The years of anxiety and fear were never-ending in my mind. My self-confidence was always low. I didn’t know how I would ever get beyond my worries.
That paragraph might describe many times in my life. It could be the two years after college when I lived with my parents and couldn’t fathom a way out of living with them. Or the years I put off moving to some big city where I knew I may thrive but was too intimidated. Or it's the time I declined to admit I wanted something—anything—that might be more than what I felt I “deserved.”
Why had words of encouragement never sunk in? Why had I always doubted myself and my abilities? And how did I overcome these fears?
For most of my life I didn’t believe when people gave me compliments. Much of this has to do with my depression and anxiety—I felt (and very much believed) that I wasn’t good enough. I believed that my mental health issues made me less of a human being. Thus, when someone told me they appreciated what I did or said, I didn’t believe them. I had too many years of experience telling me otherwise. Besides, I knew what I felt, and what I felt seemed real. It was more real than any words from someone who wasn’t living my life.
So I truly believed I wasn’t a good writer or speaker. I doubted that I had anything of importance to share.
But with time comes experience. And confidence. And taking my medications to help calm my anxiety and depression helped a great deal, too.
I began to trust others and their judgments of me. I also had to put into the proper place my perfectionism. I began to understand that I could be a good writer even if I wasn’t the best one ever. When people complimented me on my writing I knew that at least I had touched that one person. And every individual counts.
At some point I realized I detested a life of static unhappiness. I figured out the things I enjoyed (it took me well into my 30s—I hope you have the ability to find out what makes your heart flutter well before that). And things lined up well enough that I felt comfortable quitting my job and taking on many part-time positions. At the same time I am now working toward fulfilling my goal to be a mental health speaker.
There’s never a right time to make your leap to living a life you want to live. I've heard this a hundred times. But you do what you can to find a time that works as well as you imagine it’s going to get. Then you take that leap. It’s scary and I’m still trying to figure how everything shakes out.
But I’m glad I made my move to fulfill my goals. Because 1) I don’t want to live a life where I’m unhappy; 2) you won’t know unless you try; 3) maybe—just maybe—I am better and more worthy of joy and contentment than I thought. And if you’re being honest with yourself, you will see that you are, too.
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In high school I was a conflicted person. I found myself torn apart by a desire to do good and be a well-behaved kid, one who pleased his parents and teachers. At the same time I was angry and irritable. I grew frustrated with others often. Amongst the students at my school and my church I was a black sheep. I was into punk rock and the lifestyle it led, minus the drinking and drugs. But I dressed the part. I acted tough and indifferent.
I found myself not in any huge trouble, but got kicked out of my fair share of classes due to speaking back to the teachers. At first I felt guilty for my actions but suppressed those feelings because I was so angry at everyone and everything.
I didn’t realize at the time that my anger and frustration was in part a result of being a teenager. It was also in part from my depression and irritability. I didn’t know how to express myself and everything I felt. I didn’t feel as though there was anyone I could speak with about what I was going through.
In my college years I stuck out like a sore thumb. I went to a conservative, Christian college. Although I identified myself as a Christian at that time, my sense of humor, style of dress, and attitude aligned with punk values caused me to stick out.
The story of everything that occurred between then and now is long. And I can’t point to only one or two experiences which changed my way of being. I now dress like a lot of other people, although I eschew trends and high fashion. I’m as comfortable in jeans and a t-shirt as anything else.
What I’ve discovered is the best way to stick out and set yourself apart as a radical is to show kindness and empathy. So many people are drowning in hate, frustration, and anger. Loving others who frustrate you is a radical notion.
Especially in the age in which we live, taking time to listen to others will set you apart. It will cause you to draw attention more than someone with a pink mohawk that is a foot tall or if you have piercings all over your face. It takes physical strength to endure a tattoo or piercing. But putting one’s self out there for sustained periods of emotional challenges is fierce and not easy.
So why do I go this route? Because the payoff is remarkable. And because I’ve learned that being rude and talking back to people feeds on itself. It solves nothing and leads to no progress. It strikes with the fist and crushes others. But showing dedication and love to others can make lives better and cause others to smile, hope, and live to their fullest.
Some aim to live in power, lording themselves over others. My goal is to show humility. It’s a wonderful path to take to be this kind of black sheep, and something far better than any type of outcast I may have been in high school.
I’ve been going through many changes in my life with not only a new job but also a redirection for my future. I’m desiring to do something that will have a bigger impact on those around me through mental health writing and speaking. These are all positive things and yet they stress me out a great deal. Change is never easy, but as someone who struggles with anxiety and depression, I learned a few things that are of some help during such times.
1. Keep your routine as much as possible
This isn’t always easy for everyone in times of change, especially if you have a longer commute or work a different shift. But, it’s important to establish a routine in that new schedule sooner rather than later. Many of us find a routine to be comforting as the general chaos of our lives can be stressful over long periods of time. We have heightened awareness and are on edge if we don’t have a regular schedule.
Lifting weights, stretching, and doing yoga have all helped me with my stress. I try to build in time at the gym or at home to be physically fit. In doing so I can best fight off negative feelings and exert some of the stress that creeps up on me when I’m going through a transitional period.
