior, this shift in my self-perception, I have been able to focus my attention on personal wellness, the well-being of others, and my future.

Awareness, both of myself and of others has been and continues to be a key factor in living life beyond the issues I have faced.  A life of service aids in one’s own recovery because it adds value and meaning to our lives.  Helping others recover, helps us recover as long as we understand and maintain a healthy balance between the two.

Awareness for me involves observing my own behavior, paying attention to my thoughts, practicing meditation as I’ve learned through the study and embrace of Mahayana Buddhism, and perhaps the most important key for me has been writing.  Writing about my thoughts, feelings, experiences, aspirations, this has been a very therapeutic practice for me since I was fourteen years old.

Other key factors in recovering from mental turmoil includes patience.  If I’ve learned anything over the past ten years of training high school and college students and adult employees, it’s that patience can mean the difference between success and failure.  The same holds true in regards to mental health.

Finding solace, establishing a network of support, getting to a point of stability through medications or therapy, all of these things take time.  We all wish that we could wake up tomorrow and everything will be good or at least fine, but neither life nor mental health work like that.  It’s a process and that process takes time, energy, and commitment.

As I’ve mentioned, writing has been invaluable to me.  I consider the skill of writing to be a strength.  Without writing I’m not sure how my life would have turned out.  When I was 14, an English & math teacher convinced me to never stop writing.  I believe that her advice later saved me, as writing for me was an outlet during my most difficult experiences with depression and suicidality, and it continues to be.

This release valve enabled me to let go of some of the emotions that had been bottling up inside of me, reducing my angry outbursts, reducing the risks of self-harm, and allowing me the opportunity to navigate through myself via expressive journaling and creative writing.

While I had always been physically active, I took it much more seriously when I was in my late teens.  I credit exercise and weightlifting as a critical component of my recovery.  My willingness to commit to this type of activity is a strength in my opinion, because not everyone has that capability or willingness to commit to physical health.

Mental health and physical health are inseparable parts of living well, and maintaining physical well-being helped carry me through some of my roughest days because it provided a way to both release built up emotions and allowed me to focus on something that didn’t revolve around the emotional pain I was burdened with.

Another major piece of my recovery was being able to bond with someone else who was experiencing a similar hardship to my own.  Having support of this kind requires a willingness to open up and spend time with another person and discuss things that are immensely personal.  This does create a sense of vulnerability, but what many see as an exposure of weakness is really just a statement of strength.  I’ve long said that exposing our pain to others, gives them a path to emotional connection and the hope for healing – our pain can literally be someone else’s balm.

My primary trigger into relapse is stress and anxiety, but I can also relapse due to feeling as though I or my life lacks importance (meaning / purpose).  Having a grip on my perception and being able to gauge what is rational thinking and what is irrational has been very helpful for me.  Preparation and planning has gone a long way in mitigating the consequences of stress and anxiety, and focusing more on the things I can control and focusing less on the things that I cannot control has really saved me a lot of unnecessary suffering.

I would say the final component is knowing myself, my abilities/talents, strengths, accomplishments, it builds me up when I’m facing adversity because I know I’ve been through hard times and difficult experiences before and still came out on top in the end.

I have been training teens and adults on the skills they need to succeed in specific jobs since January 2009, this task also required me to oversee their work performance, productivity, and cohesiveness.  For me it never was so much about the work, but the people I encountered during the experience that established it as an enjoyable experience.

I lived a very sheltered life as a child, I was taught to fear things and people that were different.  Despite this, I was always very curious of the things that I was unfamiliar with or didn’t understand.  Becoming a somewhat rebellious teenager provided me the opportunity to grow and learn beyond the bubble a small-town community attempts to keep you in.

My career of engaging with others from all walks of life (ages, religions, races, politics) has granted me a continuation of that process of personal growth.  You learn a lot about yourself and others when you become part of a group, especially when you are in a role of leadership.

In addition, I’d like to state that teaching teens and adults grants the opportunity to help others improve their skills.  This enhanced skill-set builds a foundation upon which they can create a brighter future for themselves if they’re willing to stick with it and not give up.  As someone who teaches professional development classes to adults, I know that not everyone understands things the same way, or even has the same desire to learn something new.  But when they do, you can see their confidence build – they become a stronger person because of it.

Teaching is a hard job, perhaps the hardest aspect of the career I’ve had, but it’s also been the most rewarding because of the people I’ve met and the change I’ve been able to witness as they’ve learned.  Helping give people the opportunity to make a better life for themselves, what could be more rewarding than that?

I’ve worked in retail, construction, data entry, legal services, and professional development.  I’ve volunteered in disaster relief in Mississippi after Hurricane Katrina, and I became an advocate for behavioral health awareness and suicide prevention.  I enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps and I became an inter-faith minister.  Out of all the things I’ve done or attempted to do, of all the choices I’ve made, and the experiences I’ve had, I think the common thread that runs through them all is my attempt to make a difference in other people’s lives, whether it be big or small.

It is fundamentally the most important thing we can ever hope to do with our own lives.  A life of service is one of fulfillment, meaning, and purpose.  I’m only 32 years old, but in my lifetime I have seen in other people a lot of suffering, a lot of loneliness, a lot of obstacles and setbacks, and a loss of hope.  Understanding and compassion, these two things make the world a little less dark.

Since I was 19 years old, I learned that reaching out to people and opening up about my experiences in battling bi-polar disorder creates two responses.  Either they become uncomfortable and don’t know what to say due to a lack of understanding, or they begin to tell you their own story of battling some form of a behavioral health condition.  In either case, there is an opportunity for understanding and in understanding there can be compassion.  Through compassion we can build emotional connections with others.

By telling others about my own experiences over the years, I have had the opportunity to meet and communicate with others who have shared in similar suffering.  When I was younger, knowing that other people were hurting too and that I wasn’t alone changed everything for me.  Every person that I’ve ever met and communicated with due to this process of sharing, those people are my support system and because there are so many people out there suffering, these opportunities do not end.

For about a decade, my closest friend was someone else who was battling a mental health condition.  We became each other’s brace during the hard times.  I fondly recall a time when she called me at 2:00 AM, waking me up and asking if we could go get breakfast from a 24-hour diner.  It might seem crazy to others, but that small adventure and time talking was exactly what we both needed that night.

I want to help people who are in a similar situation to the one I’ve been in.  I want to help them the same way that people once helped me.  I wouldn’t be here today if someone hadn’t reached out to me and allowed me the opportunity to relate to them and their experience.  Understanding and compassion, again these things make a world of difference.

My many years of sharing my own story of living with a mental health condition and my eagerness to create an opportunity to create an environment or platform where others can relate to one another, as well as my career training has all afforded me the experience and skills to lead, teach, and support others.  But each of us can take or create the opportunity to make a positive impact on the lives of others.

Every small gesture and every endearing question can open the door of understanding and compassion.  These things make life after a mental health crisis or prolonged suffering, a surmountable possibility.  Hope is born from acts of kindness and concern, and through hope we bear witness to a better life.

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