A commentary on anxiety and depression.
It was 9am and I'd just come home from a run, and as I sat on the edge of my bed silently staring out of the window - endorphins still rushing, I burst into tears. It was all so out of the blue, and contrary to all common belief that a good dose of exercise could make you feel alive and alleviate the pain associated with any obstacle.
The reality is that whilst exercise is great for many things, unless the root cause of any emotion, feeling, or indeed pain is dealt with, then the same emotions, feelings, or pain can make an appearance at the worst of times.
The 'black dog' is a perfect metaphor for this text. It was the term Winston Churchill used to describe his own depression, and highlights the fact that it's a disorder that's always lurking in the background, often 'shadowing' the sufferer, regardless of whether they're upbeat or in a depressive state, it is completely indiscriminate.
This is the reason that I haven't reached out in a couple of weeks. I just couldn't muster the strength, and needed to dedicate enough time to ensuring that I had time to heal and build myself back up again.
I, like many, have been living with a black dog for many years. Not the friendly black Labrador I've always wanted with a big goofy smile and forgiving eyes, but rather the metaphorical kind that leaves me feeling isolated and unloved, unprotected, judged, and completely self critical.
People that know me well are aware that I have a dog but I often gloss over it, people that don't know me so well assume I have it all sorted out. The end result is the same, I'm often the counsellor, peacemaker, or confidant - sometimes to the detriment of my own mental health. None of this means that I lack care for myself, nor that people set out to abuse my generosity. It just means that I ought to get better at managing it, after all I do love to help people, and genuinely believe that's my soul purpose.
I know that my crash was rooted in a couple of issues; work, life direction, and unresolved personal hardships. Add coronavirus and isolation into the mix and it's any wonder that I didn't crash harder.
We're all in this together. One of many, often experiencing the same things.
We have likely all suffered, or at the very least know someone who has struggled with mental health issues at some point. Whilst some may say that they haven’t personally suffered or know anyone suffering, it’s likely because society has branded depression, anxiety, and any other mental health issue as taboo.
In 2018 I was fast approaching a crash of epic proportions. At face value I had it all, a great career, a partner, a lovely home, and amazing friends. But what lay beneath the surface was incredibly taxing on my mind, to the point that I started to lose sight of my own self worth. I was spiralling out of control, and I felt as though every ounce of progress I had made in dealing with the impacts of generational mental health had gone out the window. I was in a cycle of toxic co-dependence with my partner at the time, I neglected my friends, and lived day to day in an environment of emotional abuse and intimidation. On top of all that, I was working myself to the bone just to avoid going home, I often said that the best part of my day was the 30 minute drive between the office and my apartment, primarily because it was the only place I could switch off and cry.
I feel responsible for continuing to write down what I have been through, because it might be helpful to people who are prone to despair and delegitimising their struggles. But rather than focusing entirely on the negatives, I wan't to lend equal weight to the healthy coping mechanisms I used in order to propel me out of that environment and onto bigger and better things. There is hope after all.
If 2018 was my time to deal with personal struggles, then 2019 was my time to confront professional ones. There are many parts to this story that I wan't to elaborate on; my physical health problems that prohibited me from doing the work I loved, as well as how my personal and professional identities ended up so intertwined that I felt I had little else to identify with and offer the world. There's going to be time for all of that, but I'm going to touch briefly on a recent breakthrough for now.
As I've come out of 2019, the last few months have been instrumental in helping me find out what I actually value and want to do with my life. I've spent months at 'Escape The City' on a career change accelerator, and it's been the single best investment I could have made in my personal and professional development.
The early weeks were focused on introspection and dissecting our lives to understand from where, and how we'd arrived on the course. Early on I was sceptical, but as each week passed it got easier as more progress was being made. I was helped immensely not only by the facilitators on the course but also by my peers - all of whom I am lucky to now consider my friends. These are people who are living through the same doubts, career stagnation, or misalignment to their values.. Better yet, these are amazing people who understand me.
Soon enough we were working on live projects, testing business ideas, learning the art of the hustle, and actively re-framing counterproductive thought patterns. I say this experience has been instrumental, because I've finally been able to carve out an identity for myself that isn't linked to my former corporate persona, I'm focusing on the things that I love, and each and every day I push myself to try new things, speak to new clients, and engage with new people in ways that I never thought I could. I'm now more confident.
Looking to the future.
So lets bring it full circle. I started by talking about my inexplicable crash, and have ended on a breakthrough. I wouldn't say that doubtful thoughts don't creep in anymore, but rather I'm better equipped to deal with them, and I recognise that no matter how much good, there's always room to feel vulnerable.
The last few weeks have been incredibly difficult for everyone, and its rather timely that we're coming into Mental Health Awareness Month, at a moment where our mental health is likely to be impacted most through a lack of connection.
From here on out I'll be writing and curating weekly contributions that focus on my pillars to remaining grounded, happy, and healthy. I'll be talking about mindfulness, the importance of culture, fitness, sleep, and cooking, all framed by certain stories from my past, and detailing how each has helped me become more resilient.
Our stories aren't dissimilar, we're all one of many.