If you are starting a different work shift, make it a priority to establish a regular sleep schedule if you can. While not all jobs allow for that, do your best to find a time in the day when you can get 7-8 hours of uninterrupted sleep. While I tend to be okay with getting by on less sleep, it’s important we have that set period to rejuvenate and rest. Getting enough sleep is key in keeping us healthy.
4. Eating right
It’s so tempting when you’re in a rush and starting a big change in your life to rely on fast food options that are often unhealthy. Take the time to make yourself some meals that are nourishing for both the mind and the body. A simple internet search will pull up many options for recipes for such meals. I find that when I eat food that is high in sugar or heavily processed it can lead me to feel gross about myself and my body, which isn’t something I need.
5. Make time for yourself
After you’ve taken care of work, eating right, exercising, and sleep, set aside some time for you. Do the things that you know make you happy. For me this includes writing, watching movies, going on a walk or hike, and traveling. But whatever it is, make sure you schedule in an hour or two every so often to do the things that you enjoy. This is excellent for mental health and key to a healthy mind in a transitional state.
I’m just shy of forty years old and I never thought I’d make it to this age. Since I was in middle school I’ve dealt with depression and anxiety and my goal back then was survival. I didn’t think about the future and so I had to make up things as I went along.
I didn’t know what I was doing as the years went by. I felt such anguish and pain at the inability to know what I was meant to do with my life. I saw so many others around me in relationships and on career paths. I felt lost and impatient at not having direction.
Now my picture is a bit clearer. I know I want to help those with mental health issues such as the ones I’ve experienced. I want to speak to groups and write about what has worked for me. I’m figuring out how to make that happen in a way that is sustainable.
It took me much longer than I would’ve preferred to get to where I am today. But I wanted to share four things I did that helped me get to where I have a better idea of what I want to do with my life.
1. Find work you can tolerate and that provides stability
I’ve worked in libraries for almost fifteen years. It wasn’t my calling; I actually went to library school because I needed to get out of my parents’ house. But after thinking it over I realized that going to grad school was about finding something I could enjoy enough to deal with every day as a job. I wasn’t sure that it was exactly what I wanted to do, but it has provided me with a steady career, a decent paycheck, and health insurance.
2. Try things
While you’re working a job that you can tolerate/enjoy, try to do as many new things as possible. Move to a different city, take a class, travel someplace that makes you uncomfortable, pick up new hobbies. The more things you try, the better you’ll get an idea for what you like and what you don’t like.
3. Read a lot
I picked up a lot of self-help books to educate myself on life. I read books on how to deal with depression and anxiety (Mind Over Mood), and creating the life you’ve always wanted (Four-Hour Work Week). I took many different career tests to figure out what type of work might be good for me. I followed recommendations from friends, family, and people in the self-help field whose work I respected. I picked up a lot of food for thought that pushed me in some new directions.
4. Put yourself out there
It’s scary to try new things. Fear of rejection held me back for so long. My self-esteem was pretty low. But asking for help and advice from people I respected gave me encouragement. And even though I faced some setbacks, I wouldn’t have made progress if I hadn’t tried.
Transition can be a very difficult thing for me. Even when it’s something I put upon myself it can be hard. It’s the uncertainty and the fear of all that might go wrong that gets to me. But change can also be a good thing. Let's look at a few of those positive reasons below.
1. Change can inspire us
Change can be a good catalyst for getting a new perspective not only on the environment in which we find ourselves, but on ourselves. Travel inspires me to get a new vision of my life and serve as a reset. Change in what we’re doing in our lives as far as a big move or career change can do the same. It forces us to question what we want and who we are.
2. Change can show us a side of ourselves we may not otherwise know
In going through a change, especially in a new career, we can learn we are good at certain things we may not have otherwise thought. A few years ago I took a chance and became a tour guide. I had no idea if I’d be good at it but discovered that it was something at which I not only excelled but enjoyed. Who knew that I, an introvert, would enjoy being social? But if I hadn’t taken a chance at that change I would’ve missed out on something that has now become a livelihood.
3. It can expand our minds
If we’re willing to take a chance with change we can learn new things. And learning new things can make us wiser and more open-minded, which can only inspire more empathy and kindness toward others. (Or at least that’s the goal for me.) By taking a chance to move to Seattle back in 2006 I grew so much as an individual in only two years. I learned about what I believed, spiritually and intellectually. I also learned how to adapt to some of the most jarring change possible (new home, new friends, new job) all at once. But it was worth it and I’d do it again.
4. It’s a reminder to take care of ourselves
Moments of change are the most important occasions to do self-care. It should almost be a default setting in our minds: change = taking time to take care of me. That’s something important for me to remember as I start a new job. To stay healthy I need to hit the gym, get enough sleep, and not overtax myself with other responsibilities. All these things (and more) are good things to remember when you and I are going through changes.
This blog is an exploration of the subjects of belonging and loneliness. I also look at mental health issues. I seek to provide content to my readers that is informative and helpful. If you don't want to miss anything, sign up for my email list.