Previously I had written about going through a rough patch with depression and anxiety. I’m more than happy to say the other side of this is looking really good. I’ve added new skills, a deeper understanding of myself, and managed to improve my living conditions and work life tremendously even through the worst of it. Nearly eating my gun really gave me some perspective on how I was living, and how I want to live going forward.
If I had to make a list of the top 5 things I’ve done to improve my mental state they would be:
- Careful consideration of my mental diet
- Support groups
I’ll expand a bit on each
I really never thought I would be on medication. I know there is some social stigma here, especially in the shooting circles, but once I started to talk about it I was AMAZED by who confided to me that they too take something. It’s more common, and less invasive than you may think. Honestly I probably would have benefited from this my entire life but it wasn’t until my coping mechanisms where stripped away that I came to a place where I was willing to see that.
The best way for me to wrap my head around this was framing it as an other injury. You can injure your brain just like you can injure your knee. Let’s say you got something fucky in your knee, like most of us do. You can live with it, even excel. You compensate, you find ways to cope, you work around it. Then one day you sustain a catastrophic injury. Well, at that point all those modification to your life and coping skills are no longer enough. You cant just tough it out anymore. So maybe like when when I had to take steroids to take down the inflammation in my C spine so I could do PT you have to take some medication and then work on fixing the problems.
The brain isn’t some magical thing separate from our bodies, if you believe in a soul it lives in the matter that makes us. The brain is an organ like any other and can be injured just the same. Mental health is no less real than a heart attack, and just as important.
Yeah, again, prob could have used this earlier… But ya know I toughed it out this long and really had developed some really healthy coping mechanisms. Training Jiu Jitsu, lifting weights, shooting, reading, all these things certainly worked well and are much better choices than say heroin or gambling but in the end while they are good for me they don’t actually fix the underlying issues. Jiu Jitsu may help you cope with depression but it won’t cure it, at least not on it’s own.
Funny thing is I was surprised much like shooting and martial arts there is much infighting and differences of opinions about schools of therapy and techniques. I tried a few and I found Cognitive Behavioral Therapy to be both incredibly effective and that it meshes well with the Stoic Philosophy I personally subscribe to.
I do believe you can change the way you feel by changing the way you think, and like any exercise it takes practice and repetitions. Through this practice I’m not just going back to how I was before, I’m improving my quality of life. As an example I had lived my whole life with a fear of dogs from when I was attacked as a child. Through CBT and Exposure I went to the humane society last week and walked a strange dog and played with him, a big full grown black lab mix. My life just got bigger.
So when post breakdown my wife told me she had not in the near 20 years we’ve been together seen me stop and relax more than once or twice for a day I had to wrap my head around the scope of just how large my inability to rest really was. It was always something, work, the gym, training, whatever obsession I had that drove me to exhaustion and kept the demons at bay. I knew I had to learn to relax.
A friend in the mental health field suggested the Headspace App and it has done wonders. Approaching this as a skill and something I could practice to learn new habits has been a game changer. I now regularly take a little time for myself in the day to sit down, breathe, do a guided meditation, and the results have been amazing. Seriously, if you can relate to my experiences give it a shot. The free learning how parts on the app and such are well worth the time, but the courses on sports training and competition are particularly relevant to readers of this blog.
It’s no woo woo mystical nonsense. It’s reps for my brain just like I need to do physical therapy work for my injured spine. Exercising the brain has not just improved my mood but also markedly improved my memory and ability to focus. The operating system is running much smoother now.
Well, if therapy and meditation are the exercise for the mass of meat that is my brain then diet and exercise need to go hand in hand. You can’t outwork a bad diet.
It’s funny how the thing most fulfilling in my life, training, can insidiously become a detriment to my well being. People into self defense, especially you instructors out there will understand this. Maybe you’ve experienced real violence, I know I have, and maybe like me you feel desensitized to watching it on video and the like but when I realized just how much people getting murdered, books on terrorists, interviews with killers, just how much I was consuming over the years it hit me pretty hard. Around the time of my breakdown a friend sent me video of an officer involved shooting, and as I hesitate to click on it, feeling the edge I was sitting on, I thought man I just can’t watch another person die today.
And so obsessing over daily covid numbers, watching dark movies, reading interviews with the islamic state all of that may be good but man, I gotta watch a comedy every now and again! I need to read a piece of good science fiction. I need a story about something uplifting. Maybe instead of looking at the daily death toll I should check that every week or so but stay up on news about vaccine progress or how communities are coming together to help one another.
A big part of that is getting off facebook. Nothing like an algorithm to exploit our outrage and allow me easy access to arguing with people who’s opinions don’t matter! I really can live without a sudden notification on my phone that someone is offended by me or a picture of something terrible and likely false. I didn’t care about my friends uncles stupid political opinions a decade ago I certainly don’t need to read them now. Unless we bring back cat pics and what you had for dinner I’ll be elsewhere.
I’m not ignoring the bad news, but my diet can’t be all fast food mass consumption garbage. I need to feed my brain like the high performance engine it is so it can run this sack of meat and bones floating in space for a while longer.
I know I talked about my friends and how they saved my life through this but just because I’m on the other side now doesn’t mean I need any less support. Or that they might not need me. I’ve been able to help a few of them through this time as well and nothing does more for me than being honored with the opportunity to help someone else. Humans are social animals, it’s built into our biology.
While going through the worst of it I built strong habits of calling, video calls, and visits with friends. It would be tempting to rest on my laurels now and disengage. But like I’ve been told we need to stay ready so we don’t have to get ready. It’s no less true for mental health than it is for preparing for a competition, a match, or any challenge life might bring us.
I hope this helps someone, it certainly helps me. You are not alone.